Only the Beatles and the Stones are ahead of the Who when it comes to influential and important bands of the 1960s and beyond. These bullseyed British invaders practically invented the mod, punk, and rock-opera genres...not to mention the now-cliché-but-once-shocking rock 'n' roll rebel act of destroying one's equipment onstage. Yes, gawd only knows how many lovely, expensive electric guitars have been smashed to smithereens over the last five decades thanks to Pete Townshend's bad influence--but really now, it's all been worth it.
No guitars were harmed in the making of VH1's Who Rock Honors concert, but thankfully, neither was the Who's legacy. Not only did the participating bands that paid tribute to the venerable modfathers (Pearl Jam, Incubus, the Flaming Lips, the Foo Fighters, and Tenacious D) approach the Who's classic catalog with both the respect and enthusiasm it deserved, but when the actual guests of honor emerged to close the show, they lived up to their legend and put all their considerably "opening acts" to shame.
Plus Pete Townshend had the best quote on the red carpet, too:
Oddly, as alluded to in the footage above, all the bands on the Rock Honors
bill were American. This despite the fact that the entire stage--and much of the audience--was draped in Union Jack flags, and that many of the famous fans glowingly gushing about the Who during the between-band video vignettes were Brits. (Some of the limey Who testifiers included Coldplay, Noel Gallagher, Billy Idol, Mick Jones of the Clash, and Steve Jones of the Sex Pistols, while the Yank fans included Dave Navarro, Cameron Crowe, Michael J. Fox, Conan O'Brien, Slash, Joan Jett, Patrick Stump of Fall Out Boy.)
Here's a taste of some of that testimony, by the way:
Anyway, in a pleasantly surprising turn of events, a bona fide Brit got to share the stage after all. See, Dave Grohl's voice was so messed up that day, it was looking like he wouldn't be able to sing at all...
So the perfect, if last-minute, solution was to invite Gaz Coombes from Britpop gods Supergrass (who were playing in Hollywood that evening) to share duties with Dave, taking over lead vocals on "Bargain." (Grohl hardcharged through "Young Man's Blues," and no one would have guessed for a moment that he was illin'.) It was pointed out later to me by some partypooper that Gaz missed a few lyrics (I'll have to watch the broadcast to confirm that), but I personally didn't notice or even care--as a diehard Supergrass dork who'd made the agonizing Sophie's choice to miss Supergrass's concert in order to attend Rock Honors
, I was just thrilled to bits to witness Gaz's unannounced cameo. And he seemed thrilled to bit to be there, too. And can you blame him? It's obvious to anyone who's ever heard a single Supergrass song that the Who have been a massive inspiration for Gaz's group.
Next came the Flaming Lips, introduced by Rain "Dwight" Wilson, who was all gussied up like another Dwight--Reginald Dwight, aka Elton John--in full pinball wizard regalia. "This band is so damn hip, because it must be the Flaming Lips!" Rain chanted from behind his rhinestone-framed bugeyed specs, and truer words were never spoken, as the Lips' set--a supercalafragilistipsychedelic Tommy
medley--was definitely the hippest, not to mention trippiest, part of the show.
Lead Lip Wayne Coyne made one of his typically grand entrances, rolling out onto the outstretched hands of the front row in his trademark clear plastic bubble, before falling to the floor. But Wayne's bubble was not burst--he triumphantly got up, dusted off his signature white suit, and hit the stage for a true celebration
of the Who's music in the literal sense of the word. Cheapo disco-deejay light flickered and sputtered, Wayne brandished a silver-tasseled magic-wand thingy like one of those girly ribbons that rhythmic gymnasts wave around during floor routines, Chinese gongs were resoundingly banged, and big puffy clouds of dry-ice fog obscured half the stage--but they didn't
obscure the concert enough to hide the pure joy radiating out of all four band members as they bashed out this glorious noise. The Lips' star turn was a spectacle so big even a deaf dumb and blind man could appreciate it, and it a true TV watercooler moment if I ever saw one.
Incubus's set was a more meat-and-potatoes rock affair, and a bit deflating after the Lip's pinball wizardry. But Brandon Boyd and company turned out solid versions of "I Can See For Miles" (much props to whomever put together the acid-flashbacky, lava-lampy lightshow that screened behind the band) and "I Can't Explain." Because let's face it, "I Can't Explain" is pretty much a perfect pop song. It's almost impossible to ruin that one.
Tenacious D were next, and though I was worried they'd poke disrespectful fun at the Who, or at least ruin one of their hits, the one Who tune they covered, "Squeezebox"--with its cheeky, innuendo-laden lyrics--was a perfect fit for the D's sophomorically humorous style. Seeing Jack Black warble, "She goes in and out and in and out and in and out!" was just priceless
Surprise announcer Sean Penn showed up out of nowhere to announce Pearl Jam, "the band that never sold out...unlike a certain music channel." (Ohnohedidn't!) Eddie Vedder had quite vocally declared his fierce love for the Who's Quadrophenia in the past, so for Pearl Jam's performance they did "Love Reign O'er Me" and "The Real Me," and it was TOTAL MAGIC. Every person in the Rock Honors audience is probably going to hire personal injury attorneys and sue the VH1 network for TMJ now, because everyone's jaws were hitting the floor with propulsive force during PJ's set.
It almost upstaged the Flaming Lips' performance--and without
any Chinese gongs, dry ice, or girly ribbons, too.
As amazing as all these bands were, they really just served as warmup acts for the main attraction: The Who themselves. And after 90 minutes of seeing A-list rock celebs sing Who songs and praise the Who to the high heavens--spliced together with vintage video of the legends in their Moon/Entwistle prime--well, suffice to say the audience was PUMPED. The show had been like one (extremely entertaining, extremely convincing) Who infomercial/seminar, so by that point Townshend and Daltrey could have come onstage and asked for everyone to give 'em their money, and pretty much every concertgoer would have gladly dumped the contents of their wallets and handbags at Pete and Roger's feet. Kind of like Tommy's cult followers in the movie, come to think of it...
But luckily, all Pete and Roger wanted to do was rock. After a cute intro by Adam Sandler, who strummed an acoustic version of "Magic Bus" with altered Sandlerian lyrics ("Behind your blue eyes is one big-ass brain," he warbled to Pete), out they came--Roger Daltrey, 64 years young (no beer gut, no bald spot, no struggle to hit the high notes), and windmill-armed Pete Townshend, still one of the coolest men on the planet and definitely THE coolest man in the room.
"Thanks for having us," Roger beamed. "That's the toppest lot of support acts we've ever had."
"It's kind of strange and wonderful for me to have my music played by other people for a change," Pete added.
After opening with a pulse-quickening, goosebump-raising "Baba O'Riley" and following with the CSI
-popularized "Who Are You," a magical "Behind Blue Eyes," a perfectly stuttered "My Generation," and positively incendiary "Won't Get Fooled Again" (how
can Roger still SCREAM like that???), the Who ran into some technical difficulties during "You Better You Bet." But these guys are old pros, so Roger just shrugged; said, "Sh*t happens"; and suggested they perform the song all over again, from the top. Absolutely no one
in the audience complained about that. Because "You Better You Bet" is a song that never gets old.
After "2000 Years and "Tea & Theatre," it was all over. But the memories remain...and will be broadcast on VH1 in a near-constant loop between I Love The Millennium reruns for the next two weeks or so. But make sure to catch it the Who Rock Honors when it airs for the first time at 9pm on Thursday night.
WATCH WAYNE COYNE'S INTERVIEW
View performance photos
View red-carpet photos
Visit the official VH1 Who Rock Honors website