The Who Rock New York, Backed By Symphonic Orchestra

Singer-songwriter Leslie Mendelson opens with captivating set

Last year, I read several stories about Roger Daltrey being pretty candid about aging, saying he’d stop performing if he realized his voice was no longer up to par. While other music artists haven’t followed through on similar retirement talk and The Who previously suggested their 50th anniversary tour could be their last, Daltrey’s above comments felt genuine to me. When I learned about Moving On! tour, I got a ticket right away, thinking this may well be my third and last time to see one of my favorite British bands. But there was one detail that I somehow had completely missed. Apart from traditional touring musicians, Moving On! features local symphonic orchestras backing Daltrey and Pete Townshend. Frankly, I’m not sure I would have jumped to get a ticket, had I known that.

In general, the thought of combining a rock band with a symphonic orchestra gives me mixed feelings. One can easily picture that the former gets drowned out by the latter or that the music becomes overly massive and feels overproduced. On the other hand, The Who are known for a grandiose sound. So did the combination work Monday night at Madison Square Garden in New York City? For the most part it did for me, so my initial ignorance about the details of the tour wasn’t a bad thing after all.

Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend

Before getting to The Who, I’d like to say a few words about New York singer-songwriter Leslie Mendelson, who performed a captivating opening set. In 2009, following the release of her second album Swan Feathers, Mendelson was compared to Carole King and Rickie Lee Jones, and her record was nominated for a Grammy. Then a series of setbacks stopped her upward trajectory, but things seem to look more promising again for Mendelson these days. A new album, If You Can’t Say Anything Nice…, is almost done. She’s currently raising money through Kickstarter to support promotion for a planned autumn release.

Monday night, Mendelson was accompanied by her longtime collaborator Steve McEwan, a British songwriter and musician, who played a vintage-looking electric guitar and provided backing vocals. Since I wanted to conserve my aging smartphone battery, unfortunately, I didn’t take any footage, but here’s a clip of The Hardest Part, a single from the new record, captured last December at a much smaller venue. The guy in the clip is McEwan. I’m pretty impressed with Mendelson and plan to do a separate post on her in the near future.

After a short intermission it was time for The Who! The first section of their show was with orchestra and mostly focused on songs from Tommy, The Who’s first rock opera from May 1969 – an appropriate choice, as the album nears its 50th anniversary of release on May 23. It started with the record’s first five tracks: Overture, It’s A Boy, 1921, Amazing Journey and Sparks. This was followed by Pinball Wizard and We’re Not Gonna Take It.  The remainder of the first section featured tunes from various other albums, including Who Are You (Who Are You, 1978), Eminence Front (It’s Hard, 1982),  Imagine A Man (The Who By Numbers, 1975) and the non-album single Join Together (1972). Here’s We’re Not Gonna Take It, the final track from Tommy, which like most Who songs was written by Townshend.

The middle section of the concert featured The Who only. Daltrey jokingly pointed out that union rules required the orchestra to take a break and now it was only the band, “so we can fuck up things even more.” The section consisted of five songs: Non-album single Substitute (1966), I Can See For Miles (The Who Sell Out, 1967),  Won’t Get Fooled Again and Behind Blue Eyes (both Who’s Next, 1971) and Tea & Theatre (Endless Wire, 2006). Here is I Can See For Miles.

Perhaps the highlight of the section was an acoustic rendition of Won’t Get Fooled Again. Unfortunately, I didn’t capture it, in part to conserve battery, but here’s a clip from the tour opener in Madison, Wis. Even though the camera person was much closer to the stage than I was, the MSG performance felt more dynamic, so I feel the footage doesn’t do it full justice. Or maybe it was the excitement of the moment!

The third and last section of the show, which saw the return of the orchestra, almost entirely focused on Quadrophenia. The Who’s second rock opera perhaps is the album that best lends itself to the use of symphonic orchestration. It’s the band’s only record that was entirely composed by Pete Townshend. Here’s section opener The Real Me, one of favorite Who tunes.

Other tracks from Quadrophenia included I’m One, The Punk And The Godfather, 5:15, Drowned, The Rock and the mighty Love, Reign O’er Me. Of course, I couldn’t resist recording the last track, so here it is.

By the time I had Love, Reign O’er Me in the can, my phone battery was on life support, so I couldn’t capture the show’s finale, Baba O’Riley, another tune from the Who’s Next album. Luckily somebody else who was there did, so I’m borrowing their clip – thanks, “ForgottenNYC”! Check out the solo by amazing lead violonist Katie Jacoby, which starts at around 3:40 min – that woman stole the show from Townshend, at least temporarily!

Monday night saw Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend in excellent shape. Daltrey still commands the stage, singing with a strong voice and swinging his microphone like a mad man, while Townshend continues to be a kickass windmilling rock guitarist. One could almost forget these guys are in their mid-70s! I think they also deserve credit for continuing to push the envelope at this stage in their careers, when they could have played it safe instead of bringing in a symphonic orchestra. The fans including myself would have been perfectly happy with a “regular” performance.

I must also mention the great backing band: Simon Townshend (guitar, mandolin, backing vocals), Pete’s younger brother; Zak Starkey (drums), son of Ringo Starr, who has been The Who’s touring drummer since 1996; Loren Gold (keyboards, backing vocals), and one of the standouts in addition to Jacoby; and Jon Button (bass).

