The Music of the Who -- Concert Review



Producer Michael Dorf's annual tributes to musical legends have become a highlight of the New York concert scene, and this show saluting "The Music of the Who" was no exception. Featuring a terrific mixture of artists ranging from veteran performers whose influence well exceeds their record sales (Living Colour, Bob Mould, the Smithereens, Robyn Hitchcock) to much-buzzed-about up-and-comers (the Postelles, Nicole Atkins, Matt Nathanson), the evening served to benefit numerous worthy music-education programs.

The brilliance and diversity of Pete Townshend's songwriting was well-illustrated by the diversity of the performances, which ranged from faithful re-creations to iconoclastic reimaginings. The evening got off to a nice start with the overture to "Tommy" performed by the house band of Rich Pagano & the Sugarcane Cups, augmented by Steven Bernstein on slide trumpet and a youth choir.

Among the performers intent on capturing the spirit of the originals were Living Colour, with a funkified version of "Eminence Front," featuring vocals by Corey Glover that nearly matched Townshend's in their ferocity; Mould, appropriating Roger Daltrey-style inflections on "I Can't Reach You"; the Smithereens, providing old-school rock with songs like "The Seeker"; the Postelles, infusing "I Can't Explain" with youthful energy; and the Gaslight Anthem, with a garage band-style take on "Baba O'Riley."

Several of the acts went in a more acoustic direction. Sondra Lerche provided urgent vocals and furious guitar strumming to "I Am a Boy"; Israeli singer-songwriter Asaf Avidan delivered a compelling rendition of "Naked Eye," featuring his unique, strangled falsetto voice; and Raul Midon garnered cheers with a virtuoso take on "I Can See for Miles."

Not everything worked. Kaki King proved that a minimalist approach doesn't do much for "Pinball Wizard," and Bobby McFerrin's solo voice rendition of "My Generation" was more gimmicky than fun.

"My Generation" was the only number to be repeated during the course of the evening. Surprise guest performer Patti Smith delivered a blistering version -- "Oh, Carnegie Hall, forgive me for what I am about to do," she jokingly announced -- featuring new and frequently profane lyrics.

Other highlights included Bettye LaVette, who reprised the deeply soulful version of "Love Reign O'er Me" that she delivered at the Kennedy Center event honoring Daltrey and Townshend; a hobbling Willie Nile, hilariously using his crutch as a prop during his lively "The Kids Are Alright"; and Robyn Hitchcock, infusing "Substitute" with a heavy dose of his trademark droll humor.

The only song of the evening not written by Townshend was the Who hit "Young Man Blues," fittingly performed by its composer, jazz singer-songwriter Mose Allison.

The encore? "Won't Get Fooled Again," of course, in a ragged but exuberant rendition featuring the entire lineup.

Venue: Carnegie Hall, New York (Tuesday, March 2)