Saturday, October 28, 2006

The Decline of the Independent Record Store

Tower Records has finally gone under. On October 6, the company was sold to Great American Group (the parent company of such “wonderful” stores like F.Y.E.) and the existing stores are currently being liquidated for a going out of business sale that will see the locations close by the end of the year.
We have no Tower Records in Iowa; they could be found in larger cities and, for someone like me, became a destination point whenever I traveled to a location fortunate enough to have one. The stores were a destination point because they housed a huge inventory selection. I was used to being a “special order” kind of guy, so it was very refreshing to walk into a Tower Records and find a band’s entire catalog available and even some import titles.

My first ever visit to a Tower was in the mid-80’s when cds were still fairly novel and when certain titles were hard to find. It was in Orange County, California, and I walked out with a vinyl import copy of XTC’s Go Two, an import cd copy of XTC’s The Big Express, an import cd copy of The SmithsMeat Is Murder and another vinyl album that I can’t remember the name of. How I got the vinyl back to Iowa un-warped and in one piece also remain a mystery.
The feeling of walking into a record store like that got me thinking of the various record stores that have managed to give me some joy. They’re the type of locations that, if you were unfortunate enough to be there with me, you’d become one of those “Are you done yet?” type of people while I’d still be on the “M” section.
Sadly, a lot of the stores that made an impact with me didn’t make enough of an impact with others; a lot of them are no longer in business but for those that are, I’ve tried to provide links if available. Here’s something that boggles my mind: I can remember what albums that I bought at some of these stores. This has to be a sign of some mental illness.
  • DISC JOCKEY RECORDS (Keokuk, Iowa)-A chain, I know, but it was in my hometown and they did special orders. They had a fairly decent selection otherwise and they even had an import section. I’ll give them credit for later stocking titles that normally wouldn’t sell in small town Iowa; at least they listened to their customers. They did a terrible job of recommending titles, though. A worker there who was a grade ahead of me suggested that I get Planet P Project’s Pink World and Lita Ford’s Dancin’ On The Edge. Both efforts where awful and I immediately returned them. Typically, I would take a razor blade and make a deep, visually hidden cut in the first track. When you returned a record, it had to skip on their fancy Technics turntable before they would take it back and issue a refund. This trick ensured that every return I made was “legit” and helped me avoid future ridicule if someone found a Lita Ford or Planet P Project album in my collection. Oh, and the douchebag also sold me on the notion that the Planet P Project album was pressed on pink vinyl. Only his promotional copy was, but regardless of the color of the vinyl, that album sucked huge balls. Another dude made fun of the band named Scritti Polliti when I ordered the 12” for “Hypnotize” there. Record store clerks in Keokuk, Iowa don’t have the right to make fun of anyone’s music taste, in my opinion.
  • UNKNOWN RECORD STORE (Quincy, Illinois)-I tried to run a search to find the name of this independent record store that was located in downtown Quincy, Illinois, but had no luck. Quincy was about 45 minutes away and was a frequent destination point when I first got my drivers license. This was an important store because it was the first store that also had used records. Thus began my tradition of bringing old records for them to buy and then turn around with the in-store credit to get albums that I wanted. The owner was a friendly middle-aged dude with a mustache. He was really into progressive rock and recommended that I buy Supertramp Brother Where You Bound, the first album that they did without vocalist Rodger Hodgson. It had a 16 minute long title track and guitar work from David Gilmour. It’s quite possible that I let the guy know I was a huge Pink Floyd fan at the time, which may explain why he recommended this album to me. In any event, it was a bad recommendation; I sold it back to the store for a loss a few months later and picked up a used vinyl copy of XTC’s Black Sea. That album, in case you’re wondering, is awesome.
    The store did a good job of stocking high priced import cds, particularly when domestic versions of the title weren’t available. If you’re good at math, you can add up how much money I actually loss when I sold vinyl copies to them at $3 a pop only to turn around and buy an import version of The Sex Pistols Never Mind The Bullocks at the hefty price of $30. This was also the same store where I bought the obligatory copy of Bob Marley’s Legend, thereby starting my love of reggae music.
  • WEIRD HAROLD’S (Burlington, Iowa)-Still open and still with a huge vinyl collection. They also have a nice selection of used cds that can occasionally provide a customer with a great find. The store’s been around since 1972 and it’s still run by Dennis (or Denny, I can’t remember) who’s a nice guy. He’s not real up on rare titles (I got a first run edition of Stone Roses’ first album cheap) but he knows the value of the classic rock collection. While in radio, I would bring tons of promotional copies here, unload them for next to nothing, and have enough in-store credit to build the station’s library as well as my own. His wife owns the art store that it’s attached to, which may explain why it’s still around today. Small independent record stores in the downtown of a river town typically don’t last this long. I’ve never had anything recommended here; they just ring up the shit and say “Thank you.” Oh, and if you’re looking for that copy of Mason Proffit or Missouri, this is the place that will normally have it on the shelves. No shit.
