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Rock of ages

Posted by James Reed  October 25, 2008 10:35 AM

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The Who
At: TD Banknorth Garden, last night

By Jonathan Perry
Globe Correspondent

With the Who – that most epic of bands – even small moments can seem majestic. In a strong two-hour show at TD Banknorth Garden last night that picked up momentum as it progressed, some of the group’s most meditative, introspective passages were also some of its best.

The sense of elegant calm that resided inside “Amazing Journey” and “Getting in Tune,” for instance, was striking. “Sea and Sand,” a questing half-ballad, half-rocker about family dysfunction, was a potent reminder that for all its legendary Sturm and Drang, the Who were and are a frequently vulnerable band: guitarist-songwriter Pete Townshend’s sensitive artistic soul wrapped inside surly singer Roger Daltrey’s gruff, tough (but since softened) exterior.

The Who is down to two – officially, anyway. The deaths of original drummer Keith Moon in 1978 and bassist John Entwistle in 2002 have cost them dearly. But just as they demonstrated here two years ago, Daltrey and Townshend are still capable of delivering a boom and a bang bigger than themselves.

It was always about the live spectacle with the Who, and so it was before a near-capacity crowd of 12,000 last night. They’re far less staggering a storm now – more a collective of professional companions, capably delivering a catalog as deep and wide (to paraphrase a lyric from one of the Who’s anthems) as the band itself once was. But occasionally – when they brilliantly lit out for the territories of “Sparks,” for instance – you got a glimpse of the Who as fearsome force of nature.

Backed by Townshend’s younger brother, Simon, on second guitar, bassist Pino Palladino, keyboard player John “Rabbit” Bundrick, and drummer Zak Starkey, the band opened with a clutch of early classics: the confusion-as-bliss salvo “I Can’t Explain”; a nonchalant version of “The Seeker”; and the Mod anthem “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.”

There were fewer tunes from the Who’s perfectly fine 2006 album, “Endless Wire” – only “Fragments” and the tender encore-closer, “Tea & Theatre” made an appearance. But that, thankfully, meant more selections from 1973's classic “Quadrophenia” album: “Sea and Sand” soared; “5:15" roared; and “Love Reign O’er Me” was an Olympian elegy built on power chords and yearning.

Now 64, Daltrey, as always, had nowhere to hide when singing his partner’s towering melodies and sky-high choruses. Although he began somewhat sluggishly, reaching for the high notes of his youth, his grizzled voice further burred by the decades, Daltrey grew improbably stronger with each declaration. By the time “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” rolled around, he had hit his stride.

Speaking of youth, Townshend turned the brazen impudence of "My Generation" back on itself and himself. “Hey kid,” the 63-year-old guitarist ad-libbed with a smile, “I think I’m far too old for you.” Despite the song’s infamously stated desire to “die before I get old,” the far trickier and tougher task -- as the Who have discovered -- was finding a way to survive and connect. On this night, they met the challenge.

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6 comments so far...
  1. Near capacity crowd eh? If only ticket prices would fall below what the likes or Gordon Gekko could afford, we'd all join together with band.

    Posted by Lost Who Fan October 25, 08 12:11 PM
  1. Saw the Who in 1975...bet they were better than.

    Posted by alan l October 25, 08 01:22 PM
  1. Still rocking better than anyone out there.

    Posted by Gino October 25, 08 05:16 PM
  1. I didn't see the show last night. The one and only time I saw the Who live was in Philly at J.F.K. Stadium in '81. The Who were part of a triple bill with Santana and The Clash. It was an odd assemblage of bands, Santana was superb, the Clash less so, and while The Who played hard for close to three hours, the show was marred by all sorts of mayhem. I can't remember how many times the concert was stopped because of violence around the stage-a number of concert goers were carted away by security- as fire hoses were employed at least once to quell the crowd. Despite all the folderol, the Who gave a good account of themselves. Of course, it had only been a few years since the infamous disaster in Cincinnati occurred, and so, wisely, no one was taking any chances. I'm glad to hear that a quarter century on that the aged half of the band that is left, again, provided a good performance.

    Posted by Ross October 25, 08 05:47 PM
  1. A far cry from seeing Zak's father at Suffolk Downs in 1966! Townsend's Strats had that sound of power and class, with a little bit of sex and yet it wasn't at all out of place coming from a 63 year old. Daltry's voice a little rough but I think much of that was the PA. Many a geezer in the audience was smiling - it's only rock and roll but we like it!

    Posted by Nick Hyde October 25, 08 10:33 PM
  1. A MOST TRIUMPHANT TIME HAD BY ALLL!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    Posted by Sara October 26, 08 12:20 PM
 

About Sound Effects

The latest news, commentary, and reviews on music in Boston and beyond.

Contributors

Sarah Rodman is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

James Reed is a staff music critic for the Boston Globe.

Jonathan Perry is the Globe's Scene & Heard columnist, covering local music.

Michael Brodeur is the assistant arts editor for the Boston Globe, covering pop music, TV, and nightlife.

Julian Benbow is a staff writer at the Boston Globe, covering sports and music.

Katie McLeod is Boston.com's features editor.

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