HOLLYWOOD The Who's first concert since the death of John Entwistle began eerily on Monday and gradually shifted into an inspiring salute to one of rock and roll's great bassists.
Outside the historic Hollywood Bowl, street peddlers sold Entwistle T-shirts and fans set flowers on a makeshift memorial. Inside, the musician's death which occurred Thursday in Las Vegas (see "John Entwistle, Bassist For The Who, Dead At 57") went unacknowledged for what felt like days.
Opening act Counting Crows sang praises of the Who during their 45-minute set, but didn't mention Entwistle. In between bands, tour sponsor and audio manufacturer JBL aired a five-minute commercial that included Entwistle rehearsing on their gear and singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend plugging it, but there was no mention of the loss save for cheers from the audience when the bassist appeared onscreen.
When the Who began their show as the sun fell behind the Hollywood Hills, session bassist Pino Palladino took his place onstage and stood out of the lights, as he would for most of the night. The group played three songs "I Can't Explain," the eerie selection "Substitute" (with the lyric "I'm a substitute for another guy") and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" before mentioning their missing bandmate, who died the day before their tour was set to kick off (see "The Who Vow To Play On As Peers Remember John Entwistle").
"Tonight, we play for John Entwistle," Daltrey finally said, relieving the weird tension that filled the amphitheater. "He's the true spirit of rock and roll, and he lives on in all the music we play."
The singer looked at Townshend and then over to Palladino, all of whom were dressed in black, and then launched into a captivating version of "Who Are You." Whether it was the song or the mention of Entwistle, the fans responded with a standing ovation that seemed to feed the band and send them into true form for the first time, with Townshend windmilling his guitar and Daltrey swinging his mic like a lasso.
The song brought goose bumps, but they didn't last long. The Who followed with the Face Dances track "Another Tricky Day," during which Daltrey forgot some verses. Afterward, Townshend joked about the goof and then rambled about the cavernous stage, calling it a "white vagina" and a "testicle factory." For the fans who felt the band was hitting the road too soon after Entwistle's death, the jokes may have felt inappropriate, yet they were met with mostly laughter.
"Relay" followed, during which Townshend noticed one of his friends leave from the front row. "She couldn't take it," the guitarist explained, putting attention back on the late bassist. "For fans that have followed us for many years, this is gonna be very difficult. We understand. We're not pretending that nothing's happened."
Segueing into the next track, the guitarist added, "Even without that huge harmonic noise that usually comes from over there [pointing to where Entwistle usually stood onstage], it sounds pretty good to me. You're still getting a bargain."
For "Bargain," the Who slowed the song down midway through, then sped up the pace before ending it slower again. It was an impressive display of musicianship that perfectly led into "Baba O'Riley," a huge crowd favorite. Drummer Zak Starkey (son of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr), pianist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and backup guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete's brother) were particularly impressive on the tune, which featured an extended jam and a Daltrey harmonica solo.
The Who then played three tracks from Quadrophenia before performing "Behind Blue Eyes," which found Daltrey closing his eyes and blaring out, "No one knows what it's like to be the bad man/ To be the sad man."
Before the band closed its set with "Won't Get Fooled Again," Palladino finally offered a bass pounding solo on "My Generation." Daltrey thanked him after the song, noting, "It is an incredible thing what he has done tonight. He had only two days to rehearse, and these are not easy songs." The crowd roared in appreciation as the shy bassist looked out for one of the few times of the night.
For an encore, the band played a medley of Tommy tracks, opening with Townshend wailing on "Pinball Wizard" and closing with Daltrey tenderly crooning on "See Me, Feel Me."
"Live every moment of your lives," the singer said as he exited the stage with his arm around Townshend. The lights stayed down, however, and a montage of Entwistle photos appeared on the screen.
There were no tears, just cheers the way the night went and the way the Who believed "the Ox" would have wanted it.
The Who's set list:
- "I Can't Explain"
- "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"
- "Who Are You"
- "Another Tricky Day"
- "Baba O'Riley"
- "Eminence Front"
- "Sea and Sand"
- "Love Reign O'er Me"
- "Behind Blue Eyes"
- "You Better, You Bet"
- "The Kids Are Alright"
- "My Generation"
- "Won't Get Fooled Again"
- "Pinball Wizard"
- "Amazing Journey"
- "See Me, Feel Me"
For more sights and stories from concerts around the country, check out MTV News Tour Reports.