  • BJ RECORDS (Iowa City, Iowa)-It ain’t around anymore, but back in the day it was one cool record store. Lots of indie titles and a little added snobbery (the section for Madonna was listed as Madorka, but this was when she was still fairly new and her cultural relevance was questionable). We’d car trip up to Iowa City to be around the cool college kids and we’d find ourselves here (along with the headshops that sold bongs and one-hitters). They’d tolerate us at BJ’s and answer our stupid questions (“Does New Order sound like The Smiths?”). I got lots of Smiths imports here and this is where I bought my first Butthole Surfers album. When I arrived home, my Dad noticed this and said “Mother look, your Son bought a Butthole Surfers album.” I think he was suggesting that I was wasting my money, but you and I know better. When it started to struggle, the store closed, then re-opened, but customer indifference helped it close again. The last time I was there they had hardly any titles on the shelves and the place looked deserted. It was sad, particularly when one remembers how thriving it was. I didn’t even notice a clerk there on the last visit, until I noticed a black middle-aged dude with dreadlocks sitting on the floor behind the counter on my way out. I think all he cared about was that I didn’t try to rip off the last remaining inventory that the store had.
  • THE RECORD COLLECTOR (Iowa City, Iowa)-Hard to find (originally), limited space (originally) for complete titles, and an extremely pretentious staff that consisted of a lot of local band members. What more could one ask for in a record store! They would have laughed me out of the store if I would have asked the “New Order/The Smiths” question that I asked at BJ’s. A lot of the conceitedness comes directly from owner Kirk Walther, who started the store with a crate of records and a whole lot of music knowledge over a quarter-century ago. He now spends the majority of his time in back, selling used shit on Ebay, buying record collections (ala “High Fidelity) and leaving the day-to-day operations to the college kids who seem fairly knowledgeable on sub-genres that I have no interest in. He’s a great guy once you get to know him and he is consistent with his recommendations. At the original location, it always seemed that they didn’t have much in stock, but what they had, you wanted. The key was to visit frequently; a lot of gems would come through the door only to be sold quickly if you didn’t get them first. He would pay top dollar for radio concert discs, which created an awesome merchant-consumer bond; I'd get mega bucks for those Led Zeppelin discs and walk away with something I really wanted. The newest location is easy to find, but hard to find parking for which makes destination visits a pain. Plus, they seemed to have focused more on trip-hop, dance music, and other club beats which ain’t my bag. There’s still fondness in my heart for ‘em, and it’s nice to know they’re still doing what they do.
  • LET IT BE RECORDS (Minneapolis, MN)-Now reduced to an online store/mail order, but at one time it was a great independent record store located in the heart of downtown Minneapolis. The high rents must have killed ‘em. Lots of catalog and an extremely knowledgeable staff that helped you when needed. There was a rumor that the store had a “secret” basement warehouse filled with additional collectables. Maybe it is true, especially considering they continue to do online stuff. Minneapolis used to have a lot of great record stores (Northern Lights on Hennepin was another) but now the independents seemed to have vanished or sucked up by the national chains.
  • HOMER RECORDS (Omaha, NE)-A totally badass record store (several locations) in a totally unbadassed state (Nebraska?!). Huge amounts of titles and a very friendly staff. I remember one time a clerk helping me during a moment of not knowing what it was I wanted to buy. He asked what I was listening to at the moment (Cat Power) and he located a hard to find title for me. He then went on to recommend another title. He then did something that I never had happen before: he opened the cd and let me listen to it at a listening station. I felt so obligated to buy it, even after I determined that I didn’t want it after I listened to it. When he wasn’t looking, I put it down in an unrelated section and bought the titles that I knew I wanted. Sorry, buddy. I just didn’t have the heart to tell him it sucked, especially after he so enthusiastically recommended it. A great store, though.
  • SLACKERS (Columbia, MO)-On the first few trips to Columbia, Missouri, I totally missed this place. When I did see it, it didn’t look like much on the outside and I didn’t go in. I usually went down the road to Streetside Records instead. But on the third visit to Columbia, I was downtown and it was getting late, yet the place was still opened. The outside was misleading, because inside, the store had two levels of album titles and a great selection of used. I never had anybody recommend anything here, but one dude did find the album that They Might Be Giants’ “Snowball In Hell” was on for me. Once, I was struggling with paying top dollar on an import version of a T-Rex album. They had the same title there, priced at the same cost of a domestic version. Score! They also had a used copy of Syd Barrett's Barrett and I'm still kicking myself for now picking up the other used version of The Madcap Laughs. I already had it (on vinyl and cd) but this copy had bonus tracks. And bonus tracks are a music geek's best friend. I also got the limited edition version of Spiritualized's Let It Come Down for something like ten bucks. Anyway, a cool store that I now hit every time I’m in Columbia.
  • VINTAGE VINYL (St. Louis, MO)-Located across the street from The Pageant, this store has a great selection of new and used titles. Once, I went there with the sole intention of buying an Alexander “Skip” Spence album and an album by The Cherry Valance. They had them both, and even had the Spence title used, which makes them cool in my book. What's cool is that it's sometimes open even after the show at The Pageant is over. There's nothing that's worse for the pocketbook than when you're record shopping in the afterglow of a concert.

