The Who Hits Back in DC with 48-piece orchestra

Rock and Roll Hall of Famers Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have returned to touring in the United States

The Who took the stage Monday night (May 23rd) at Capital One Arena in Washington, DC as part of their The Who Hits Back! Tour. The legendary Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey were backed by a six-piece band and a locally-curated 48-piece orchestra.

The backing rock band included Townshend’s brother Simon on guitar and vocals, keyboardists Loren Gold and Emily Marshall, bassist Jon Button and drummer Zak Starkey. Billy Nicholls provided additional backing vocals.

The show featured the orchestra on most of The Who’s classics, including “Who Are You?” “Pinball Wizard,” and “Baba O’Riley.” However, the orchestra bowed out and let the core band shine on a few numbers mid-set. This included rock opera Tommy tentpole “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and 1971’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

The orchestra — fronted by fabulous string first-chairs Katie Jacoby on violin and Audrey Snyder on cello — elevated the sound to the sky, turning each number into something more than a mere rock song. It was a thought-out experience. A mapped-out journey through every nook and cranny of songs endemic to our culture. Townshend shared that the synergy between orchestra and the band was what he calls, “rock and roll.”

A minimal stage setting with a textured wall and Old Hollywood studio-style lights were put to understated use. There was not even a smoke machine to create rays from the various vari-lites. Nothing to overpower Daltrey and Townshend. The orchestra, as well, was tuned to be an accent to the rock music and not the focal point.

The two legends were in rare form. Daltrey’s voice is ageless and as fine as ever. His well-documented vocal dysphonia apparently in remission, Daltrey hit every note with perfection from beat one. He earned his largest ovation of the night on “Love Reign O’er Me.” The tone is the same as it has been for half a century.

And Pete Townshend? Easily one of the greatest guitar players to ever be experienced live. With a swing of his wrist, he hit each chord like a batter hitting a perfect home run with every strum. It was also the best-mic’d guitar I have ever heard. Each note reverberated from the rafters with a timbre that let you know you were listening to a living legend. Townshend acted as emcee, proving himself affable and self-deprecating while driving the multi-generational crowd absolutely wild.

To see Townshend strum in his signature windmill-like fashion or watch Daltrey swing a microphone chord is to watch two men travel back in time together. Early on, Daltrey tossed his head back with such glee while swinging that microphone cord, that I thought for a moment his hair would darken and his beard would return. And every time Townshend — brave enough to wear just a pinstriped blazer with a red neckerchief and no shirt — lifted his guitar-picked hand in the air, you could just feel him returning to his twenties.

Run and see this time machine of a tour before The Who stops Hitting Back.

Matt Bailey
Matt Bailey

Matt Bailey is podcast producer and writer located in the Northeast. Since 2013, Bailey has produced more than 160 episodes of his own online radio show, Talk For Two. In 2016 alone, he interviewed Kevin Bacon, Crystal Gayle, Bob Barker, and Gilbert Gottfried, among several other stars. As a Correspondent for The Music Universe, his focus is Broadway, country music and concert reviews.