The Who Hits Back In Phoenix

by Kevin Wierzbicki

The Who - October 30, 2022 - Ak-Chin Pavilion, Phoenix AZ

One of the most-revered rock bands of all time thrilled a capacity crowd Oct. 30 as The Who brought their "The Who Hits Back!" show to the Ak-Chin Pavilion in Phoenix. As the name of the tour suggests, the concert was packed with hits and was also bookended with excerpts from the band's big rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia.

Fans got to hear The Who's music in a bit of a different way at the show as the band is performing most of their set with a 48-piece orchestra, most of the members of which are sourced in each city where the tour stops. The orchestral addition really made a difference, especially on the opening sequence of five songs from Tommy; "Overture," "1921," "Sparks," the massive hit "Pinball Wizard" and "We're Not Gonna Take It." Those hoping to see front man Pete Townshend perform his signature "windmill" move on electric guitar did not have long to wait as he did it on "Sparks" for the first of many times throughout the evening. Most of Townshend's guitar wizardry was performed without effects but there was a brief moment on "Sparks" where he used his microphone stand as a slide for his guitar.

The raucous "Who Are You" began the post- Tommy cuts and keyboard players Loren Gold and Emily Marshall were spotlighted on the synth-heavy "Eminence Front." Townshend told the story of how the band manipulated the charts to briefly reach #1 with their 2019 album Who before playing that album's "Ball and Chain," a cut originally recorded by Townshend for a solo album and previously called "Guantanamo." Pete got a laugh out of explaining how during the tour to back Who that ticket prices were upped a couple of bucks so that each concert-goer could get a CD, with that extra volume moved pushing the record to the top of the charts, at least until Bad Bunny took over the #1 slot.

After "Ball and Chain" the orchestra took a break for a few songs as the band rocked through "You Better You Bet," the 52-year-old chestnut "The Seeker," "Another Tricky Day" and lead singer Roger Daltrey waxing tender of "Naked Eye," a song from the band's 1974 compilation Odds & Sods. There was a between-songs silence that was just a little bit longer than usual and a completely darkened stage when all of a sudden the lights blared and the band exploded into "Won't Get Fooled Again;" the technique was classic rock showmanship from a band that knows exactly how to work a crowd. Cellist Audrey Snyder and violinist Katie Jacoby, the only two orchestra players who tour with the band, returned to the stage to feature on "Behind Blue Eyes" before the rest of the orchestra returned to finish out the show. As they had begun the evening with selections from Tommy, The Who ended the show with excerpts from Quadrophenia including "The Real Me," "I'm One" and "5:15" where Daltrey did his signature move of twirling his microphone and cord in the air like he is about to lasso a horse. The show ended with the magnificent Quadrophenia cut "Love, Reign O'er Me" and an encore of big favorite "Baba O'Riley." Additional members of The Who for this evening were second guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete's brother) who played his heart out mostly on acoustic, bass man Jon Button and drummer Zak Starkey who is the son of Ringo Starr. Also appearing were background singer Billy Nicholls and the orchestra conductor Keith Levenson.

Opening for The Who were Mike Campbell & the Dirty Knobs who played selections from their two albums along with cuts from Campbell's time with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers. The half-hour set found the guitarist leading his band through "Wicked Mind," the new and bluesy "I Still Love You" and Heartbreakers cuts including "Listen to Her Heart," "Refugee" which was mostly performed at a much slower pace than the original, and the set-closing "Runnin' Down a Dream."

The Who concert was presented by Live Nation and the band's tour ends with a two-night stand in Las Vegas Nov. 4th and 5th. For upcoming Live Nation concerts in Phoenix and beyond go here.

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