Upcoming dates for the Moving On! tour include Noblesville, Ind (May 18); Tinley Park, Ill (May 21); St. Louis (May 23); Philadelphia (May 25); and Detroit (May 28). The full schedule is available here.

Sources: Wikipedia, setlist.fm, Leslie Mendelson website, The Who website, YouTube

British Invasion Returns In Full Force To Atlantic City

Beatles, Rolling Stones and Who tribute bands set stage on fire

The British Invasion may have stopped some 50 years ago, though it surely didn’t feel like it yesterday in Atlantic City. If anything, three outstanding tribute bands illustrated how the music continues to be alive and kicking to this day, and why the British rock and pop music wave of the ’60s is one of the best imports the U.S. has ever seen, except perhaps for German cars!:-)

This was my second year at the British Invasion Festival at the Golden Nugget Hotel & Casino in Atlantic City. I greatly enjoyed the free outdoor one-day event last June when I went there for the first time, so was it worth a two-hour drive to return? You betcha, baby – if anything, I felt it was even better than last year! Britain’s Finest, The Glimmer Twins and Who’s Next once again were in top shape.

Britain’s Finest

Britain’s Finest are one of the most intriguing tributes to The Beatles I know, and as a longtime Beatles fan, I’ve seen quite a few over the decades. Founded in Los Angeles in 2011, the band consists of Benny Chadwick (Paul McCartney), Ruben Amaya (John Lennon),  Robert Bielma (George Harrison) and Luis Renteria (Ringo Starr).

Like last year, they focused on the Beatles’ live period, playing songs, such as From My To You, I Want To Hold Your Hand, Can’t Buy Me Love, A Hard Day’s Night, Help and Twist And Shout. What distinguishes Britain’s Finest from other Fab Four tribute acts I’ve seen is that in addition to a faithful execution of the music, the four guys also resemble John, Paul, George and Ringo, and assume their on-stage personas. This time for a change, I took video myself. Here are clips of From Me To YouCan’t Buy Me Love and Twist And Shout.

To further check out Britain’s Finest and their scheduled shows, visit their website. Most of their upcoming gigs are on the West Coast – given the band is based in L.A., perhaps that’s not a big surprise. They’ll be back east for a series of gigs in Miami starting in early August. But I suppose New Jersey fans may have to wait until next June when they are planning to return to Atlantic City.

The Glimmer Twins

Unlike The Beatles, I actually don’t recall having seen a tribute act to The Rolling Stones. But frankly, except for the original, I doubt it can get better than The Glimmer Twins. This band from Philly is led by Keith Call (lead vocals, harp) and Bernie Bollendorf (guitar), who in an incredible way bring to life Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, respectively. They are backed by excellent musicians, including Michael Rubino (guitar), Bobbie Corea (drums), Rob Ekstedt (bass), Rocco Notte  (keyboards), Bobby Michaels (saxophone, flute) and amazing vocalist Valorie Steel.

The Glimmer Twins play Stones gems, such as Start Me Up, Dead Flowers, Sympathy For The Devil, Jumpin’ Jack Flash, Honky Tonk Women, Paint It Black and, of course, Satisfaction. Here are three the clips from their performance last night: opener Start Me UpJumpin’ Jack Flash and Honky Tonk Women. The latter prominently features Steel – that lady can sing!

The Glimmer Twins have a long schedule of summer shows in the tri-state area and beyond, including gigs in Tarrytown, N.Y. (June 22); Sea Isle City, N.J. (August 4); Manchester, Vt. (August 10); Bethlehem, Pa. (August 11); and Riverhead, N.Y. (August 18). For more about the band and their upcoming concerts, visit their website.

Who’s Next

This firecracker tribute to The Who was the perfect band to close out the night. Their members include Bill Canell as Pete Townshend, Dave McDonald as Roger Daltrey, Mike Conte as John Entwistle and Rich Savarese as Keith Moon. Similar to Britain’s Finest, not only do these four guys sound great, but the resemblance of each to their heroes is truly remarkable. The fact that none other than Messrs. Townshend and Daltrey acknowledged the band at a Who concert in May 2014 in Forest Hills, N.Y. speaks for itself.

Who’s Next play many of the tunes that come mind when you think of The Who: Baba O’Riley, Love Reign O’er Me, The Real Me, 5:15, Squeeze Box, Who Are You, Eminence Front, My Generation, and the list goes on and on. Below are clips of opener The Real Me/5:15 and Who Are You. I got really close for the second clip to better capture how meticulously each member plays and impersonates their part. Fortunately, they skip the destruction of equipment. As much as I can see the spectacle, watching Townshend smash his guitar always made me cringe. Instead, he should have given away the guitars to schools in underprivileged neighborhoods or something like that.

For more about Who’s Next, check out their website. At this time, it doesn’t list any upcoming shows, but I’m sure there will be more. The band already announced last night they are going to be back to Atlantic City for next year’s British Invasion Festival. While much can happen in a year, I have every intention to return as well!

Sources: Britainsfinestband.com, theglimmertwins.com, whosnexttribute.com, YouTube