Why Don’t You All Just F-F-F-Fade…Oh, Never Mind

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You needn’t be the most prescient person to have guessed which songs The Who were going to play for the halftime show for this year’s Super Bowl. Maybe you would have assumed “My Generation” would get its requisite minute and a half in the greatest hits medley wheel, but that was taken care of in the commercial break leading up to the performance by Will. I. Am’s unrequested and uninspired remix (that punctuation makes me realize that I never had to type that name before. Here’s hoping it never happens again!). But yeah, “Baba O’Riley” predictably had its moment. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was unsurprisingly chosen as the closer. We even got to hear “Who Are You,” a song that, at this point, probably owes more of its cultural infamy to soundtracking blood spatter tests in ultra-modern neon laboratories on C.S.I. than to the impact it made upon its initial release. There were two small fragments from Tommy and that was about it.

The night before, a friend of mine, quite serendipitously, put on a live bootleg of The Who. It should be said that this guy deliberately keeps himself cocooned from too much outer pop-cultural influence, and I can promise you that he had no idea that The Who would be playing to one of the biggest audiences available to anyone, for any reason, all year, on the following night. Let me tell you, that is not a fair way to lead into a performance by the modern incarnation of The Who. Everyone knows that The Who were infamous for being maybe the most ear-splitting, mind-blowingly intense live band of their era. Everyone knows about Pete Townsend’s windmill move and Keith Moon’s jelly-limbed mania, but listening to them at their rawest had me convinced that The Who are probably the most underrated band that many people consider wildly overrated. As another friend once said when we were listening to Live At Leeds, “You know your band is amazing when Roger Daltrey is your weakest link.”

But The Who are out of surprises, and if that is news to you, then you expect too much from men in their sixties. You can deploy LED’s in great fans and you can play medleys of your most recognized tunes and you can have the Super Bowl show director frequently cut to your more photogenic replacement members (in this case, it was longtime stand-in drummer, Zak Starkey), but their days of shocking people are far behind them. I may hate Prince more than anyone I’ve ever met or even heard of, but that crazy motherfucker knew how to put on a halftime show. Why? Precisely because he’s a crazy motherfucker. I don’t like the song “Best of You” by the Foo Fighters, but when Prince nonsensically segued into it during his 2007 performance at the Super Bowl, I couldn’t help but smile. Here was a man I find monstrously overrated playing a song I don’t particularly care for, but it was entertaining for its guileless lack of context. In my wildest dreams I didn’t expect such spontaneity from The Who, nor anything approaching it.

So if you could divorce yourself from your standards for fifteen minutes, The Who did a yeoman’s job the other night. They’re certainly spry for their age, even if that’s not spry for anyone else, and the show was never boring. At the same time, whenever a band that is clearly at the twilight of their careers is put to this sort of test, one that demands that they attempt to capture some of their youthful vigor, it’s just dispiriting. It was sad to watch Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey hug each other at the end of the night, knowing this was a celebration of a career built by four men, two of whom were sadly missing.

Oh, and it should be said, fuck all of the people who protested Pete Townsend’s appearance over the completely dismissed child pornography charges leveled against him in 2003. Simple as that. Fuck ‘em.

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