September 12th, 2006
Let’s face it – the Who‘s reputation has declined. Maybe it’s because they’ve done too many greatest-hits tours, maybe it’s because they’ve sold too many of their songs to CSI, or maybe it’s just because Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey have gotten old before they die. But on the opening night of the North American leg of their world tour, the Who put on an electrifying show that not only revived past glories but suggested the band might have some new life.
The two-and-a-quarter-hour concert included a dozen songs from the Who’s upcoming album, Endless Wire (due October 30th), including the complete Wire & Glass “mini-opera.” (Did “operetta” sound too fey?) Townshend cautioned the audience, “Part of it rocks, and part of it’s cool, so roll with us.” He neglected to mention that part of it sucks – but more of the new songs were good than not. And since many of them clocked in around two minutes, even the weaker ones didn’t overstay their welcome. (A painful exception: “Fragments,” which sounded like “Baba O’Riley” with the synth set on “harpsichord” and featured faux-profound lyrics such as “Are we breathing out or breathing in?”)
Collectively, the new songs seemed to form another autobiography of the Who, always one of rock’s most self-mythologizing bands; “We Got a Hit” even directly quoted the “Substitute” guitar riff. Daltrey kvelled over Townshend’s latest compositions, and the songwriter thanked the audience for its patience with unfamiliar material and the performance’s rough patches.
Happily, making new music also renewed Daltrey and Townshend’s passion for their back catalog. Standing in front of a four-man backing band (including Zak Starkey on drums and kid brother Simon Townshend on guitar), the graying duo revved up hits ranging from “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” to “Who Are You,” even giving “My Generation” an extended, bluesy coda. Townshend refrained from smashing his guitar, and he now bunny-hops more than he leaps in the air, but he cheerfully windmilled his way through the night. Daltrey hit some clunker notes and even got tangled up in his own microphone cord while executing a baroque twirl, but he was in fine-enough voice to nail the climactic scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Townshend, as ever, had the last word, and in this case it was self-deprecating. After the band flubbed the intro to “You Better You Bet,” he cracked, “See? The old stuff can sound just as crappy and unrehearsed as the new Stuff.”
This story is from the October 5th, 2006 issue of Rolling Stone.