Monday, February 8, 2010

The windmills of our minds

I'm not here this morning to bash The Who. I'm certainly not going to blame them for their halftime show. I mean, they were invited by the NFL to perform at the Super Bowl and they showed up, you know? Maybe it was 30 years too late. But it's not like their legacy is suddenly falling into question. If Pete Townshend wants to windmill a Strat at his age (he'll be 65 in May) I'm there for him.

As a service to SSS followers here's a sampling of reviews from other venues:

Frazier Moore, Associated Press
Maybe 30 years ago, The Who would have been an explosive act for a Super Bowl halftime show. Or anywhere else.

At Sunday's Super Bowl, The Who – led by what's left of them from the original groundbreaking foursome a generation ago – did all that was expected under these circumstances. Filling the dozen minutes allotted them between two halves of football pageantry, the group pounded out nostalgia and spectacle – and five classic songs.

They're not ready for Branson, Mo. ...

The original Who were British lads who early on forged a timeless up-yours message to their seniors with the mantra "Hope I die before I get old." But that lyric wasn't heard Sunday night, nor was their landmark song "My Generation." After all, (Pete) Townshend and (Roger) Daltrey are well into their 60s.

Their voices aren't what they were, and it's been a long time since the once-hyperkinetic axman Townshend did his balletic leaping and springing. During Sunday's show he offered only a few trademark windmill guitar licks.

This is not to say these musicians, even in their advancing age, didn't make a powerful impression. And, of course, the staging helped, with plenty of pyrotechnics, laser pinstripes slicing the Sun Life Stadium, and illuminated eruptions dousing the arena.

Despite its brevity, it was a big, warm, enjoyable show, and The Who looked right at home.

Rick Ellis,
Roger Daltry and Pete Townsend (ie. The Who) were the half-time performers at this year's Super Bowl and the entire segment was dreadful and often horrifying to watch. Even though the vocals were apparently pre-recorded, the singing was often off-key. The harmonies were non-existent and both Daltry and Townsend lumbered across the stage with all the grace of a couple of retirees searching for their walkers.

It was just sad and bittersweet to watch. I don't begrudge the duo for wanting to keep performing. But it's clear that their best days (or even okay days) are way behind them. It was never clear to me why the NFL booked The Who in the first place. And after seeing this horrific performance, it's really a mystery to me now.

Andrew Dansby, Houston Chronicle
Ever since Janet Jackson and Justin Timberlake helped usher the phrase “wardrobe malfunction” into mainstream pop culture, Super Bowl halftime performances have sought to coddle audiences with comfortable and familiar artists.

Had The Who of 45 years ago been transported to 2010 by time machine, the band likely have been too edgy to have been successfully vetted for this event.

But that was then, and Sunday night half of the remaining Who performed following breast-free Bowl appearances by Paul McCartney, Prince, Tom Petty and Bruce Springsteen.

While Pete Townshend offered a succinct master class as to why he's one of rock's most important and innovative guitarists, the band's set was shouty and reliant on its legend. It was the musical equivalent of having your food chewed for you, with six guys doing what four used to.

Roger Daltrey's upper register has been endangered for some time, and on a big stage he resorted to chesty bluster. He and Townshend harmonized like bickering walruses. Their chests remained covered, though, as they worked through a porridgey medley of song fragments familiar to people over 30 and viewers of CSI. Pinball Wizard, Baba O'Reilly, Who Are You (where Townshend was particularly sharp and Daltrey came a little closer to hitting the notes), a tiny snippet of Tommy's “see me” refrain and Won't Get Fooled Again were served with conviction and enthusiasm and rote nostalgia. ...

Attempts to go younger risk alienating a core audience. Bridging generations would likely be as sleepy in execution as it sounds on paper: Imagine John Mayer and Eric Clapton boring three generations of football fans together.

Beyoncé would at least keep it classy. Or they could always bring back Prince.

