Zak Starkey Ignites the Who

Frank Erwin Center career overview transcends

Zak Richard Starkey – son of Richard Starkey, Jr. – has now powered the Who even longer than Keith Moon, his godfather. (That’s 1996-2015 and 1964-1978, respectively.) The group’s Tazmanian drum demon counted Ringo Starr among his closest friends. Monday night at the Frank Erwin Center, Moony was alive and quakin’ in the maelstrom of Starkey.

Roger Daltrey, 4.27.15 at the Frank Erwin Center in Austin. Wrote longtime Chronicle photographer Gary Miller of these images: “He looked down at me and took a couple steps back, then whipped his mic out for me to shoot – all the while keeping eye contact.” (Photo by Gary Miller)

In a pre-show video scroll following Joan Jett & the Blackhearts pulling off that rarest of opening feats – headliner-like deliverance – Moon and his late partner in rhythm, John Entwistle, were iconicized (that’s 1946-1978 and 1944-2002, respectively) alongside the band’s surviving dyad: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. Who factoids – Townshend’s 2007 SXSW Keynote – and trivia (Roky Erickson, Jimmie Vaughan, and Jeff Beck were listed as being in the house) encapsulated the second in the triumvirate of fab UK fourpieces: Beatles, Who, Zeppelin.

The Who without Moon and Entwistle remains akin to John and Paul without George and Richard Starkey, Jr.; Bono and the Edge without Larry Mullen, Jr. and Adam Clayton; the Grateful Dead sans Jerry Garcia. Daltrey and Townshend employ five backers besides Zak Starkey: a tall, stoic geezer in dark specs much like his predecessor on bass, Welshman Giuseppe Henry “Pino” Palladino, plus two additional guitarists (one of them Townshend’s “younger, better-looking brother Simon,” according to Pete), and two keyboardists.

Zak Starkey out-Who’d them all including Roger and Pete.

Daltrey’s voice rose up and out in better shape than any other period since the first Who farewell tour in 1982. Its 71 years couldn’t recede back to 1971 for Who’s Next essentials “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” but classic rock radio wore the tar out of those anthems – a term overused in the rock lexicon, only the Who invented the very form – so the band still performs them out of obligation rather than gusto. They were hardly point, however.

Rather, mid-Sixties pop hits “The Seeker,” “The Kids Are Alright,” and “Pictures of Lily” found the frontman once again sounding like a kid, alright. “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” whose “mini-opera” Townshend, 69, acknowledged as the precursor for grander concepts (the Who invented the rock opera as well), sorely missed Moon and Entwistle’s completing the song’s barbershop quartet harmonies, but Daltrey’s still broad shoulders carried the tune to giddy pleasure, its Vaudevillian oom-pah and Hopalong Cassidy clip-clop lacking only copious pints and a pub brawl at its conclusion.

Segue into Tommy’s “Amazing Journey” and “Sparks” then kicked in the Owsley acid like 1968/9 all over again.

“Jeff Beck is here tonight,” announced Townshend after “Who Are You” stumbled into greatness, “so there’s at least one really good guitar player in the house.”

Yet Townshend was on, beginning with his windmill-accented guitar mandhandling on “The Seeker.” He injected Live at Leeds prowess into “My Generation,” and the palpable whiff of punk edging 1981’s “You Better You Bet” (“our most recent hit,” cracked Townshend) egged Daltrey to near vocal gnashing, and all without the apparent use of a teleprompter. The singer couldn’t be reading the guitarist’s original outpourings given that he often sings with his eyes closed.

Even so, Starkey earned the title of early Who nugget “Call Me Lightning” starting with “Who Are You.” Moon died weeks after the latter title track’s namesake album, but the drum dynamo had ruined his gift by then. Starkey resurrected him in a song.

Starkey, who turns 50 in September, doesn’t begin to ape Moon’s one-continuous-fill tempest. His style lays back deceptively before becoming an avalanche of sticks and stone cold beats beats raining down like a meteor shower. During the ancient tribal rumblings of “Magic Bus,” he adopted his dad’s ambidextrous style, arms at his sides pounding like a runner pistoning through a race. Following Townshend through the Tommy mini-set, Starkey re-lit the material’s primal rage.

Too many moments transcended throughout the two-hours-nearly-to-the-minute performance: Townshend’s acoustic intro (on a local Collins guitar, maybe) for Quadrophenia’s “I’m One” and Daltrey’s tour de force summoning of album-mate “Love, Reign O’ er Me”; Townshend ending the encore-less show saluting, “Austin, music fucking capital of the fucking world”; and the universality of the “listening to you” segment in Tommy’s “See Me, Feel Me,” which confirms its author contention in the Lambert & Stamp documentary opening in Austin Friday, wherein he says we thought the songs were about him, but they were, in fact, about us – the audience.

And at least one patron born the same year as Zak Starkey walked out of the Frank Erwin Center on a cool Central Texas Monday night no longer regretting he’d come of age too late to witness Keith Moon’s percussive apocalypse. Drummers are generally the first musicians to exit any Rock & Roll Hall of Fame act continuing on the road unto oblivion. At least I’d seen Starkey.

Joan Jett & the Blackhearts’ set list, 4.27.15

“Bad Reputation”
“Cherry Bomb”
“Do You Wanna Touch Me? (Oh Yeah)”
“You Drive Me Wild”
“Light of Day”
“Love is Pain”
“The French Song”
“Soulmates to Strangers”
“I Love Rock & Roll”
“Crimson & Clover”
“I Hate Myself for Loving You”

The Who, set list, 4.27.15

“I Can’t Explain”
“The Seeker”
“Who Are You”
“The Kids Are Alright”
“I Can See for Miles”
“Pictures of Lily”
“My Generation”
“Magic Bus”
“Behind Blues Eyes”
“Join Together”
“You Better You Bet”
“I’m One”
“Love, Reign O’ er Me”
“Eminence Front”
“A Quick One, While He’s Away”
“Amazing Journey”
“It’s a Boy”
“Pinball Wizard”
“See Me, Feel Me”
“Baba O’Riley”
“Won’t Get Fooled Again”

And a picture gallery of both bands.

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The Who, Zak Starkey

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