Time, the loss of the indie-minded stores, and pricing have really diminished how frequently I visit record stores; to be honest, I typically order things online via Insound or Amazon. I do miss the interpersonal relations that occur when shopping in person, but honestly, I’ve noticed a huge difference in the passion of the people working at these stores than in years past. And that’s a problem, particularly when people are ordering more via online outlets and/or downloading music free. Give me a reason to shop there and I’ll give you my hard earned dollar. After all, people like me are dwindling fast. A recent conversation with a twentysomething proved this. When I asked how he gets new music, he immediately stated that he downloaded all of his songs and has a collection on his harddrive that numbers into the thousands. When I asked if he pays for them, without missing a beat, he said “What? Do you think I’m stupid?” Record companies did an awful job of lending their support of independent record stores and help foster the climate of music fans that view the art as a disposable commodity. There are fewer people who are passionate about things like the interaction of music lovers, the liner notes, the artwork, and by undermining the dwindling outlets that housed these geeks, the industry has assisted their own downfall. And even though Tower Records’ poor bookkeeping and poorly managed growth plans helped put them in the predicament they’re in, I can’t help but think that record companies, particularly the major labels, helped contribute to their downfall.

Tuesday, October 24, 2006

Murry Wilson-I'm A Genius, Too!

Lately, I've been fixated with what's become the most talked about Beach Boys recording since the original Smile sessions: the initial recordings of the song "Help Me Rhonda." The date was January 8, 1965, when Murry Wilson, Father of Beach Boys' Brian, Carl, and Dennis Wilson, stops by the recording studio where Brian and the boys are in the middle of recording their hit "Help Me Rhonda." Feeling a little left out, and feeling the effects of several rum and Cokes, Murry proceeds to take over the sessions by offering his expert advice ("Loosen up and be happy!") and drunken wisdom ("I have 3,000 words to say: Quit screaming and start singing from your hearts...So you're big stars. Let's fight! Let's fight for success!").

Brian Wilson, who we've all treated as a damaged genius, is clearly in full possession of his sanity here and even mildly challenges his Father's drunken nonsense. It's funny, and a creepy look into the dynamics of The Beach Boys at the height of their career. What's amazing is that the band was even able to make music with this kind of bitter megalomaniac bum rushing their talents.
Learn more, and download the sessions from the awesome site WFMU's Beware of the Blog.

Monday, October 23, 2006

The Raconteurs-Broken Boy Soldiers

So I guess it’s cool to bash Jack White now, just like it’s cool to come across as nothing more than a N.M.E. writer; build a band up (read: hype) and then revel in the glory of knockin’ ‘em back down to the hardwood floors they slept on when they were young ‘n hungry.
No matter what anyone does or says to try to convince me otherwise, I’ll be a Jack White fanboy if only for the fact that the fella does his homework and executes what he’s absorbed in a completely credible and believable fashion.
Take his recent work with The Raconteurs as an example: their debut Broken Boy Soldiers is a hastily developed “supergroup” that’s firmly (at least for now) entrenched in an era of rock that spawned hastily developed superrock. If you’re scratching your head at the idea of what “superrock” is, then you’re spending way too much time on it; put down your dictionary, learn a few chords, and write a song, motherfucker.
‘Cause it seems that what White and Brendan Benson have done with Broken Boy Soldiers, which may be one of the year’s best albums because it doesn’t pretend to be one of the year’s best albums.
It recalls a period of rock where bands started testing the limits of their sonic delivery without understanding that, just a year or two prior to this, they learned the chord progression of “Louie Louie.” And I, for one, love it when a band with serious limitations on their music ability pretends that they don’t have any limitations on their music ability.

The thing is, Jack White is extremely talented at two things: writing lyrics and playing the electric guitar. But he’s also extremely talented at music appreciation. So he let’s his buddy Brandon handle half of the songwriting credits and merely adds a ton of clever guitar licks and a bunch of bitchin’ abandon. It’s a fun record, to the point where you can overlook such retarded prose like “I’ve got a rabbit, it likes to hop/I’ve got a girl, and she likes to shop” (“Intimate Secretary”).
So yeah, White doesn’t have to try very hard to shine throughout this thing, but you’ve got to appreciate the fact that he keeps trying to hide behind a big electric guitar to avoid the spotlight.
Best of all, the album cuts away at any of the pretension that Get Behind Me Satan may have had on some fans by clocking in at barely over a half hour and by barely hiding the fact that a lot of time and effort weren’t spent on worrying about what you or I think of Broken Boy Soldiers. Instead, a lot of time and effort was spent in simply having a good time making rock and roll. Which, of course, is exactly what a lot of bands need to start doing in the first place.

