November 2014, Massey Hall, Toronto, Ontario, Canada.
So, let’s talk about Massey Hall.
It’s a historic, downtown Toronto performing arts theatre, seating about 3000, beloved by many Canadian artists, such as Gordon Lightfoot and Lowest of the Low. I’ve seen some fine performances there, by Ray Davies, Jon Stewart, and Classic Albums Live performing Queen’s A Night at the Opera.
But I’ve always found it amusing that the cheaper seats—the ones higher and further back from the stage—are literally worse seats: they don’t have any cushions. That is, in the orchestra area, the chairs themselves are actually better, as though improved sightlines were not sufficient motivation for charging more for tickets. One also gains added comfort.
I could find that an amusing quirk, because I’d personally always managed to get seats in the center orchestra area.
Until this weekend.
Though I didn’t dawdle in getting tickets for Classic Albums Live: Who’s Next, I had to wait until after the subscribers and members were done until I could get my own. At that point, only Left and not Centre Orchestra was offered up as Best Available.
Now, left orchestra seats do have cushions. What they lack, however, is width. Seriously. They are super-narrow seats. You might think economy airline seats are bad, but these are worse.
This was a bit of a problem for my broad-shouldered husband, who had to spend the whole show sitting awkwardly askew, yet still spilling over into my seat and feeling he had to apologize to the woman on his other side.
But he was still better off than men in some other rows, where several large guys were seated next to each other. I’m not even sure how they managed.
So if ever wondering why the people in side orchestra seats at Massey Hall are so quick and frequent in providing standing ovations: It’s not they are particularly appreciative of the performance. It’s because they need to stretch!
Now hey, on with the show…
I was very excited that the Classic Albums Live group was tacking Who’s Next, my favorite Who album, even if it required a trip to Toronto. Only 10 songs long, Who’s Next contains no filler. It starts with “Baba O’Riley” (Teenage Wasteland) and contains both the song erroneously considered to be their best, “We Won’t Get Fooled Again”, and the one that actually is, “Behind Blue Eyes”.
Live, “Baba” was a stunning opener (just as it is for The Who), with the insane ending rendered amazingly by a cellist and the Moon-like drummer. This cellist was to demonstrate her musical chops all evening, as she moved between trumpet, keyboards, and vocals. That’s range, folks!
On “Bargain”, I was especially struck by the three guys who came out to do a clapping sequence, because:
a) I’d never noticed the clapping sequence in the original
b) I thought it was cool you could get a job in music just clapping
On point b), however, I was soon disavowed of that notion, as the three guys joined the cellist on horns for “My Wife”.
Clearly, the band size varied based on needs, but were always larger in number than the four members of The Who. Apart from the musicians already mentioned, we had another keyboardist (who just stuck to that instrument, covering all the synthesizer bits), an acoustic guitarist, an electric guitarist, a bass player, another background vocalist, and a lead singer. He was the same person who did The Queen show, and while he doesn’t sound like Freddie Mercury or Roger Daltrey, he has the range and power to do both justice, and that’s what matters—even though he does tend to mess up the lyrics at times.
And, we got one more special guest on “Won’t Get Fooled Again”: A second lead vocalist—the guy who sings at their Led Zeppelin shows—was brought out to make The Scream as epic as it needed to be.
(And that is the sort of special extra thing you get in the Toronto performances of Classic Albums Live that you usually don’t in the touring productions.)
So overall, it was a superlative job by the band. The only problem had nothing to do with them, but with the guy beside me (not Jean), who insisted on singing along—really badly—with a number of the songs. This completely ruined for me what should have been the highlight of the whole show, the lovely vocal harmonies at the beginning of “Behind Blue Eyes”.
Honestly. I now kind of understand why The Who themselves played so loud!
The second half featured a variety of other Who songs—including 5:15, The Real Me, The Seeker, Pinball Wizard, You Better You Bet, Love Reign O’er Me (and thank God, with no overdubbed vocals from my tone-deaf seat-mate) and Who Are You.
And for the true Who geeks in the audience, they also did the extended, 10-minute version of “My Generation” from Live at Leeds, (which segues into various bits of Tommy, etc.), performing it very honestly, with only the same number of musicians as the original: Just four. It was really very cool, the faithful reproduction of something originally completely improvised. I have to wonder how many in the audience knew what that was?
Regardless. We in the side aisles were all happy to give it a standing ovation! 🙂