Greg Kot, Chicago Tribune
The Who's Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend huffed and puffed as they tried to match the energy and bravado of songs originally recorded more than 30 years ago Sunday in their showcase slot as Super Bowl halftime headliners.

These gruff, grizzled rock ‘n’ roll lifers gave it a good go as they chased past glories. At least Daltrey and Townshend weren’t lip-synching as they struck poses amid the lasers and pyrotechnics. Townshend in shades and porkpie hat swung through windmill chords, Daltrey bellowed and blew through a harmonica solo, and drummer Zak Starkey (yes, Ringo’s son) wore a union-jack shirt for the occasion, evoking the band’s earliest publicity photos from Britain’s Mod era.

Of course, back then Keith Moon was the band’s drummer and John Entwistle its bassist. Both are long gone, and The Who has never really been the same since. No matter, Daltrey and Townshend keep pushing the brand and have licensed their music to countless advertisers to keep it alive. Their set list played like a compendium of TV commercials from the last decade as much as a classic-rock primer: snippets of “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You,” “See Me, Feel Me,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It all built up to the climactic, spleen-busting, technologically-enhanced Daltrey scream. Couldn’t have said it better myself, Roger.

Melinda Newman,
While there was much talk that Daltrey and Townshend would be playing to pre-recorded tracks, there’s no doubt those vocals (other than the scream) were live. Daltrey’s voice is diminished, but it’s still powerful and there were moments during “Who are You” where he sounded great. For the most part, Townshend just sounded creaky. I felt like he should be yelling at us to get off his lawn. Townshend’s guitar playing sounded strong and lots of parents probably got to teach their kids about the Windmill, but the cameras cut away anytime he started to do something interesting. There was no passion whatsoever in the performance (I know, I know, they’ve been phoning it in live for years… I’ve seen them in concert enough to know that), but it’s still disappointing. ...

Ever since Janet Jackson’s wardrobe malfunction during the 2004 Super Bowl halftime appearance with Justin Timberlake, no female breasts have been allowed on stage. It’s been veteran male-fronted acts ever since: Paul McCartney in 2005, Rolling Stones in 2006, Prince in 2007, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers in 2008 and Bruce Springsteen & the E Street Band in 2009.

I say bring back the estrogen: for 2011, we’re rooting for Lady GaGa or Beyonce.

Rachel Sklar,
If you love The Who and are old enough to remember how awesomely groundbreaking they were — not to mention guitar-breaking — then you will just love the 2010 Superbowl Half-Time Show, even if it is the Doritos Half-Time show (and I’m pretty sure that group that recorded “The Who Sell Out” would have found that pretty ironic). Kicking off with the iconic opening strains of “Pinball Wizard” they segued a little clunkily to “Baba O’Riley,” singing emphatically of the Teenage Wasteland as only middle-aged rockers can. But who cares — Roger Daltrey may not have the free-flowing blonde locks and rockin’ bod that so enticed Cousin Kevin and the Acid Queen and made me go all melty during “I’m Free,” but damn can they still put on a show, and Pete Townsend wailing on the mic gave me a little thrill.


  1. You know how kick-ass warmup performers become a tough act to follow for the headliners? Well, the Who suffered from the gig a YEAR earlier by Springsteen. He set the bar mighty high for aging rockers, and the lads didn't quite reach it. Still, aside from the somnambulent "who are you?", 'twas a decent mini-show

  2. I guess I don't see the point of the criticism. Yes they are old, they don't get along well, lost some vocal range, blahdeblahhhhh - they still delivered what the crowd wants, and Pete can still play, and kudos for singing live - mostly.
    But yes, god bless the GaGa or Beyonce for next year to see performers at their peak!

  3. In total agreement with anonymous. Why the criticism? It's a half-time show for chrisake not a concert tour. If GaGa and Beyonce ever show up, I'm in the kitchen with my beer and no TV.

  4. P.S. And I wouldn't buy a beer for the reviewers quoted in the blog...except maybe Rachel Sklar. But she'd probably want that 55 calorie crap.