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Despite the years and the changes, the Who still rock

The debate about whether a duo of guitarist Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey constitutes the Who seems strangely fitting. Among Townshend's narrative preoccupations, seeking and defining one's own identity in the world and remaining relevant to the here and now, are themes that have been at the core of the songwriter's greatest works.

True, the fearsome force of nature that had once been the Who with drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle is no more -- that band exists only in digital memory banks and the collective memory, or wishful thinking, of the audience that crowded into TD Banknorth Garden Saturday night to celebrate the old anthems and remember. And it existed on the video screens that showed four rock archetypes crashing around the stages of yesteryear, blowing up amplifiers and expectations in a psychedelic swirl of smoke and glory.

What the once seemingly invincible Who -- if we're to call Townshend, Daltrey that, and I'm reluctant -- has now become, as evidenced by Saturday's spirited two-hour performance, is human-scale: considerably frailer, and fallible like the rest of us.

It almost wasn't fair that the 61-year-old guitarist and 62-year-old singer had their young, flashy selves on the video screen to compete with. Daltrey joked about having ``a senior moment" when he forgot a verse to one of the clutch of new songs the band played from the forthcoming album, ``Endless Wire," the Who's first new studio album in 24 years. But with the first guitar chords of ``I Can't Explain," the band -- which included keyboardist John ``Rabbit" Bundrick , drummer Zak Starkey, bassist Pino Palladino, and Pete's brother Simon Townshend on second guitar -- managed to draw strength from the past.

``Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" was an exuberant blast, and a clamoring ``My Generation" opened into psychedelic vistas. The sleekly kinetic ``Eminence Front" sparkled, and ``You Better You Bet" kicked up trashy, dysfunctional thrills. ``Baba O'Riley" and ``Won't Get Fooled Again" boomed as epic as ever, with Daltrey nailing the climactic scream on the latter, despite a lion's voice that's finally sounding weather - beaten and worn. Witnessing the old rock gods -- past their prime but forging ahead -- made you want to root for them, and convince yourself that the heart and voice was still the Who, diminished perhaps, but still seeking, still striving.

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