Selling out the 15,000-capacity Jones Beach amphitheatre last night, The Who filled Wantagh, New York with a happy swarm of Wholigans: sunbeaten tailgaters, tie-dye masters, little kids in protective headphones bouncing around their cool parents, setlist experts, vintage tee flaunters, proud tour buddies who saw them together back in 1969, mellow wine-sippers, and one guy riding around on a bike with a cardboard sign expressing his dire need for tickets. While all of those fans surely desired a perfect evening, technology briefly had other plans during The Who’s fantastic performance. Long before and right after some momentary audio issues, however, everything sounded excellent – including opening band Reignwolf, who join The Who on several dates of their Moving On! Tour.
It’s really exciting watching one of your favorite younger bands open for one of your favorite older bands, especially a band so iconic they don’t even need an opener – Reignwolf leading up to The Who is a brag-to-your-future-grandkids kind of lineup that’s just excessively awesome. The sound and presence concocted by Reignwolf is like a jolt of lightning to the senses, particularly when they’re diving into the crowd and playing for much more time in a much smaller space; I wondered how their show might transform within a thirty-minute slot in such an expansive amphitheatre. Then my wondering was interrupted, and I failed to suppress giggles as some distinguished gentlemen near me described “this rhine-wolf guy” they’d read about as “some kind of pop thing.” Far from it, but those same first-timers were asking lots of questions and kicking off research on their phones as soon as they heard a little bit of Hear Me Out live. Last night, Reignwolf removed all physical distance with their innovative tones and pure-rock intensity, mood-altering smoke machines in tow, proving they can do what they always do at the same caliber in any setting.
The enticingly volatile trio sunk into the sultry ebbs and flows of their dark blues-grunge sound, starting with a special “Over & Over” that flipped the script on where the lyrics and beats land in the album version. It felt like Reignwolf had lit a musical fuse that burned wildly in the form of “Alligator,” “Black and Red,” and “Keeper,” growing into a raging fire for “Electric Love” (a one-wolf show as he took over the set too), “Fools Gold,” and the exhilarating suspense of closer “Are You Satisfied?” Jordan Cook stretched out comfortably on the giant stage, finding a chance to shred on top of the kick drum and occasionally tying his mic cord around his neck. Cook silenced the previously-chattery crowd and riled them up with his trademark brew of rugged vocals, scorching guitar licks, and eye contact that swept the whole amphitheatre. S.J. Kardash jumped high and slammed muscle into his hard-grooving bass lines, locking in tightly with Joseph Braley’s crisp and edgily-subdivided drumming. Cook and Kardash even snuck in a few windmill moves as they struck their strings, a visual effect that seemed like a clear nod to Pete Townshend, who would do the same thing in the same spot very soon.
Admittedly, it’s interesting to see how legends who have been touring for decades respond to showstopping technical difficulties. The once-enveloping sound of the full band and orchestra fell to a whisper – for the last minute and a half or so of ninth song “Imagine A Man,” then again right after that in new album song “Hero Ground Zero” – an interruption that might have ruined the momentum for other bands. It was no problem at all for The Who. The reactions from Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey were amazing, crushing any possible awkwardness and showcasing their down-to-earth personalities. Realizing the crowd hadn’t been able to hear anything, Daltrey animatedly mimed that he was ranting and raving into his microphone, and Pete called Jones Beach one of his favorite venues before joking, “And that’s what happens when you build a venue in the ocean!” Once they were back up and running, he quipped, “I’m not in particularly good form anyway, so it’s probably good you didn’t hear me.” Of course, that wasn’t even remotely the case.
Pete Townshend was both windmill-shredding and caressing his guitar strings with boundless energy, contributing warm vocals while full-body rocking in his blue jumpsuit. Roger Daltrey, giving off the exemplary frontman energy you’d expect, was singing powerfully, smiling radiantly, weilding tambourines heroically, and whipping his microphone around on its cord like a lasso. The Who’s generous setlist largely followed the same order as recent tour dates, which makes sense given the precise orchestration – however, Jones Beach was treated to some extra hits that aren’t always a given. “The Kids Are Alright,” which they’ve only played four other times since 2017, was really a treat, preceding another cool surprise, “I Can See for Miles.” Drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s son and Godson of Keith Moon) injected terrific style into his twisting rhythms, staying closely connected to Jon Button’s intricate bass work. Simon Townshend (Pete’s younger brother) brought guitar licks and strong backup vocals that were key to their great mix. Keyboardist Loren Gold impressed with elegant embellishments and long features, and Billy Nicholls enlivened the lyrics with his backing vocals. For seventeen of the twenty-two songs The Who played, their layers intermingled dramatically with their 48-piece orchestra – a specially assembled group of players in each city for each date of The Who’s tour, with soloists Katie Jacoby on violin and Audrey Snyder on cello – conducted by Keith Levenson. This powerhouse of talent collided like magic on early favorites like “1921,” “Pinball Wizard,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” “Who Are You,” and “Eminence Front,” among the many other hits that followed. For five songs in the middle, the orchestra departed the stage, and a stunning highlight ensued in that segment: Roger and Pete’s gallant acoustic-only version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
While many in the audience stayed plopped in their seats, which can be a bit of a vibe-killer, it was easy to forgive them given the general age range in attendance – and their mild mood was remedied tenfold by Pete and Roger’s charisma. As the two legends got more and more relaxed in Wantagh, Pete mentioned their forthcoming record, due for release on November 22nd (from which they also played new single “Ball and Chain”), as well as a funny story about a past show in Mexico City. “We absolutely loved it. And the great thing about Mexico City, for me, was that there were four very young women in the front, and they screamed at me all the way through the show,” he said with fascination. “They frightened the shit out of me. They were, I think, maybe watching a different band on YouTube.” Many fans then burst into laughter. “We’ve got this album coming out in November. I don’t know what you’ll think of it, I hope you’ll like it. The album’s just called WHO.”
As they finished with scintillating cuts of “Love, Reign O’er Me” and “Baba O’Riley,” Pete explained wholesomely, “As Roger said earlier, a tradition in an orchestra is, if you really want to thank the orchestra, you go and kiss the first violinist.” Then Roger went and gave violinist Katie Jacoby a polite peck as the crowd let out squeals and ‘aww’s. Even before last night’s show had blossomed into the jaw-droppingly memorable experience that it was, Pete had sweetly told the full amphitheatre, “You’re so great to hang with us. Thanks for coming out tonight! We were so looking forward to this event and this place. This is our home city, really, in the U.S.A.”
Article: Olivia Isenhart
Photos: Shayne Hanley