At 9.17 pm last night I received an e-mail headlined ‘The Who Announce Their Las Vegas Residency’. There was something a bit odd about the phrasing of this, I thought, and it wasn’t just the shock on hearing the news that The Who, of all people, were involved in this sort of thing, of which more later. It was the use of the word ‘Their’; not just ‘The Who Announce Las Vegas Residency’, but ‘Their Residency’, as if after everyone else who’s played Sin City it’s now The Who’s turn, a right of passage. It conferred a sort of dubious inevitability on the announcement, as if sooner or later everyone has to end up in Las Vegas by unavoidable decree, as if it is the natural order of things that regardless of their historical achievements all successful performers are obligated one day to wallow in the junkyard of cabaret entertainment where art becomes commerce and creativity a forgotten art.
Well, bugger me with a dead badger, as my old Melody Maker mucker Allan Jones used to say. Not The Who in a gambling den at Las Vegas, please. But it’s true. Here are the facts.
The e-mail urged me to purchase tickets for any of six Who shows at the Coliseum in Caesar’s Palace between July 29 and August 11 this year, with a hint that more will follow since it is described as the ‘first’ run. Follow a link from The Who’s website to that of Caesar’s Palace and you’ll find an advert for the shows that features the same famous ‘windmill’ photo of Pete used to promote the Marquee ‘residency’ that did so much to launch their career around the time ‘I Can’t Explain’ was released. Discounting extended runs in theatres like the New York’s Fillmore East and London’s Rainbow or arenas like Wembley or Madison Square Garden, the Marquee run was the last time to my knowledge that The Who actually played a ‘residency’, this one opening on November 24, 1964, with the first of 22 shows up to April 27, 1965.
Admission to the Marquee shows in those days was five shillings (25p in today’s money) unless you were a member of Kit Lambert’s Hundred Faces gang, in which case you could get in for half that, 2/6d, or half a crown as we used to call it. Tickets for the Las Vegas shows range from $501 to a more modest $76 and ‘are subject to additional service charges and fees’ which sounds a bit sinister, though $1 from each ticket sold will benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust. According to their website, also appearing at Caesar’s Palace this year are Elton John, Rod Stewart, Céline Dion and Mariah Carey, who advertises her shows with an immodest photo-shopped picture of her sprawling damn-near naked on black marble, all of whom are a good deal more suited to the neon-lit capitol of America’s gaming industry than The Who.
Additionally, we are informed on the Caesar’s Palace website that fans of The Who can expect the band to “take them on an ‘Amazing Journey’ through their entire career from the days of The High Numbers to classic albums such as Who’s Next, Tommy, Quadrophenia, My Generation and Live At Leeds to the present day”.
Well, well, well. High Numbers eh? Maybe they’ll have a crack at ‘I’m The Face’ or ‘Zoot Suit’. But that’s a diversion, and whoever wrote that tantalising copy really ought to have listed the albums in the correct order. More to the point: if ever there was a British group of their era that I imagined was the least likely to end up on stage in a Las Vegas cabaret room it was The Who. This group gave me far more pleasure than anyone else back in the day, and I’ve forgiven them a lot over the years – not least continuing after Keith and John, Face Dances and It’s Hard, the Who’s Last album, the endless stream of hits albums, even the Official History book – but this one really is hard to swallow.
I know I’m an old fan dwelling in autumnal nostalgia for how it used to be but it saddens me deeply that the group who more than any other – even (barring Keef) The Rolling Stones – stuck two fingers up at the establishment could wind up in Las Vegas. It saddens me that the group managed by Kit Lambert, whose philosophy was to create a monument to destroy, could end up here. It saddens me that the group led by a guitarist who gleefully smashed his instruments and whose worst nightmare was to play for the same fans night after night could wind up here. It saddens me that the group who wanted to die before they got old, even if they didn’t mean it, could wind up here. It saddens me that the group that once employed Keith Moon on drums – Keith fucking Moon for fuck’s sake – could wind up here. It saddens that the rock’n’roll group whose majestic, breathtaking, dazzling stagecraft, superior to any rock band before or since, could end up here. And it saddens me most of all that this goes against everything they represented, at least for me and, I guess, many more who once saw in The Who not just a truly great rock band but something much deeper, a toppling of the old order, a reaction against it, a new beginning. If, in the days when I was close to Pete, Roger, John and Keith, I had suggested to any of them that a residency in Las Vegas was worth pursuing I would have been subjected to virulent abuse, ex-communication and, at the very least, a custard pie in the face. Humour was an essential part of the package.
I would like to think that Pete took a bit of persuading before he agreed to this. All we can hope is that he does something, anything, to offend someone from his Las Vegas stage, preferably the recently elected occupant of the White House.
At 9.26 pm last night – nine minutes after the one from The Who – I received another e-mail, this one from an old friend and fellow long-term Who enthusiast not known for tempering his forthright opinions. “Just think, it started with anti-establishment pop art,” he wrote. “Cue the sound of autodestructive vomiting!!!!!”
Not far wrong there, my old mate.