Monday, October 16, 2006

21,000,000 "Back In Black" Fans Can't Be Wrong

With, what, 21 million copies sold, I’m sure that there’s plenty of stories involving AC/DC’s “Back In Black” and the people who bought it. That’s a lot of records sold, and quite honestly, it amazes me that the album is in the same league as “Thriller” and The Eagles’ “Greatest Hits Volume One.” So while we wait for the other 20,999,999 owners to tell their own “Back In Black” story, let me tell you mine.
Prior to “Back In Black,” I had been exposed to AC/DC in various record stores and through the fervent support of their fans housed in my hometown. I specifically remember seeing the cover of “If You Want Blood” and being intrigued by the blood and guts imagery. I was also keenly aware that the band seemed to be a bit dirty and that lead singer Bon Scott had some visible tattoos; back in the day, tattoos were not as socially acceptable as they are now, and that meant that this Bon Scott guy probably grew up on the “wrong” side of the tracks.
The other noticeable thing was that their fans, at least the ones in my hometown, were also from the wrong side of the tracks. For the privileged folk on the North side of town, these individuals were known as “scurves.” To get a visual picture of the stereotype, they all essentially looked like AC/DC rhythm guitarist Malcolm Young. These are the individuals who saw Bon Scott and, unlike me, could relate to him. Even when said singer was holding up a man with a Gibson guitar jammed into his stomach.

“Highway To Hell” brought the band from the South side to all over town. With an opening riff that’s more effective than a chiropractor visit, AC/DC didn’t really change a thing; they simply kept hitting that brick wall with power chords until the motherfucker fell down.
The “Highway To Hell” single became a favorite at the local pizzeria that most 13 year olds frequented after the Friday night football games. While the girls stuck with the A-side, the rest of us played the flip, “Night Prowler,” when throwing down quarters in the jukebox. We did it for three reasons: 1.) It rocked, 2.) It was over five minutes long, thereby giving us more music for the money and 3.) they did that reference to “Mork & Mindy” at the end of it.
In middle school, I typically sat precariously in between the scurve section and popular section during lunchtime. The popular section was too boring; the scurve section was too scary. In between housed a section of individuals that could easily acclimate to either social stratum. Most of the table consisted of music lovers and we spent the time talking about the albums we liked.
On one day, there was some obvious discontent at the scurve table. One individual had skipped his morning classes and decided to come to school during lunch. He brought with him the news that Bon Scott was dead, and this information was met with a curious display of humanity. A couple of guys vowed to ditch the rest of the day classes, to retreat to the back of a nearby pharmacy and smoke Marlboros. It was a funeral wake that Mr. Scott would be pleased with.
I can’t remember what my reaction was, if any, to the news that AC/DC would continue on with a new lead singer. What I do remember is my first introduction to that album was also my introduction to cocaine.
To be 14 is a strange thing no matter what your locale is. The social cliques start getting defined at this point and, this is crucial, they pave the way for the all-important social network that one has in high school. One needs to align themselves with the “right” people in order to be accepted during the next four years and this alignment sometimes means networking with a variety of different people.
