Saturday at Jazz Fest, The Who were as powerful as the early afternoon rains, and Juvenile brings people together.
[Updated] Rain battered the Fair Grounds for a second day, and a prolonged midday rain turned much of the infield to mud. As if on schedule, the rain quit for good near the start of The Who on Jazz Fest’s Acura Stage, and the sun actually shined on “Baba O’Riley.” The Who’s set began woefully as the momentum Keith Moon and John Entwistle generated on “Can’t Explain” was badly needed. “The Seeker” wasn’t an improvement, and “Squeeze Box” was too lightweight to be more than pleasant. But they fought their way into the set, and for 90 minutes of their two-hour set, The Who were impressive. Roger Daltrey’s voice rarely showed its age, and Pete Townshend’s guitar playing became more idiosyncratic as it went on, moving fluidly between rhythm and lead parts, and becoming more and more aggressive in the process. A friend thought it was the best rock show in the history of Jazz Fest, and while there’s little competition, the claim is certainly possible.
The part that warmed my heart is the band’s thorny core. Daltrey was obviously sarcastic when he expressed his “affection” for playing festivals, and Townshend was similarly tongue-in-cheek when spoke of how great it was to be at Jazz Fest. “I’m going to be playing some jazz in a few minutes and you’re going to hate it,” he said.
That prickliness wasn’t reserved for those outside the band. Daltrey and Townshend snapped at each other onstage as well. Townshend introduced “Pictures of Lilly” by saying, “This is a sort of academic treatise every young person should go through,” then discovered that the song had been cut from the set. As he complained that the song was on his list, Daltrey took a dig at Townshend’s pretensions.
“Tell them about the thesis,” he said.
In the past, irony junkies have noted that The Who did not, in fact, die before they grew old as they hoped in “My Generation.” On record, it’s at worst a slightly dated lyric hooked to a powerhouse riff. Live, it was hard to watch Daltrey sing it. I can’t go in my imagination to a ’60s or ‘70s Daltrey, and I’m left with a wealthy, handsome man in his 60s telling who to fuck off? Dudes in retirement homes? All those 80-year-olds keeping the sixtysomethings down?
During “Baba O’Riley,” the crowd joined them in their weird relationship with age. As Daltrey sang, “It’s only teenage wasteland / We’re all wasted,” the camera for the video system pulled back to show people in their 50s and 60s singing along passionately, declaring themselves teenaged and wasted too. Obviously, I’m being very literal here, many people’s inner 16 year-old selves were speaking in that moment, connecting to the song’s power and who they were when they first heard the song. Still, I wondered how many of those singing along have issues with kids these days and the way they do drugs and listen to EDM.
- The set of the day that came closest to living up to Jazz Fest’s utopian ideal of communities coming together around music wasn’t The Who, Ryan Adams or John Legend, but Juvenile and Mannie Fresh. The audience was black and white with men and women of all ages not just there but into Juvie. The same passage of time that saddled The Who with “hope I die before I get old” has helped Juvie, who no longer represents the disreputable side of New Orleans music. He clearly enjoyed the moment and was up to it, keeping the party moving and rolling through his hits and, in honor of the Saints, part of “Halftime (Stand Up and Get Crunk).” Bounce artists know how to pull out the party big guns.
- I wanted to hear the backstage conversation between Lost Bayou Ramblers’ Louis Michot and Shovels and Rope’s Carrie Ann Hearst. We won’t hear two voices more country than theirs at Jazz Fest this year. For more on Shovels and Rope, see my review for The New Orleans Advocate.
- In my interview with James Westfall, he said The Wee Trio changes up songs every few months. At their Jazz Tent set, they performed a version of “Queen Bitch” that differed from the version on their recent Live at the Bistro or Ashes to Ashes: A David Bowie Intraspective, where it first appeared. This time it opened with a bass solo by Dan Loomis that wouldn’t have tipped the audience as to where he was going if Westfall hadn’t told us. Once the song kicked it, they gave it a stop/start dynamic, fighting the song’s pop center by refusing to let it settle into anything too comfortable, even though Bowie’s pop instincts made that a challenge.
Updated at 9:35 a.m.
In the original post, Pete Townshend was erroneously referred to as Keith Townshend. The text has been corrected.