The Who rocks Pittsburgh in orchestra-studded show |

The Who rocks Pittsburgh in orchestra-studded show

Natasha Lindstrom
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Roger Daltrey swings his microphone as The Who perform on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Pete Townshend of The Who performs on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Roger Daltrey performs with The Who on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Roger Daltrey of The Who swings his microphone through the air on Thursday, May 30, 2019 as the band performs at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
The Who perform for crowds on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Guitarist Pete Townshend performs with The Who perform for crowds on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
The Who perform for crowds on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
The Who perform alongside a full orchestral band for crowds on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend of The Who perform on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Audience members record as The Who perform on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Reignwolf performs as the opening act for The Who on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Reignwolf performs as the opening act for The Who on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Reignwolf performs as the opening act for The Who on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.
Shane Dunlap | Tribune-Review
Reignwolf performs as the opening act for The Who on Thursday, May 30, 2019 at PPG Paints Arena.

The Who rocked PPG Paints Arena in an orchestra-studded show Thursday night that paid tribute not only to nostalgic fans but also to the resiliency of the city of Pittsburgh.

“It’s great to be back in Pittsburgh, thank you for coming out to see us tonight,” legendary guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend told the crowd toward the start of the British rock group’s 2½ hour performance, the last summer stop of The Who’s Moving On! Tour.

Townshend lauded Downtown Pittsburgh in particular for looking “really, really fabulous” and “really stylish” compared to how he remembered the dilapidated, far emptier streets decades ago. Townshend recalled The Who’s stop here during the British rock group’s 25th anniversary tour, when the region still was reeling from steep job and population losses spurred by the demise of the U.S. steel industry and ensuing mass shuttering of mills and factories.

“In those days, this was 1989, this city was in big trouble,” Townshend said. “On the other hand, I remember going to a new set of bars by the river, and there were people getting smashed, having fun … Isn’t it weird that we have to go low to get high?”

More seriously, Townshend said, “It’s so great to be here at a time when the city is fighting back as hard as it is. It’s so great to be with you to celebrate that.”

‘Better than ever’

Longtime as well as newfound fans raved about the show.

They relished Townshend’s lightning-speed guitar fingering, lead singer Roger Daltrey’s voluminous high notes and the sheer number of instruments and musicians on stage thanks to The Who’s four-piece band and a 50-plus-piece orchestra.

Many balked at the idea that both lead men are in their mid-70s. Townshend is 74 and Daltrey is 75.

“Better than ever,” said Chuck Watts, 67, a musician from Turtle Creek. He was especially impressed by a solo violinist who held her own while Townshend jammed on his guitar, spurred standing ovations from the floor to the rafters. “I miss Keith (Moon) and John (Entwistle), though.”

Watts first saw The Who perform live 50 years ago — as a 17-year-old boy who hitched a ride with a group of beatniks in Greenwich Village, New York for Woodstock 1969. He recalled being muddy and exhausted as the sun rose on the second day of the festival when The Who took the stage with a mesmerizing flashing light show and powerful performance that made him an instant follower.

Che Bell, 41, of Trafford said she has adored The Who since she was 4 or 5 years old.

“It’s my favorite band my whole entire life,” said Bell, who plays in a local band. “They don’t have canned patter on stage, and their songs are real and raw … They’re not just made to go up the charts or to impress people. There’s a lot of heart in those songs.”

Devin Knight, a magician from Grove City, dubs himself the “one of the world’s biggest fans of The Who.”

“Next to the Beatles, they’re the second best band that ever existed,” said Knight, who finally saw The Who live for the first time Thursday night. “I think Pete Townshend, next to Paul McCartney, is the best songwriter in music.”

Mikay Deise, 52, said he’s been a fan of The Who “only about 40 years.” 

“They’re the voice of a generation, generations ago,” Deise said. “It was the soundtrack of my childhood back in the early 80s, and something that just stuck with me that I listened to forever.”