The obvious outlet is through sports, and I tried this approach. On one Friday night, myself and three other guys went to watch the senior high football game. While walking there, one of the guys really had it out for another dude, Sean, who was a notorious stoner and, ironically, was competing against him for the quarterback position on our junior high football squad. For this and some other trivial reason, this guy was going to kick Sean’s ass and the rest of us would be present for moral support. A challenge was given during the football game and about two dozen people made their way across the street to a parking lot to watch the fight. While I was originally in the other guy’s corner, I left the fight as a supporter of Sean. He went into the fight with the same lackadaisical attitude that he had for football; while the other dude swung wildly at Sean’s head, Sean danced back causing the other guy to miss each time. This made Sean grin and he laughed as the aggressor quickly began to wear down. By this time, Sean started to land some accurate jabs, swelling his opponent’s eye, and turning the match into an embarrassment. The scuffle was broken up, and someone yelled that the police were coming. Everyone ran, and I found myself running alongside Sean instead of the guy that I came to the game with. After complementing him on his fighting abilities, we walked to a party his older sister was at.
The party was in an apartment complex, which is an ultra-cool place for a party when you’re 14. What was amazing was that Sean was a year younger than me, and he was obviously much cooler since he had the hookup on parties in apartments. Even more amazing was that the chicks having the party were out of high school. From what I understood, it was Sean’s older sister’s place (he also had another older sister, a year older than me, who lived at home) and after a few moments of debating whether or not she should allow her younger brother and me into her place, she relented and agreed to give us one beer.
Sean determined that she also had some weed and asked her for a joint. She refused and Sean, in a stunning example of clever blackmail, threatened to tell his Mom that she gave him a beer if she didn’t give him a joint. Being older and cooler than us, the plan backfired and she quickly escorted us to the door. “Goodbye boys.” The other girls cooed, as we left, taking the shoe leather express to make sure we made our respected curfews.
“Fucking bitch.” Sean muttered. “That’s ok; I can get some weed from my other sister’s boyfriend. You wanna come over to my house tomorrow and get stoned?” Given the fact that this guy had single-handedly gotten me into a party with 19-year old girls and who, apparently, had a weed connection, the answer was a resounding “Yes.” Sean was decidedly more cool during the two hours that I knew him than most of the other friends that I had for years.
I drove my moped over to Sean’s house a little bit after lunch the next day. Nobody answered the door, so I went around back and noticed that his room was right off the sliding glass doors to the basement and there, still sleeping in his bed, was Sean. I banged on the sliding glass door and he woke up and let me in.
He told me that when he got home last night, he snuck out and went down the street to party with his sister’s boyfriend, the guy that was supposed to get us some weed. Sean explained that he didn’t have any weed, but he did score some coke from the guy. Having never tried cocaine and in no position to look uncool, I agreed to doing a line. Sean pulled out a new copy of AC/DC’s “Back In Black” album, put the vinyl on the turntable next to his bed, and poured a quarter-gram of cocaine onto the cover of the record jacket. The menacing opening bells served as an appropriate metaphor; I was doing a drug that was extremely “hip” for the time and I was traveling down a road that few fourteen year olds had traveled. AC/DC was the soundtrack to this as Sean laid out lines of the white powder on the stark black record jacket. We did lines throughout side one, and by the time side two hit, we were growing restless.

