As The Who geared up for Saturday’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, guitarist Pete Townshend pumped up vocalist Roger Daltrey’s confidence.
“The last time we played it,” Townshend noted, “Roger forgot pretty much all the words.”
He didn’t forget them on Saturday when The Who, supplemented by an orchestra, played to a huge audience on the main festival stage. Nor does he forget the primal scream that comes in right after the song’s extended keyboard passage. The whirling roar of 78-year-old Daltrey earned a different kind of roar from the crowd. From that moment on, The Who couldn’t hurt anymore.
There were many moments to enjoy under a hot sun Saturday at the Fair Grounds, from the austere R&B/funk and choreography of Water Seed on the Congo Square Stage to the standing ovation that 90-year-old jazz singer Germaine Bazzle earned in a full Jazz Tent .
But The Who was the main attraction.
The band first rocked Jazz Fest in 2015 and was set to return in 2020, but COVID had other ideas.
On Friday night, Daltrey and several other members of the band caught up with jazz trumpeter Jeremy Davenport in the Davenport Lounge at the Ritz-Carlton Hotel. Townshend sanctioned New Orleans jazz from the stage on Saturday.
His father, he said, was a big band saxophonist who was fond of New Orleans-born jazzman Sidney Bechet. Townshend’s first band was a jazz ensemble that played a lot of Louis Armstrong.
“I’d love to play ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’,” he cheered. “But we don’t have time.”
They did have time to complete 15 songs, mostly all classics and usually all supplemented by an orchestra.
Townshend was in a good mood, grinning, windmilling and attacking his guitar solos as if he had something to prove. His efforts in “See Me, Feel Me” in particular went beyond his brother Simon Townshend providing rhythmic support.
Drummer Zak Starkey switched back as cello and violin framed “Behind Blue Eyes”. The full orchestra added a final flourish to ‘Pinball Wizard’ and drama to ‘Eminence Front’.
The band didn’t have a sound check prior to the Jazz Fest performance, Townshend said, so there had been some trepidation about how they would sound. “From where I stand,” he announced, “sounds great.”
From the opening “Who are you?” to the last fiddle hoe of ‘Baba O’Reilly’, it did.
Mia X gives up podium to Mac
Mia X had a busy Saturday. In addition to her Jazz Fest show at Congo Square Stage, she was set to participate in the No Limit Reunion show at the Smoothie King Center on Saturday night.
Perhaps to save her energy for later, she turned over most of her Saturday set to special guests, including bounce veterans Katy Red and Lady Red.
But the bulk of her show ended up being a coming out party for McKinley “Mac” Phipps Jr. Twenty-one years ago, Phipps’ career – he too had a contract with No Limit – was cut short when a St. Tammany parish jury found him guilty of manslaughter. He was convicted of fatally shooting a 19-year-old during a melee during a show at a Slidell nightclub.
Phipps and his family have always maintained his innocence. After serving as a model prisoner for two decades, Governor John Bel Edwards pardoned him in April 2021. Phipps was released on parole and released from prison in June.
His unannounced guest appearance with Mia X at Jazz Fest was his first formal appearance in New Orleans since his release. He did not hide his history.
“Don’t judge me,” he said before introducing the song “Murda, Murda, Kill Kill.” He explained that the song referred to competitive combat raps, “where you try to beat the MC on the other side.”
Unfortunately, he continued, the prosecutor who convicted him did not take into account that context, or that Phipps’ rap nickname, the Camouflage Assassin, referred to his lyrical skills. Instead, his lyrics and nickname were used against him in court.
“Even after all that,” Phipps said, “I’m still the Camouflage Assassin when it comes to that mic.”
He was also a brilliant, multidisciplinary bandleader. He alternated electric bass and piano while being supported by a live drummer, saxophonist and vocalist.
He went to jail months before his son was born. “To prove they didn’t kill my mind,” Phipps brought his now 21-year-old son, Bandana Kin, onto the stage. For the very first time at Jazz Fest, the younger Phipps rapped alongside his pop on “You’re My Brother,” a song with R&B undertones.
Given the family situation, Phipps changed the lyrics to “I Can Tell”, the “raunchy” song he wrote for Mercedes. In the sanitized version, the chorus was “From the look in your eyes I can tell you want to touch.” “Make sure you say ‘touch’!” Phipps instructed the crowd.
He wanted to move the wing, but realized it was too heavy: “I spent all this time in jail and I forgot to lift weights.”
He wrapped his set in a set with ‘If Forever Comes aka the Proverbs’, a song about ‘manifestation’.
“I feel like I’m in control of my destiny,” he said.
Now that he’s free, so is he.