His favorite song, “Baba O’Riley” — the track often miscalled “Teenage Wasteland” based on its lyrics — is “an anthem for youth, no matter what generation it is.”

Deise gestured to the other end of a concessions stand while waiting for the show to start. “Over there is a kid about 12 years old, and I think it’s awesome,” he said. “We also see people at 25, 35 years old, which, they weren’t even born when (The Who) started.”

Several diehard fans lamented that the morning of the show, tickets were selling on resale websites such as StubHub for as low as $9 and via Ticketmaster for under $20.

“I think once people hear the songs, they recognize them, but when you first say The Who, most of the younger people don’t know who it is,” said Jim Miller, a city of Washington resident who attended the show with his wife, Cheryl. He places The Who on the same level as the likes of The Rolling Stones, Pink Floyd and The Eagles.

Among younger millennials in the crowd was Amelia Virtue, 23, who invited her mom to the show.

Virtue, who attends college in Richmond, Va. and grew up in Morgantown, W. Va. was exposed to classic rock at a young age because of her musician father, with some of her other favorites including Chicago and Earth, Wind & Fire.

“I just loved seeing them live,” she said of The Who. “They sound even more amazing than on record.”

Her mother, Wendy Virtue, said she’s “going to stop complaining I’m old if they can do all that.”

Ryan Snyder of Greensburg turned 12 on Thursday, and his parents, Russell and Kim Rodgers, took him to Thursday’s show, his first major concert, as a birthday present. Donning a newly purchased The Who T-shirt, Ryan said he’s interested in learning more about older rock ‘n roll “to see like a new style of music” and “just to like see how it was back then.”

Townshend made several off-the-cuff remarks between songs, eliciting several bouts of hearty laughter thanks to his cheeky wit and self-deprecating jokes.

The Who is releasing a new record later this year, around Christmas, that was initially supposed to be released on Father’s Day in June, Townshend said. He quipped that “all of the thousands of young people” in the audience could buy their upcoming album for their grandfathers and great-grandfathers.

Townshend said he was proud of the results after writing new songs specifically catered to Daltrey’s voice.

“We’re really happy with the record,” he said. “It’s coming out and it’s going to be good.”

The Who’s orchestra-backed tour will resume this fall.

Though thrilled by the results, learning to play with a different orchestra in every city has been a tough learning experience, Townshend said. As for taking cues from a conductor, said Townshend, waving his hands to mimic one, “I’m not used to having someone tell me what to do.”

“We’ve been so lucky with the musicians whom we’ve had on this tour,” he said.

Also supporting the duo were guitarist/backup singer Simon Townshend, Pete Townshend’s brother; keyboardist Loren Gold; bassist Jon Button; and drummer Zak Starkey.

The concert opener was Reignwolf, a Canadian indie/blues rock band whose first show in Pittsburgh was at Brillobox, a music venue and lounge in the city’s Bloomfield neighborhood.

“Be happy, be healthy, and most of all, may we all be lucky,” Daltrey said shortly before ending the night to raucous cheers for the dozens of musicians on stage. “Good night.” 

Here’s the set list from The Who’s stop in Pittsburgh:

  1. Overture
  2. It’s a Boy
  3. 1921
  4. Amazing Journey
  5. Sparks
  6. Pinball Wizard
  7. We’re Not Gonna Take It
  8. Who Are You
  9. Eminence Front
  10. Imagine a Man
  11. You Better You Bet
  12. Substitute
  13. I Can See for Miles
  14. Behind Blue Eyes
  15. Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic, Roger & Pete only)
  16. Tea & Theatre (Roger & Pete only)
  17. The Real Me
  18. I’m One
  19. The Punk and the Godfather
  20. 5:15
  21. Drowned
  22. The Rock
  23. Love, Reign O’er Me
  24. Baba O’Riley

Natasha Lindstrom is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Natasha at 412-380-8514, [email protected] or via Twitter .

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