For whatever reason, Sean decided to snoop around his sister’s room across the hall, possibly to look for hidden cigarettes. He went into her closet and found a shoebox on the top shelf. Inside, we found no cigarettes. Instead, we saw empty wrappers of condoms, a memento to keep track of all of the times she had sex with the guy that gave us the reason to be this restless. Rather than put the box back, he left it on her bed, joking that he was going to leave it for his Mother to find.
He then went upstairs to look for any stray open packs of smokes that his parents may have left behind. “Rock and Roll Ain’t Noise Pollution” started as he slowly marched downstairs, grinning and playing air guitar with two Marlboro 100 cigarettes dangling in his mouth. We went outside to smoke them clandestine under the deck.
I was a novice smoker at this point; actually I was doing it just to uphold my newfound image as “cocaine snorter” and I probably didn’t even inhale.
Suddenly, we heard the front door open and we quickly extinguished the smokes.
A teenage girl yelled “Sean?” from the living room.
“It’s my sister.” He explained.
We heard footsteps coming down the stairs as we remained quietly under the deck outside.
“Sean!” she screamed; she had discovered the shoe box of empty condom wrappers still on her bed.
Sean laughed while his sister violently opened the sliding basement door. She chased him around the house with the complete intention of beating her younger brother senseless. Sean grabbed a handful of rocks as he made his way around the front of the house and proceeded to throw the stones at his sister while calling her a slut. Tired and realizing that she couldn’t catch him, she gave up and retreated back into the house with tears in her eyes.
I hung out with Sean a few more times that year, but at the end of the semester, I had graduated to high school while he had one more year of middle school to go. With the change in schools came another change in the social strata; a blueprint was laid, but as any Freshman will tell you, 9th grade boys don’t rank much on the high school radar.
Sean became the starting quarterback on the junior high football team and, after the season end, continued to test the limits of the school authorities and his parents.
He struggled in school and his low grades even caused him to lose a little luster among his peers. Soon, he too would be considered a scurve-by-proxy, with only his North side address saving him from a life of ridicule and becoming completely discounted. Sean turned into that obligatory stoner, the one that people tolerated but understood that his poor decision making probably ruined any true potential. I later learned that he did end up in the armed forces, possibly a good choice for him, and that he “shaped up,” found a girl to marry, and that he leads a relatively calm middle-class life now.
And 21 million albums later, I’m sure that AC/DC live a relatively calm high-class now. Money provides them with a little more incentive to protect their investment and not take the same risks that they may have when they were hungry. That notion completely sucks, because with each passing year, and with each year they choose not to even release an album, their image gets safer. It’s a double standard for sure, because the older they get, the sillier their double-entendres come across, regardless of how awesome their power chords continue to be.
No matter how silly they seem, they’ll always hold a certain degree of danger for me. There was a time when the band’s fan base were a little dangerous themselves. Think of it this way: many of AC/DC’s line-up also struggled in school, had conflicts with authorities, and appreciated a good party. As they progressed, their repetitive formula managed to sneak into the homes of suburbia who understood the band’s demeanor was part shtick. Thankfully, AC/DC came of age with me and at that time their fans were just as unpredictable as the band. In my mind, they’ll be the band that was the soundtrack for Richard Ramirez, that made albums to do lines of coke off of, and the band who’s fans looked exactly like Malcom Young.

