On the "Kenney Could Really Play" thread, I wrote:
I saw them live in Salt Lake City, must have been April of 1980. Kenney and John played very well together. I was listening to a boot of their show in Essen from that same year, and Kenney plays in top form on the Who material. Once they start playing a couple cuts that ended up on Face Dances (they'd already obviously laid the tracks down by then), it's an entirely different act. What misdirection! Face Dances is full of fine material, but horrible for the Who to be performing. Not for them at all, Pete.
I've said it before, and it bears repeating: For proof that Kenney played perfectly well with the Who, listen to his work on the Tommy soundtrack and, most importantly, his work on all the new tracks cut for the Quad soundtrack. That was material written FOR THE WHO, where Kenney was allowed to play like he wanted. Face Dances, and to a lesser degree It's Hard, were albums made by the wrong band. They were Pete solo albums where the Who were pretty much relegated to sidemen status, and it shows. Kenney, in particular, is made to play like a lame, synthetic studio drummer of the era, and is further dragged through the mud by Szymczyk's shoddy California production.
If Roger hadn't pitched such a bitch and allowed the tracks Rabbit was writing at the time (a few of which the Who started to lay down), it would have been far more clear how far Pete had retreated from the mindset necessary to write Who material: Rabbit's tracks were far closer to the spirit of the Who, both in lyrical vision and musical direction. "Another Tricky Day" reigns as the closest thing to a Who song on Face Dances, and it's no surprise: Townshend told me it was very similar to a song Rabbit had already written. Yet again, I digress...
For proof that Kenney was a great drummer with the Who, don't listen to Roger or the studio albums cut while he was with them. Listen to the aforementioned, and listen to live performances from that period where the material played was suitable for the band performing it. Nuff said, in my book.
I believe Kenney was very well suited for a gig with the Who, if they were to make the mistake of carrying on without Keith. It had been Kenney propping up Keith for some time in the band-- he replaced him for the first time on an Australian gig in the 60s (Small Faces-era) when Keith was too drunk to drive; he'd done demos with the band when Keith wasn't around; he filled in for Keith on the Tommy soundtrack sessions in 74, when Keith was drunk on the beach in Malibu, making enemies of Steve McQueen. He was being groomed as Keith's replacement after WHO ARE YOU, when plans were put forth to remove Keith from the kit and make him "band spokesman" (class clown). The extra side of tracks for the QUAD soundtrack featured Kenney, not Keith, and they prove Jones was playing perfectly well in the studio when the band was given suitable material.
The trouble was the material, not the player. Pete told me that Keith's death, though tragic, freed him up as a writer to explore different directions musically. He said this in April 83, just before they started work on "IT'S HARD" (which he said was "very critical for the band", as if it's failure spelled the end of the Who... and he was right, as usual).
Unfortunately, Pete was in bad shape, too, still reeling from Keith's death and trying to kill himself. Most of us know he nearly succeeded a few times, not just from a speedball in a London club. It showed in the material he wrote, which was far better suited for his solo albums.
Kenney wasn't bad for the Who. Pete, at the time, was. For the music on Face Dances, Kenney should have been replaced by Mark Brzezicki or Simon Phillips. John Entwistle, likewise, should have been replaced by Tony Butler. Daltrey could have been dropped altogether, as Townshend should have sung them all. And Pete Hope-Evans could have been used on harmonica. Keep Rabbit on keys, he's always the best where Pete's concerned.