The surviving members of the Who turned their mourning into defiant energy in their first concert since last week’s sudden death of founding bassist John Entwistle. Guitarist Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey kicked off a North American tour last night (July 1) at the Hollywood Bowl in Los Angeles with Pino Palladino filling in for Entwistle.
The first two shows of the trek were canceled after Entwistle, 57, died in his sleep last Thursday in Las Vegas. His bandmates have vowed to go on with the tour as a tribute to him.
“I just wanted to say that tonight we play for John Entwistle,” Daltrey said after opening the show with “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute.” “He was the true spirit of rock’n’roll and he lives on in the music we play.” The group — rounded out by drummer Zak Starkey, keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick, and Townshend’s youngest brother, Simon, on acoustic guitar and backing vocals –then launched into a frenetic rendition of “Who Are You.”
Earlier, Townshend said he did not expect Palladino, who has played with Tears For Fears, Eric Clapton, and Elton John, to “emulate, parody, or copy John Entwistle in any way,” the guitarist said in a message posted on his official Web site. “The one request I made was that — at first — he play as loud as he can bear!”
“My immediate mission is to complete this tour in good heart, and to remember John in my quiet and private times,” Townshend said. “It is easy for me to smile when I remember John. I loved him unconditionally. I will try hard not to fall into any of my usual mini-depressions on this tour. Pino is determined to enjoy the music, and so am I. We are musicians, entertainers. We can do it. We have the right tools. No worries.”
Fans at the packed Hollywood Bowl gave the group a standing ovation before a single note was played. Palladino played the first few songs off to the side, often in shadow. Before the set began, giant screens featured video of the group rehearsing at Townshend’s home about two weeks before Entwistle’s death. The audience cheered and applauded each time Entwistle was seen.
Many said they were sorry that he was gone, but believe the Who would survive his loss. “The truth of the matter is, Entwistle was very mellow, so he affects the music but he doesn’t affect the stage dynamic as much,” said Howard Fuchs, 50, a Los Angeles attorney who said he had seen the group perform nearly 20 times. “He was unique and replaceable all in one.”
Most fans said they were glad the band planned to continue. “I’ve lost good friends in my life and the best thing you can do to get it out of your system is to express it through music,” said Michael May, 39, of Los Angeles, a camera operator and amateur guitarist.
Midway through the show, Townshend took the microphone to thank fans for supporting the band during their time of mourning. “For fans that have followed us for many years, this is gonna be very difficult,” Townshend said. “We understand. We’re not pretending that nothing’s happened.”
At the end of the show, he and Daltrey embraced and waved farewell to a giant screen beside the stage on which images of Entwistle — ranging from his youth to his older days — were projected.
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