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

The Who-Live Review

The Who
Wells Fargo Arena-Des Mones, Iowa
September 26, 2006

Twenty three years ago, I had a chance to see The Who on the “It’s Hard” tour. Of course, it wasn’t really The Who back then, but it was ¾ of The Who, which is ¼ more of The Who than the incarnation in 2006.
Back to the story.
The venue was sold out, and being young and na├»ve about such things, I used the classified ads to look for tickets. I found a scalping company and made a call to the phone number listed on the classified. I spoke with a gentleman, the years have given him a Mike Damone quality, but I’m fairly sure he was more than a little shady.
The rest is hazy; I know I had to get my Father involved to get my money back and I know that I never got a chance to see that version of The Who.
To make matters worse, I spent my hard earned money on actually buying “It’s Hard,” which I thought was better than “Face Dances,” which wasn’t that difficult to accomplish anyway.
So it’s with a clear understanding of the irony that I got to see the band that came up with the line “Hope I die before I get old” on the eve of my 40th birthday. And it’s also clear that I went into the event without any lofty expectations, particularly since two members, and important ones at that, aren’t even alive. Let’s be honest here: both Entwistle and Moon were critically more important to the band than Rodger Daltry.
Money does funny things to people. It makes you do countless tours after you’ve officially broken up the band. It makes you team up with your former lead singer, record the first Who album since “It’s Hard” and go out on tour (once again) with the band moniker in tact because you know a Daltry/Townshend banner won’t have the same draw.

