The Who Play Teen Cancer America Benefit at Intimate MSG Theatre

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It was just over a week ago in the Canadian city of Hamilton that I saw The Who perform their rock masterpiece Quadrophenia and just six months after I saw one of their earlier shows at the beginning of the tour in Toronto.

Both performances took place in arenas, the perfect setting to hear The Who perform their entire album from beginning to end, along with some Who classics to achieve a climactic encore.

This past Thursday I had the fortunate opportunity to experience The Who perform one last time before they left North America, and this time it was at the Madison Square Garden Theatre in New York City, my first time in the intimate theatre venue (apart from the arena).

The night began incredibly with a backstage pass to drop in on The Who’s private soundcheck at five in the afternoon for about forty-five minutes; the best part of which was the funny banter between Roger and Pete.

At one point as Roger Daltrey took a few minutes to work something out with his band mates, Pete Townshend leaned into his mic and teased sarcastically, “while you’re figuring that out, I’ll insult the audience for twenty minutes.” Pete also exaggerated his difficulty in playing in B minor standing up, poking fun at his age saying, “I should be sitting down, you have no fucking idea how hard it is.”

Following the exclusive access soundcheck rehearsal I was invited to meet Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey backstage at a private meet-and-greet which gave me the rare opportunity to have both Pete & Roger pose for a photograph together.

Backstage at MSG with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey of The Who

The opening act for the concert was Elvis Costello, who performed all of his classic hits to perfection. From the moving Alison, to the upbeat Watching the Detectives, Elvis had the sold out theater on its feet as he closed his set with a cover of The Who’s Substitute. Then The Who walked out and opened with a song they would normally save for their encore; Who Are You.

Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend open the show with Who Are You

The Who put on a spectacular show with a completely unique set list for this intimate evening benefitting Roger & Pete’s charity ‘Teen Cancer America.’ The band was tearing through hit after hit and surprising the audience with a very different setlist from their recent tour.

The Who's Teenage Cancer Trust benefit setlist from Thursday February 28th 2013

The highlight track for me was You Better You Bet, with every note amplified by the incredible acoustics in the small theatre. It was evident that Pete & Roger were really enjoying the night, giving that extra effort to go all out for their charity and their last show in North America. Pete was hammering away at his guitar and throwing in solos where he normally wouldn’t, while Roger belted out his iconic howl during Won’t Get Fooled Again, sounding better than any studio recording.

Roger Daltrey belts it out on Won't Get Fooled Again while Pete Townshend goes into windmill mode on his guitar

Pete Townshend feeling his music through his trusty stratocaster

Roger Daltrey extends his mic in my direction

Although the show was shorter than their usual concerts, the performance was flawless and rocked from beginning to end. The last time I saw The Who perform like this was at The Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles in 2008 (a private show for RockBand), a show that Pete Townshend told me himself he thought was the best performance they had given in 30 years. I think Pete would have put Thursday night’s show at the MSG theater right there alongside that Orpheum gig. I do.