By Annabelle Hanflig
Pittsburgh Current Intern
The Who brought its classic anthems, a 50-piece orchestra and every dad in Allegheny County to the Pittsburgh stop of their Moving On! Tour last night at PPG Paints Arena.
Filling nearly every seat in the venue and hosting the only show I’ve ever been to with a longer line for the men’s room than the women’s, founding members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend reimagined staples like “Who Are You,” “Pinball Wizard” and “Love Reign O’er Me” with the help of a transcendent orchestra, including the otherworldly violinist Katie Jacoby, and a solid backing band.
Daltrey and Townshend gave a thoroughly energetic performance, never hesitating to show off their classic moves—Townshend with his windmill and Daltrey with his daring mic swings—or break between songs, other than to rattle off a sharp quip about their unruly pasts and aging careers.
Any doubts I had concerning the strength of Daltrey’s rumoredly waning voice or Townshend’s need of a new rotator cuff dissipated shortly into their set. From Daltrey and Townshend’s own charisma to the resounding tenacity of their backing musicians, The Who’s performance never felt short on power.
Opening with the captivating instrumentals of “Overture” and swiftly rolling into “It’s A Boy,” Daltrey and Townshend welcomed audience members by reminding them that they hadn’t gone anywhere. Townshend could still kill any guitar riff and Daltrey had no problem strutting across the stage with veteran swagger and a tambourine in each hand.
The energy picked up with “Amazing Journey,” with Townshend’s guitar rallying the crowd to its feet and the orchestral aid igniting the arena. Against a glowing red curtain reminiscent of a dark and smokey jazz club, The Who created a show that everyone could feel electrified by. The audience was filled with father-son duos, couples reminiscing on the band they connected over years ago and groups of friends of all ages rocking out to a band once hailed as some of the best live performers in rock n’ roll.
Today, it’s a bit uncouth to wear a band’s merch to its own show. One could expect to receive a biting once-over by wearing a shirt with an artist’s face on it to that same artist’s show. In today’s music scene, many value the clout of showing up to a gig in an outfit they could sneak backstage in. At last night’s show, there was no intention other than to enjoy the music and soak up the sight of a band concertgoers may never see again. This unadulterated admiration is probably why most attendees donned their finest (and oldest) Who merch, from the last Pittsburgh stop in 2015 to the “Who Are You” supporting tour from the 1980s.
The performance charged on with powerful arrangements of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Who Are You,” keeping the crowd listening intently. Townshend lent his raspy yet compelling vocals to “Eminence Front,” continuing on with his stealthy guitar-playing and captivating every ear in the arena.
The orchestra took a break after “Imagine a Man” and left the band to perform their classics the way they first intended. It was then that a certain concertgoer hit a dab pen, filling my seated section with the stench of a drug probably beloved by Daltrey and Townshend years ago and causing nearby audience members to launch a rigorous investigation to apprehend the culprit. The dads were furious, but the show went on.
Daltrey, Townshend and their band picked up with “You Better You Bet,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “I Can See For Miles”—specifically dedicated to the city of Pittsburgh. Daltrey and Townshend were left to command the stage alone for “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Tea & Theatre,” taking time to sneer at die-hard fans who grew to be familiar front row faces. Daltrey poked fun with his theory that they were only there so they could say they were in the room for the moment him and his bandmate keeled over.
Townshend divulged an intriguing detail about the show towards the end of the night—it was his band’s very first time playing with this specific orchestra. While every audience for the Moving On! Tour will get to experience The Who’s setlist against the backdrop of powerful strings, no performance will ever be the same. That’s because no orchestra will ever play with the band more than once. Each show features a brand new orchestra, who only receives the music they’ll be playing on the day of the show.
The 24-song setlist closed with two of the band’s most prolific songs, “Love Reign O’er Me” and “Baba O’Riley,” which drove audience members onto their feet and back to the days of their youth. Hefty guitar solos, lasting vocals and theatrics galore, Daltrey and Townshend gave the crowd a night they’ve likely seen before, but would still never forget.