By most laws of nature and rock ‘n' roll, The Who should not sound as powerful, elegant and full of life as the band did Friday night at the Ford Center. Roger Daltrey spent most of the previous week flat on his back with bronchitis and the flu, but there he was, 63 years old, swinging his microphone and belting out "Baba O'Riley” like he did in his 20s, with Pete Townshend executing those perfect windmill guitar chords at his side. There was no need to grade this performance on a curve: The Who hit all its targets. After a fun set of retro boogie-rock from Rose Hill Drive, a Boulder, Colo., trio that looked and sounded like an American band opening for The Who in 1975, Daltrey, bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Zak Starkey and rhythm guitarist Simon Townshend launched "I Can't Explain,” followed by another great Mod classic, "The Seeker.” Whenever Pete Townshend and Daltrey dug deep into the catalog, the four Jumbotrons showed classic imagery from the band's early days, boldly illustrating the group's glorious history. But the two surviving members of the original lineup never suffered much from comparison to their youthful selves. They played "Fragments,” from last year's "Endless Wire,” with as much passion as they did its stylistic forebear, "Baba O'Riley.” Fortunately, The Who found a good balance, and the near-capacity audience cheered for the new songs and thunderously sang along on the classics. But Daltrey and Pete Townshend never sounded as if they were just rolling out warhorses; both men looked and sounded inspired, having fun with their legacy and playing "Substitute” and "The Kids Are Alright” with unusual freshness.
Nearly 30 years after his death, drummer Keith Moon's shadow still looms large, but without a doubt, Starkey is the next best thing. The son of Ringo Starr, Starkey received his first drum set as a gift from Moon, and he clearly models his style after him.
Palladino, a longtime sideman for Townshend, maintained the same low-key stance as John Entwistle and capably spooled out the monstrous bass solo on "My Generation.”
Simon Townshend filled out the sound both on guitar and vocal, his harmonies closely matching those of his older brother.
The Who closed out its main set with a superb rendering of "Won't Get Fooled Again,” and Daltrey sounded completely recovered and full of fire on the song, knocking the signature scream to the back of the arena.
The band took a brief break, then returned for an encore dominated by their 1969 classic, "Tommy,” including "Pinball Wizard,” before closing with "Tea & Theatre,” the bare-bones closing track from "Endless Wire” that references The Who's long, difficult, but ultimately triumphant history.
With Daltrey in fine voice and Pete Townshend fully engaged with both his instrument and the audience, The Who proved that the men are better than just alright.
— George Lang
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