The Who bring orchestral splendor to Fenway Park

Simon Townshend, Jon Button, Zak Starkey, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend of the Who perform at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

by Doug MacGunnigle, WPRO

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend brought the Who’s “Moving On” tour, featuring a full orchestra, to Fenway Park in Boston on Friday night.

It might seem a gamble, sonically anyway – Fenway Park does not have a great reputation as far as sound goes, and the prospect of a full symphony orchestra and a rock band battling it out to be heard would be tenuous at even the most acoustically perfect venues.

Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend of the Who perform at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

Whomever is doing the sound design at Fenway these days deserves much kudos, as the mix was perfect – the rock band was sharp and crystal clear, and conductor Keith Levenson’s orchestra cut through with precision rarely heard in situations like this.

Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend of the Who perform at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

The band, consisting of founding members Roger Daltrey on vocals and Pete Townshend on guitar, was rounded out with bassist Jon Button, drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo,) keyboardist Loren Gold, and guitarist Simon Townshend (brother of Pete.)

A major part of the Who’s classic sound was defined by the two late members John Entwistle and Keith Moon – two of the most unique players in the history of rock.

Zak Starkey, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend of the Who perform at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

Starkey did a fine job echoing Moon’s manic drumming – and while he played a set of electronic drums, so as not to overpower everything on stage, the technology has advanced to the point where one would be hard pressed to tell, had the rubber cymbals not appeared in close up on the big screens adorning the sides of the stage.

Jon Button steps in for the legendary “Ox” John Entwistle – and while not playing exactly like Entwistle (who does?) he is a better fit for the band than the previous fill in Pino Palladino, who is a phenomenal player but his style doesn’t quite mesh.

The material that Daltrey and Townshend chose for this outing was perfect – with a healthy dose of “Tommy” to start the show – opening with the “Overture” before playing through “1921,” “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “Pinball Wizard,” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Pete Townshend of the Who performs at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

Crowd favorites “Who Are You” and a particularly fiesty Townshend vocal on “Eminence Front” followed, all with full orchestral backing. “Imagine A Man” from 1975’s “Who by Numbers” followed, along with a new song “Hero Ground Zero,” playfully introduced by Townshend as an opportunity for the audience to sit, to which Daltrey interjected “or stand on your chairs.”

The stage banter was upbeat and funny from both Daltrey and Townshend, who appeared to be getting along well with each other.

Roger Daltrey of the Who performs at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

Daltrey gave a shout out to his doctor at Mass General who operated on his throat and “literally saved my voice,” to which Townshend playfully retorted “Doc, are you sure that was a good thing?” It was. Daltrey was in better voice than he has been in years, belting out the soaring notes he made famous as a young man decades ago.

Townshend was also in a talkative mood, relaying stories of his fondness for Leonard Bernstein and the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and playing with many of the members on stage at previous engagements at Tanglewood in Western Massachusetts.

Pete Townshend of the Who performs at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

Mid show, the orchestra took a break, leaving the rock band members to play a set of 5 tunes, highlighted by early Who classics “Substitute” and “I Can See for Miles.” Less successful was “You Better, You Bet,” in the set apparently because it’s a favorite of Daltrey’s.

The band-only section was capped off by acoustic takes on “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” performed by Daltrey and Townshend, stripped of its bombast, as well as “Behind Blue Eyes,” both from 1971’s classic “Who’s Next.”

Jon Button, Zak Starkey, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend of the Who perform at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

The Orchestra re-entered for a section largely dominated by material from “Quadrophenia,” but started off with the other new track of the night, “Ball and Chain.” It was announced the same day that the long-delayed new album would be released in November and be simply titled “The Who.”

Jon Button, Zak Starkey, Roger Daltrey, and Pete Townshend of the Who perform at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

After running through the “Quadrophenia” material which included “The Real Me,” and an extended workout on “5:15,” the one-two punch of “Love, Reign O’er Me” and the set closing “Baba O’Riley” ended the show, and really put the exclamation point on the night and justified the inclusion of the orchestra – if they had brought them out for those two tunes alone it would’ve been well worthwhile.

Townshend and Daltrey deserve credit for coming up with new ways to extend the ‘farewell’ – with Daltrey’s vocal chops being what they are now it would be a shame not to be out there showing them off.

The Who performed at Fenway Park in Boston on Friday, September 13, 2019. Photo by Doug MacGunnigle.

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