Yeah, there’s a helluva lot of cynicism here, and quite frankly, Pete Townshend deserves it. While you throw out the fact that the 2006 Who tour prominently features new music from the upcoming album “Endless Wire” and notice that the album isn’t even out yet (scheduled release date is October 31st), let me throw out the fact that “Quadrophenia” is well over thirty years old and remains the last brilliant effort that Townshend had a hand in creating.
Do the math with that; it’s laziness. I’m not discounting Townshend’s worth or the importance of The Who. In those thirty plus years, he has released some pretty remarkable music, but it’s nowhere as consistent as what he could have and should have been able to do. You can make excuses about the addictions and the egos involved, but the truth is that the money he made afforded him the ability to take the day off when it came time for him, and The Who, to deliver a few more efforts on the same caliber as the material from 1973 and before.
Because I’m a sucker for free tickets, I agreed to place my personal differences with Pete Townshend aside and take a look at the latest tour of The Who. There’s a little bit of buzz behind this one; first off, there’s a new album to promote and there’s actually some positive feedback regarding their recent shows, which feature a heapin’ helpin’ of new songs, including a mini-opera.
Horribly promoted and far from sold out (under 6,500 showed up), Townshend and Daltrey tapped Zac Starkey to fill the role of Keith Moon and Pino Pallandino to fill those large ox shoes of John Entwistle. Pete’s brother Simon Townshend joined the band on rhythm guitar and backing vocals while John Bundrick joined them (again) on keyboards. Pallandino didn’t attempt, and wisely so, to mimic any of Entwistle’s bass lines. Zac also steered clear of aping Keith, the guy who bought him his first professional drum kit, but he’s proven to be a great drummer on his own terms.
The new songs? Well “Fragments” sounds exactly like “Another Tricky Day.” “Real Good Looking Boy” wreaks of the obligatory “Elvis Presley inspired us to do rock and roll” nostalgia that most boomers feel they’re required to write about (and it sounds just as middle aged as you could imagine). The new mini-opera hints at a little bit of creative energy, but without Moon, Entwistle, and a full-vocal ranged Daltry, it sounds like it could have been written for “White City” or “The Iron Man.”
“The Man In The Purple Dress,” an acoustic number that takes a hard swipe at molestation in the Catholic church, worked well; there was passion behind the lyrics and Daltry’s delivery was colorful and believable.
The oddly titled “Mike Post Theme” was also a fairly enjoyable new selection.
But again, none of them really sounded like The Who as we, or the 6,200 people in attendance remembered.
Which is why Townshend thanked the audience for enduring the lengthy selection of new songs.
Which is why Townshend also scattered plenty of classic Who cuts throughout the setlist.

Fresh out of the gate, they did it up right; with pictures of mods and early Who imagery filling up the big screens while they smacked through the regular opener “I Can’t Explain.” It went right into “The Seeker” and then into “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere.” I would have thrown “A.A.A.” in as the second song, but they didn’t ask me.
Had they, I would have eliminated “Who Are You,” a fairly uninspired “Behind Blue Eyes” and the utterly disposable “You Better You Bet.” While I won’t get into the argument concerning these song’s importance to the band’s catalog (with the exception of “You Better,” of course) I will argue that everyone seemed to be going through the motions when these songs came up.
The selections from “Tommy” were good, but nothing noteworthy.
Highlights were the opening three, a stunning extended version (ala “Live At Leeds”) of “My Generation” that even threw in a few lines from “Cry If You Want” and a nice attempt at “Won’t Get Fooled Again” which, unfortunately, seems relevant once again. If you’re wondering, Daltry did the scream at the end of it. It surprised a few people. It wasn’t embarrassing. It wasn’t anywhere near the scream circa ’71.
But then again, none of the show was really anything near The Who circa ’71.
What once was a band, in the truest sense of the word, that was almost indisputably the greatest live rock band in their prime, seems content on banking (again) on that nostalgia while Townshend tries to end the legacy on a positive note (read: mini opera).
This, of course, comes after over twenty years of “farewell” tours, Broadway versions of “Tommy” and Kenny Jones on drums even when the three surviving members admitted the “real” Who died with Keith.
So I’ll let ‘em end it with something better than “It’s Hard.”
But I ain’t paying for it, like I didn’t pay for this show. Because, at the end of the day, Pete Townshend seems a little like that scalper back in ’82. And after taking a piss on the Who’s legacy for over a quarter century now, forgive me if I take the line “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to heart.


Can't Explain
The Seeker
Anyway Anyhow Anywhere
Who Are You
Behind Blue Eyes
Real Good Looking Boy
Sound Round
Pick Up The Peace
Endless Wire
We Got A Hit
They Made My Dream Come True
Mirror Door
Baba O'Riley
Eminence Front
Man In A Purple Dress
Mike Post Theme
You Better You Bet
My Generation
Won't Get Fooled Again
Pinball Wizard
Amazing Journey
See Me Feel Me
Tea And Theater