Meet the new bass, same as the old bass. Well, maybe. Four days after the death of John Entwistle, the Who opened their tour without him at the Hollywood Bowl on Monday. The band began to fulfill its stated pledge that it would perform on the scheduled dates of its tour despite Entwistle’s death from an appparent heart attack at 57 in a Las Vegas hotel room the day before the tour was set to begin.
Playing in place of the band’s departed founding member and its bassist for 38 years was Pino Palladino, a session bassist who has performed on solo projects by both Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, now the only two surviving members of the original lineup. (Founding drummer Keith Moon died of a drug overdose in 1978.) Playing drums on the tour is Zak Starkey, son of another vintage British drummer, Ringo Starr.
Entwistle, nicknamed ”The Ox” in part for his steady, stolid presence onstage, was widely credited with keeping the band grounded, especially given the volatile relationship of guitarist/songwriter Townshend and singer Daltrey. The two surviving members have continued to disagree after Entwistle’s death, even about why they are going ahead with the tour. For Daltrey, who posted a message to fans on Townshend’s website, the reason is to ”celebrate John’s life.” He writes, ”By playing our music I believe we can help ourselves and our fans grieve and begin to come to terms with our loss, huge as it is.” Townshend, however, writes on the site that, to him, the concerts are less a ”tribute to John” than an obligation. ”I don’t feel I know for certain that John would have wanted us to go on. I simply believe we have a duty to go on, to ourselves, ticket buyers, staff, promoters, big and little people.”
Dressed in black, Daltrey, Townshend, and Palladino took the stage Monday night for a concert that included decades-old hits and video images of Entwistle’s life. ”For fans that have followed us for many years, this is gonna be very difficult,” Townshend said, according to published reports. “We understand. We’re not pretending that nothing’s happened.” However, he joked that Los Angeles was a fitting place to launch the tour because it was ”full of emptiness, deep rivers of shallow nothingness.”
Daltrey was less downbeat, telling the crowd, ”Tonight we play for John Entwistle. He’s the true spirit of rock and roll, and he lives on in all the music we play.”