The Who: “I’m Free”
Last Sunday was supposed to be my first (and probably last) ever Who concert, but as bad luck would have it, the entire Who 50th-anniversary tour was cancelled a couple of weeks ago due to Roger Daltrey contracting viral meningitis. And if that’s anything like spinal meningitis, I would guess it’s not something you’d want to take any chances with as far as letting yourself get worn down, so I certainly harbor no ill will to the band for postponing. Nonetheless, I found myself feeling a little more mopey about it than I’d expected when Sunday night came around. After all, Pete Townshend is one of my rock idols — his songwriting is so much more multi-layered than the typical “classic rock” fare (not to put down classic rock, really, since it’s classic for a reason, most of the time). He’s one of a very small number of artists who I have nearly as much interest in hearing their demo versions of the band’s songs as I am in hearing the full studio recordings. It amazes me how fully fleshed out his ideas generally were for most of the Who’s song catalog even before the band stepped in to complete them.
I had never had much desire to see “The Who” in concert without Keith Moon, much less after the death of John Entwistle. It didn’t feel like I’d be getting the real experience (hence my use of the quotation marks around their name in that previous sentence). But then when I heard about this 50th anniversary tour, the realization hit me that if I didn’t go, there was a very real chance that I’d never get to see Pete Townshend live. So it was for him that I decided to go, but I have to say that my appreciation for Roger Daltrey has grown over the years as well — he has aged better than most ’60s rock legends, in terms of being an intelligent, well-spoken, decent human being who isn’t completely full of himself — so that certainly didn’t hurt. Thankfully, with good health for the band members in the months to come, I just got word today that the Seattle concert has been rescheduled for mid-May of next year, so not toooo long to wait until it happens.
I’m picking “I’m Free” today, from the classic 1969 Tommy album and from so many other possibilities, for almost no other reason than because I just love the way the guitar rhythm starts and then is joined by Moon’s drums in a way that doesn’t seem like it’s going to work, but everything still (just barely) falls into place. In fact, Moon starts to rush the pace just a little and drag the guitar along by the ear, but it still stays together. Minus the rushed pace, this was actually the way Townshend intended it, as his demo for this song anticipates Moon’s entrance — I’m pretty sure Townshend played all his own drums on his demos, but it seems like in this one he really tries to channel Moon in his drum roll-in. In the final recording, Moon adds power that Townshend’s otherwise very capable drum playing can’t capture, and then Townshend brings it back around for a final nod to the “Pinball Wizard” theme and an excellent acoustic solo, wrapping up an incredible 2 minutes and 28 seconds of Tommy-ness. And now I can’t wait for May!