The Who State Farm Arena Atlanta, GA September 18, 2019
The Who have long been one of rock's most enduring bands and its 2019 North American tour found the group in remarkable form, augmented by the presence of a local orchestra along each stop of the tour. Vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist/vocalist Pete Townshend have found a compelling way to present the full range and scope of their musical output and aspirations in The Who.
The Atlanta show featured the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra for the first ten pieces, largely drawn from the group's seminal rock opera Tommy (Decca, 1969), along with perennial favorites like an extended "Eminence Front," which particularly highlighted Townsend's surprising guitar skills. The piece was a reminder that, while Townshend is, perhaps, best known for his riffs and rhythm guitar, he remains a fine soloist. Indeed, unlike many of his rock peers, Townshend has continued to work on his playing well into his seventies and arguably possesses more dexterity today than he did as a younger man. Townshend has also furthered an already keen interest in orchestration.
As in recent years, The Who's core unit included guitarist Simon Townshend, keyboardist Loren Gold, bassist Jon Button and drummer Zak Starkey. Gold, in particular, was featured in a solo improvisation which highlighted his classical training. Overall, the core group exhibited a masterful sense of dynamics and interplay, managing the balancing act between sounding unabashedly '"rock" and interfacing smoothly with a conductor and symphony orchestra.
The band continued on for several pieces without the orchestra, playing early classics like "The Kids Are Alright" and "I Can See for Miles," on which it made clear that it possessed considerable raw energy for any age. Daltrey and Townshend then remained alone together onstage for an improvisational duet on "Won't Get Fooled Again," before inviting out their violinist and cellist accompanists to play a moving version of "Behind Blue Eyes," both songs from the group's classic hit, Who's Next (Decca, 1971).
The orchestra returned to finish the night with the band on a variety of songs, ranging from the new "Ball and Chain" (a pointed critique of the Guantanamo Bay detention center) to a rousing version of "Love Reign O'er Me," the closing song on Quadrophenia (MCA, 1973) and which, perhaps more than any other piece, utilized the colors of the orchestra to great effect.
The evening concluded with a magnificent version of "Baba O'Riley," which assigned the classic Terry Riley-inspired minimalist motifs to various sections of the orchestra and featured a frenzied violin solo to cap it all off.