You can’t say that The Who aren’t resilient.
Their first farewell tour took place – wait for it – 37 years ago. They might have gone back on their word, but you can’t fault their never-say-die attitude.
The Who were never the same after drummer Keith Moon died of a drug overdose in 1978. His eccentric attitude was as important to their aesthetic as his wild drumming.
They carried on, though, often with success (’80s hits “You Better You Bet” and “Eminence Front” are two of their most popular). They lost another foundational piece when bassist and songwriter John Entwistle died of a heart attack on the eve of their 2002 tour.
Since then, The Who – or the tWho as I call them, since only singer Roger Daltrey and songwriter/guitarist Pete Townshend are left – have toured intermittently. They even released an album in 2006, underrated Endless Wire.
There has been plenty of (often fair) criticism of recent Who tours. Sometimes they’ve seemed like they’re mailing it in. Daltrey’s voice has been hit or miss. They’ve seemed to lack direction.
This show, though, was different. Townshend and Daltrey were on fire. They haven’t looked and sounded this good in years.
An orchestra, that beefed up their sound and revealed multiple emotional dimensions in their songs, didn’t hurt either.
Better Than the Bet
Contrary to popular opinion – and reviews of their current tour, even – Daltrey’s voice wasn’t in terrible shape. In fact, his voice was as strong as ever on “Love, Reign O’er Me,” even hitting the scream toward the end. He was also in strong voice for the opening Tommy suite.
Sure, he had the help of backing singers and the crowd, but not any more than the majority of older singers.
During his banter throughout the night, Pete Townshend showed the combination of sarcasm and dry philosophy that he has displayed his entire career.
He noted that he’s staying in the same hotel suite he did when The Who were here last, which was right before Prince died. The room has pictures of our local hero on the walls, and he said they looked “more peaceful” now.
Lest he seem too serious, he downplayed the metaphysical element of his comment with a wry laugh after.
Between-song commentary aside, Townshend’s guitar playing was ferocious. His trademark windmill guitar move is something like a wrestler’s finishing move: it’s so electric that it renders the audience helpless, even though it shouldn’t rationally. The crowd greeted each one with a religious zeal.
That’s the power of The Who. The cynicism each of their recent tours has garnered was erased by their unexpected energy. One might expect their crowd to be old and comatose, but they practically didn’t stop shouting the entire night.
From the opening Tommy suite to a ferocious duo version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to finale “Baba O’ Reilly,” Townshend and Daltrey defied expectations. Their first new album in over a decade, Hero Ground Zero, will be released in November.