the who, the gorge, 7-6-2002

I had mixed feelings about going to this show. Friends were saying, “Have a great time” and I would cut them off. It felt wrong to say “Have a great time” or to be excited about seeing Pete and Roger. Prior to John’s death, I didn’t own a ticket to this show, or any other for that matter. But after John died and they decided to continue the tour, I decided that I had to be there. If they could still get up onstage and play, then they needed and deserved my support. That didn’t make the feeling any less weird. It was weird to not have that sense of excitement about going to a show, going to see the Who, but for it to be there hovering somewhere in the background. I was afraid that I would just cry the whole day, or at least the whole show. So I put on my waterproof mascara and vintage Quadrophenia shirt and headed out to eastern Washington with some friends.

When they walked onstage and launched into the “Substitute”/”Can’t Explain”/”Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” trio, I felt that old familiar rush of happiness and excitement. I couldn’t stop it. I thought they’d walk out and I’d just cry and cry for the entire show. And that didn’t happen. During ”Anyway Anyhow Anywhere”, I looked toward what would have been John’s side and then the tears started a little, but the music was too big, too great, too wonderful for that to last for long.

I thought this show was tremendous. Roger’s voice is the strongest I’ve heard it in years, it almost never faltered. Pete’s playing was focused and inspired, none of the meandering that he sometimes lapsed into in previous years. So much energy and power and presence and emotion.

To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed “Another Tricky Day”. I had bought a 12th row seat from a friend, and then we commandeered 5th row seats, and by this point, I’d been moved to the end of that aisle, which – due to the weird seating configuration at the Gorge – is actually against the barrier. So I ended up right in front of Pino. In my mind’s eye, I could see John standing there instead. I just tried not to think about it.

I watched “My Generation” from Shoreline on Pete’s site and felt the gaping hole intensely. But being there is somehow different. Even when the Quadrophenia section of the set began with “5:15” I kind of held my breath, waiting to feel that glaring absence. No, it wasn’t the same as if John was there, but it was still valid and powerful. “Sea And Sand” was amazing, even better than Quadrophenia 96, and “Love, Reign O’er Me” was unbelievable. I watched Roger’s face intently and hoped that that was sweat running down his face and not tears, even though I was shedding enough at that moment for both of us. They follow that with “Behind Blue Eyes,” Roger at the front of the stage, naked and exposed, honest as ever.

Every time it seemed that Roger was getting emotional, Pete would mug or make some face in his direction and that would lighten the mood – for all of us. What I love about the Who, unlike, say, the Stones, is that the interaction and emotion and friendship between the members is still very much there, very present. This is even more pronounced now. They need to lean on each other to get through it and they do. There was much love, much laughter, and much emotion of all kinds. Pete’s face during many songs told it all.

The only low point in the set for me was “Eminence Front”. The bassline in that song is so crucial and Pino hasn’t really found a way to fit into it yet. Pete had no focus and there was no groove, and part of me suspects he wasn’t focused because he was emotional. I don’t like “You Better You Bet” any more now than I ever have. But I had no issues with “Bargain” or “Relay” or “My Generation,” unlike other fans. This show was so loud and so overwhelming that it was impossible not to respond to it. And there I am in the front row, somehow, not believing that I am there, not believing that I am so close, just lost in the lights and the volume and the songs. I mean, utterly and completely lost, I let go of everything and just jumped in.

“My Generation”. Oh, my god. It was just so – punk rock. Thrashing, screaming, biting, intense as hell. I pogoed madly until my feet hurt. It’s not the same without John, no. If they played it the way they had on previous tours, fairly straight ahead, it would have been different. But lighting that fuse and then going out there and taking no prisoners the way they are playing it now, it works. Even if you hold your breath when it comes to the bass solo.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” and the guitar smash. The energy in WGFA was kind of odd, it wasn’t that huge overwhelming anthem that it usually is, but it started picking up energy at the end, after the power scream. Pete started playing a solo, notes that sounded like tears falling on the stage. And he just dove into it emotionally, running up and balancing on the monitor, and then falling back, and then the band coming into another end. And then he’s got the guitar up in starting position and I thought he was just joking – but then I held my breath as he went for it with down to the very marrow of his bones, and then held it up, pieces still shaking barely together, and smirked. And then we all laughed with him. “Don’t all fight for it now…” he said, as they walked off the stage prior to the encore. They lingered for a bit, waving and making eye contact with the audience. That’s when stupid me blows a kiss in Roger’s direction, and he blows one back at me. It was the only way I knew to say thank you, say I’m sorry, say I’m with you.

There were jokes: Roger thanking the powers that be for controlling the wind (the Gorge being utterly and completely out of doors, at the edge of the Columbia River Gorge, hence the name) makes the sound a dodgy proposition at the best of times. But then he says, “speaking of wind..” and fans in the direction of his rear end. Pete laughs and says, “whoa… It’s headed your way!” Yes, the Who making fart jokes.

The Tommy medley was, for me, even better than the Quadrophenia segment, and that’s saying a lot. Roger smashing the hell out of those tambourines. And then “Listening To You,” and I’m standing there with my arms raised, just singing and singing along as hard as I can. It was at the last part of “Listening To You” that I finally broke down and cried and cried and cried, while singing as hard as I could. I had the thought at that moment: this may be it. This may the last time you ever see this, feel this again. And that thought was unbearable, which just made me cry harder. This time, I wasn’t trying to hide it. I just stood there and cried and didn’t give a fuck what anyone around me might have thought.

This show is triumph and tribute, mourning and celebration. It was so much more than I expected, and absolutely everything that I needed – emotionally and musically. This was so the right decision for them to make. The songs are still the same songs you know and love, played for all that they’re worth. They aren’t going out there and phoning it in. There is nothing half-hearted about these performances. They are giving all they can give every night. And that is the best possible tribute they could have given John. Cancelling the tour wouldn’t have done anything except placate people who think they have the right to tell Pete and Roger how they should mourn their friend. And they are mourning. I don’t think there’s a single moment when Pete and Roger aren’t thinking of John up there. You can see it in their faces and at times it is utterly heart-wrenching.

As we were herded up the aisle by security, I’m kind of walking ahead of everyone else, looking up at the stars and that huge expanse of eastern Washington sky. And all of a sudden I start to yell: “hey! You! Why now! Why’d you have to take him now! Did you need a bass player *that* fucking badly! Why John! Why not – Geddy Lee, or something….” I didn’t mean to be funny, and I don’t know where it came from. But I was standing there, looking at the sky, and screaming, railing at the cosmos.

As we continue to walk out, friends of mine are trying to talk me into going to another show, offering me tickets for Chicago or Irvine or Denver or MSG. And as tempting as it is, as much as I would love to see this again, it wouldn’t be the same and I got everything I needed from the show last night. I said my goodbyes, I relived my memories, I felt every emotion I have ever felt at a Who concert. I don’t need anything more.

We never get thunder in Seattle. We’re in this weird “convergence zone” between two mountain ranges that stops it from getting through to us. Today, as I sit and write this, it is raining, and there is thunder rolling through. I’m finding it a lovely coincidence that it’s happening the day after the Who played here.

Goodbye, John.