The Who try to make it all right for the kids


September 25, 2002



Midway through the Who's passionate benefit performance Monday night at the House of Blues, bandleader Pete Townshend paused to dedicate "The Kids Are Alright" to the Rev. John P. Smyth and to address the controversy plaguing Maryville Academy.

Monday's event was the fifth benefit that the Who has performed for Maryville in the last 3-1/2 years, thanks to Townshend's friendship with one of the academy's key fund-raisers, Marybeth Nawa. Renowned for its work with troubled teens, Maryville has come under fire recently because of incidents of fights, attacks on staff members and suicide attempts at its 270-bed campus in Des Plaines.

"When I was a teenager, I never, ever realized that one day we would be able to use our music to help kids," said Townshend, now 57. "There has been some controversy regarding the way Maryville does business, and I can tell you, I never do anything like this [benefit] without first going through the books and going through the underwear drawer.

"This one is kosher!" Townshend concluded, adding that the Chicago area was lucky to have a man like Smyth running the facility.

The Who's earlier House of Blues benefits raised more than $1 million apiece for Maryville, and Monday's show should be nearly as lucrative.

Some privileged concertgoers purchased balcony boxes for $25,000, while rank-and-file Who fans paid $400 each to attend.

"That's still just $25 for us, and $375 for the Who," joked Eddie Vedder, an Evanston native, famous Who fan and crusader for reasonably priced concert tickets. He opened previous benefits with his side project, C Average, but this time, he brought his real band.

In its first Chicago show since 2000, Pearl Jam performed without rhythm guitarist Stone Gossard; a cardboard cutout took his place at stage left, as Vedder announced that Gossard was off working on a conservation project in Papua, New Guinea ("Which is sort of a good excuse"). A keyboardist filled in for the band's co-founder, and lead guitarist Mike McCready, always an energetic player, turned up the intensity even higher.

The alternative-rock superstars' 10-song set boasted several tunes from its eagerly anticipated new album, still officially untitled, which is scheduled for release Nov. 12. The songs included the moody but melodic "Love Boat Captain" (which is dominated by a haunting Hammond organ) and the lilting anthem "I Am Mine."

Other highlights included a massive sing-along on "Better Man" and a spirited cover of "Leaving Here," a rollicking R&B number that the Who performed in its earlier mod incarnation as the High Numbers.

Vedder's yarling baritone was in fine form throughout, and he has thankfully let the goofy Mohawk that he was sporting for a while grow out into a modest buzz cut. But the star of the night was former Soundgarden drummer Matt Cameron, whose rolling tom parts and thunderous crash cymbals gave the band the most potent wallop of its career.

As for the Who, they performed a nearly identical set to the one they delivered at the Tweeter Center only a few weeks ago, heavy on the greatest hits, with the one added surprise of "I Don't Even Know Myself" from the "Who's Missing" album.

The always-energetic Daltrey seemed to be a bit hoarse, which is no surprise, as the band nears the end of its tour. But Townshend was just as fiery and inspired with his frequent bursts of lead guitar and jammed-out endings to classic songs such as "My Generation" and "Won't Get Fooled Again."

Bassist Pino Palladino rode higher in the mix in the small-club setting than he did at the outdoor arena, but he still seemed reluctant to fully assume the front-and-center role once occupied by the late John Entwistle. But then, it took Zak Starkey quite some time to grow into his confident and self-assured position on Keith Moon's drum stool.

The only real disappointments were that the Who didn't dig deeper to deliver a few more rarities in these intimate confines, and that Vedder didn't join his heroes at any point, two things that made the earlier House of Blues benefits even more special. Still, given the good cause and the driven performances, it's doubtful that a single fan went home feeling unfulfilled, no matter how much they paid for their ticket.