Who tribute band makes Worcester debut at First Night
By Richard Duckett Telegram & Gazette Staff
Posted Dec. 31, 2015 at 6:00 AM Updated at 10:30 AM
Who's on First. It's true - The Who tribute band Who are You will be playing at First Night Worcester 2016, with a show scheduled from 9 to 9:45 p.m. Dec. 31 in Tuckerman Hall. It will be the first time the band, whose members come from Western Massachusetts, has performed in Worcester.
"For some reason Worcester's been evading us. It's a great opportunity. It's a beautiful hall. We're quite honored about playing there, absolutely," said Who Are You guitarist Garrett Lechowski.
But the group (whose other members are Craig Simmons, lead vocals; Vincent Lane, bass and vocals; and John Kiernan, drums) has been getting a broad following over the past five years.
"This is a traveling gig," Lechowski said, noting that Who Are You have played North and South from Ottawa to North Carolina, with future dates in Florida. They've gone from small clubs to small theaters and larger venues, faithfully playing a complete repertoire of Who numbers with a multimedia backdrop. At a recent performance in Albany, New York, Lechowski said, the band discovered that some people in the audience had come down from Montreal after initially seeing the group play there.
Lechowski plans to attend a concert himself as a fan next year. He'll be at the TD Garden March 7 when The Who perform as part of its delayed 50th anniversary tour.
"The Who's still out there. It's a weird gray area," Lechowski said. Who Are You have previously played pre-show events ahead of a concert by The Who, and Lechowski once shook hands with Who guitarist Pete Townsend. "I'm gonna see them in March. How long it's gonna last is anybody's guess."
The Who's first hit was "I Can't Explain" in 1965, a good year for them that also saw "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" and "My Generation" soar up the U.K. charts. The British band (original members Townsend, guitar, vocals; Roger Daltrey, vocals; John Entwistle, bass, vocals; and Keith Moon, drums) scored with infectious Mod rock and lyrics (mostly by Townsend) that could actually make you ponder some things ("Won't Get Fooled Again"). The rock opera "Tommy" epitomized that creativity, while bad behaviour on stage (Townsend smashing his guitars; Moon destroying the drums) and on the road (the band was banned from the Holiday Inn chain of hotels) enhanced a bad boy image.
Moon and Entwistle both met unfortunate deaths, but Townsend and Daltrey still make up the heart and soul of The Who (the anniversary tour was delayed to allow Daltrey to recover from a case of viral meningitis).
"I've been a fan since I was 12," said Lechowski, who is 46. In 1982, he was taken to a concert in Buffalo in which The Clash opened for The Who. "I was a very lucky guy."
Lechowski has been a professional musician since he was 14 and also plays keyboards (besides the guitar, he does the electronics effects on stage for Who Are You). "I've been in various groups off and on for years," he said. He has been a keyboardist with the Led Zeppelin tribute band American Zeppelin.
Six years ago, "I said either I'm gonna do The Who band now or I'm never gonna do it." Who Are You came together through introductions from friends. "The band members are all in different bands, too," Lechowski said.
They are all, also, "in daytime situations and families." Lechowski, who lives in North Adams, is a psychotherapist. "We're very focused on making sure our families come first and this comes second. We make sure everyone's happy."
That said, "We're all incredibly committed to this," he said of being a member of Who Are You.
There are other Who tribute bands out there, Lechowski acknowledged. "Some bands look more like The Who. Our strength is we sound more like The Who."
Lechowski does do a few Townsend-like visuals but likely won't smash things up on historic Tuckerman Hall's stage. On the road, "There's no trashing hotel rooms. We're in a theater watching a movie."
Who Are You has two sets it can perform. One is a greatest hits from "I Can't Explain" to later numbers such as "Who Are You." "There's a lot of great stuff to choose from," Lechowski said. The band also has a "Tommy" set with the rock opera performed complete with a video production that goes along with it.
For its 45 minutes at First Night Worcester, the group will play a shorter version of its greatest hits set. However, Lechowski would be open to returning to Tuckerman Hall, which he visited recently, to play "Tommy." "I'd love to," he said.
"It goes over well," he said of the shows. ''People say 'I forgot they did that song … I know that song but didn't know it was them.' "
The kids are still alright (to use The Who's spelling).
"I think it still holds up. In my ears, it holds up as well today as 40 years ago. And the material gives people a lot to think about. I think it makes it last longer."
First Night Worcester 2016 will have nearly 60 performances on 12 stages. The event will conclude with fireworks set off from the top of Bell Hill at 10:15 p.m. A listing of events is on page 9.
Contact Richard Duckett at Richard.Duckett@telegram.com