The Who became the first rock band to be bestowed the highest cultural honor in America the first Sunday in December. They are without a doubt one of the world’s greatest and most influential bands. Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey, being the only two original members of the band still living, were honored on CBS’ broadcast of “The 31st Annual Kennedy Center Honors” on Tuesday, December 30. The aging rock legends took their places beside fellow honorees Barbra Streisand, choreogapher Twyla Tharp, actor Morgan Freeman, and country singing legend George Jones.
The irrepressible Jack Black presented Daltrey and Townsend, telling the audience he fell in love with The Who when he was ten years old and saw the rock opera “Tommy.” Jack Black’s over-the-top brand of humor came to the fore as he meandered and, just when you thought he was way off script, he said, “They’re probably wondering what the hell’s this guy talking about?” And he was right. But he got the audience’s attention — and their laughter.
He described seeing The Who in 1979: “It was a collection of ass-kicking songs the likes of which will never see again. And it’s about time they get some sweet-ass recognish.”
His narration of the film retrospective was very professional, scanning Pete Townsend’s and Roger Daltrey’s life from childhood to present, with the in-between years devoted to making music with bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon (until his untimely death) as The Who. Black chronicled the band’s career and spotlighted The Who’s contribution for the Concert For New York that reunited them in honor of the September 11 tragedies.
John Entwistle died in 2002 after the band had regrouped (they broke up in 1982, reunited in 1989 for a reunion tour, then broke up again) and were about to embark on a world tour.
The Who, with albums like “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia,” defined the rock opera. With albums like “Who’s Next,” “The Who By Numbers,” and “Who Are You,” they proved influential hardcore rockers. “The Endless Wire,” released in 2006, was their first full-length studio album (their eleventh in all) since 1982’s “It’s Hard.” It debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 albums chart.
The musical tribute to Daltrey and Townsend began with Joss Stone. She sang, appropriately enough, “My Generation.” But she was not up to it. Although one of Daltrey’s more lower-key songs, Stone, who is otherwise a great vocalist, could not match his power.
Dave Grohl of the Foo Fighters came out and rocked Kennedy Center. His version of “Who Are You?” was point on.
Then Bettye LaVette made Pete Townsend misty-eyed with her rendition of “Rain O’er Me.” Her bluesy version even evoked a “Fantastic” from Barbra Streisand.
Then Rob Thomas, lead singer of Matchbox 20, did a fair job of performing “Baba O’Reilly.” The number ended with members of the New York Police Department and the New York Fire Department singing the chorus: ‘Teenage Wasteland.”
Pete Townsend and Roger Daltrey were on their feet and saluting the policemen and firemen even before the packed house of the entertainment industry’s brightest could move. The wild applause continued as all the honoring performing artists, Jack Black, and the audience turned in a final ovation to the two legendary rockers.
The Who are scheduled to tour Australia and New Zealand in the Spring.
“31st Annual Kennedy Center Honors,” CBS Television