The Who Celebrates 50 Years at Brooklyn's Barclays Center: Live Review

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For someone who recently declared that he doesn't enjoy performing, Pete Townshend sure puts on a pretty good front…an "Eminence Front," if you will. Performing a two-hour, hits-heavy set as part of their aptly named "The Who Hits 50!" tour, he and longtime bandmate Roger Daltrey proved they've still got the goods even after becoming septuagenarians. Considering that the similarly venerable Rolling Stones are also wowing crowds in their current stadium tour, it seems to be a golden age for AARP rock 'n' roll.

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Celebrating the 50th anniversary of their debut album My Generation, the show, unlike the band's recent Quadrophenia jaunt, features a steady barrage of familiar hits leavened by such rarely performed early classics like "The Seeker" and the mini-opera "A Quick One (While He's Away)." It's a crowd-pleasing affair, with the two surviving members wasting no time in slinging their signature moves -- Daltrey's microphone twirl, Townshend's famous windmill. It was greeted rapturously by a crowd consisting of more than a few people who, as Townshend humorously pointed out, weren't even alive when the band started out.

Beginning with a sterling rendition of "I Can't Explain," the Who -- also consisting of longtime members Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr) on drums, Pino Palladino on bass, Pete's younger brother Simon Townshend on guitar and several keyboardists/back-up singers -- delivered material that's part of any rock fan's DNA with precision, remaining faithful to the original recordings. While there were some alterations, such as an extended jam that elongated "My Generation," the music sounded as if it was blaring from your car stereo.

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But just listening at home or in the car would mean being deprived of the mini-history lesson that Townshend provided throughout the show. The typically acerbic performer, inviting the crowd to celebrate the band's "50th f---ing anniversary," seemed intent on stressing the nostalgia, delivering a chatty running commentary about their early days in which they were "dressed up like psychedelic Christmas trees."

"Here's another one that we played at the Monterey Pop Festival," he said as a preamble to "My Generation," adding that anyone old enough to have been there should take advantage of the venue's "special buses, wheelchairs and breathing apparatuses." He prefaced "Slip Kid," the only number that deviated from the tour's standard set list, by saying, "This one gets a lot of requests… I don't know why." And before performing "A Quick One (While He's Away)," he jokingly commented, "It's ten minutes long… so I think you should sit down and have a little rest."

The instruction was dutifully followed by an audience that greeted the extended number respectfully. But the crowd was otherwise on its feet for most of the familiar classics -- "I Can See for Miles," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Who Are You" and "The Kids are Alright." The evening ended in powerhouse fashion with a series of numbers from Tommy and the epochal "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again."

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Townshend hasn't lost a step in his playing, delivering his trademark power chords and eliciting an ever-varied palette of sounds from his electric and acoustic guitars. By this point, Palladino and Starkey have long proved that they more than live up to their esteemed predecessors John Entwistleand Keith Moon, with Starkey anchoring the music with his anarchic yet tightly controlled drumming.

Daltrey was also in fine form, although he at times seemed to be struggling to hit his high notes. His voice has inevitably darkened, something he seemed to acknowledge by concluding "Love, Reign O'er Me" with a dark, rumbling bass. But he delivered his thundering scream in "Won't Get Fooled Again" with full force, even if it elicited concern that he might shred his vocal cords.

He seemed to acknowledge this at the show's end, declaring that the massive tour was "uncharted territory" for the band at this point in its career and admitting, "As a singer, it's getting tougher every day." But if this is indeed the Who's last major jaunt, it shows them going out in fine style.

Recent Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame inductees Joan Jett & the Blackhearts delivered a rousing opening set featuring hits like "Bad Reputation," "I Love Rock 'n Roll," "I Hate Myself for Loving You" and her Runaways classic "Cherry Bomb." The seemingly ageless Jett, still capable of rocking a skintight red spandex suit at 56, pointed out that she has a long history with the Who, having also opened for them during their 1982 "Farewell Tour." What goes around comes around.

The Who will be resuming their North American tour in the fall, including a Sept. 21 date at Los Angeles' Staples Center.  

Set List:

I Can't Explain
The Seeker
Who Are You
The Kids are Alright
I Can See for Miles
My Generation
Behind Blue Eyes
Slip Kid
Join Together
You Better You Bet
I'm One
Love, Reign O'er Me
Eminence Front
A Quick One (While He's Away)
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You
Baba O'Riley
Won't Get Fooled Again

- Album Review