Pete Townshend might be the quickest-witted and least-filtered quote machine in rock, but he admitted to being somewhat at a loss for words at this moment.
On Sunday, Townshend’s band The Who took the stage in Cincinnati for the first time since Dec. 3, 1979, when 11 people were killed before the rock group’s show at Riverfront Coliseum.
“I’ve been trying to think of why to say, what would be cool to say, what would be uncool to say, and really there’s no words that we can say that can mean (as much as) the fact that you guys have come out tonight and supported this event. Thank you so much,” he said, addressing the crowd at West End’s TQL Stadium for the first time.
Then he gave a more typical Townshend-sounding quote: “You probably know that we are not going to be paid for this, so I’m not going to work very hard.
emotional concert:The Who wants fans to remember those lost in Cincinnati in 1979
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“But you paid and your money is going to great causes, many of which are related to what happened back here in Cincinnati in 1979, which is probably time for us to both remember and try to forget,” he said. “Anyway, it’s so lovely to be here.”
And then, with the heaviness lifted, he was fully back to being his usual self.
Pointing at a few empty seats, he cursed the name of the king of country music, who was in town down the road playing Paul Brown Stadium this weekend.
Former drummer reflects:‘The thought never leaves me.’ Former Who drummer remembers that night in Cincinnati
“We could have sold them to (freaking) Garth Brooks,” I suggested.
In many ways, it was a standard Who performance, despite the history it marked. The set list resembled others on its current tour, with a format that cycled between the core band playing with and without the backing of a 48-piece orchestra.
Townshend complimented the orchestra, composed of local players. “Cincinnati has some of the finest orchestral musicians,” he said. “I’ve got many wonderful recordings by the Cincinnati Symphony. If you want to go to a posh gig, check them out.”
Singer Roger Daltrey, the other remaining original member of the group, sounded great and was at his full-throated best for the 21-song, two-hour-plus show.
And when he executed his first microphone twirl three songs into the set on “Amazing Journey,” the crowd responded with applause.
Townshend saved his signature maneuver, the windmill, for the sixth song of the night, “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Though his playing and overall performances by him were considerably less demonstrative than in decades past, and a lot of his famous guitar parts were augmented by side men and the orchestra, he remains the center of the band. He had some nice riffs and leads on “Relay,” and his turn of him fronting the band on vocals for “I’m One” was a highlight.
Drummer Zak Starkey manages to fill in for the irreplaceable Keith Moon
If there’s a third Who member who at this point has made himself irreplaceable, it’s Zak Starkey. The drummer could knock out any fill as first recorded by the late Keith Moon, and he was also holding the band together when things were getting loose in a way that his dad, Ringo Starr, would surely appreciate.
Near the end of the show, in a prelude to “Love, Reign O’er Me,” pianist Loren Gold performed softly as the video boards showed black-and-white photos of the 11 people who died in 1979. The names weren’ t-captioned; it was just the photos, making the presentation more poignant. At the end of the video, the 11 names were listed and the crowd cheered.
Before The Who took the stage, the video boards showed a recorded message from Eddie Vedder, in which he recalled how Townshend and Daltrey came to his aid after nine people were killed at a PearI Jam concert in 2000. “I was hoping to be ( in Cincinnati) tonight,” Vedder said in the message. “We’re all thinking about you. It’s a great thing remembering those young people, who will never be forgotten.”
More:Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder gives The Who a shout-out for returning to Cincinnati
The families of nine of the people killed in 1979 were in attendance at the concert, according to Fred Wittenbaum of the PEM Memorial Scholarship Fund, established in memory of the three Finneytown High School students among the 11 concertgoers who died in 1979. Starkey wore a PEM T-shirt during the show.
The Who provided seats in the front to the nine families, and the venue hosted the families for a dinner prior to the show, Wittenbaum said. Of the 11 families, one declined the invitation to the show, and another was unable to attend, he said.
Finneytown connections ran deep Sunday night.
Local rockers Safe Passage open TQL Stadium show
The local rock band Safe Passage served as the opening act. Lead singer Walt Medlock and drummer Mike Simkin are both 1979 graduates of Finneytown High School and attended the 1979 concert.
The band played three original songs before closing with a cover of Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here.”
“This one goes out to all the loved ones who couldn’t join us tonight,” Medlock said.
Zach Wuorinen, a 2020 Finneytown graduate, performed bass in The Who’s orchestra, while 10 current Finneytown students joined the orchestra for The Who’s performance of the final song, “Baba O’Riley.”
Daltrey didn’t address the topic of 1979 until the show was over and the band was taking a bow.
He was less loquacious than his bandmate.
“You never get over it, but you gotta live,” he said.
This was the first concert at the year-old West End stadium, home to FC Cincinnati. The capacity for the concert configuration was 17,500 (attendance was 16,988) with a stage constructed at one end of the playing surface. The sound and sight lines were very nice, making TQL a solid addition to Cincinnati’s fast-growing collection of venues presenting live music.