Pete Townshend joked to Roger Daltrey that “everything is too far back for us to remember,” but the opening show of the Who’s brief U.S. tour proved that the 60-something British vets haven’t forgotten how to play an arena-rattling rock show.
Granted, all these years later it’s hardly the same rowdy ‘n’ reckless Who that wrecked its instruments and staked a reputation as one of the best live acts in rock history. But that sensibility was certainly a reference point throughout the 23-song concert, a two-hour and 50-minute traipse through the group’s 43-year recording history.
Opening with “I Can’t Explain” — and acknowledging Detroit radio’s early support for the single — the Who’s greatest weapon was its enduring body of work, including expected favorites such as “The Seeker,” “Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes” an extended vamp through “My Generation” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which sounded particularly relevant two weeks before the U.S. presidential election.
The rock opera “Tommy” was spotlighted in a five-song encore package, while its successor, “Quadrophenia,” was referenced via a coupling of “5:15,” which featured some of Townshend’s most vigorous playing, and “Love Reign O’er Me,” the night’s most powerful performance by Daltrey, who was in notably stronger voice than he was in 2006, when the Who last toured the U.S.
The Who’s recent past got a nod, too, with three tracks — “Fragments,” “Mike Post Theme” and the show-closing “T and Theater,” which Daltrey and Townshend performed as a duo — from 2006’s “Endless Wire,” while the stripped-down stage production was accented by a series of low-tech images on a screen behind the group.
The highlights, however, came from deeper in the Who’s catalog. The group delighted the most rabid of the 11,000 fans at the Palace by sneaking “Tattoo,” from “The Who Sell Out,” back into the set, along with “Getting in Tune” from “Who’s Next” and “Sister Disco” from the “Who Are You” album. And a lengthy romp through the rarity “The Relay” let Townshend and keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick stretch out even more, while drummer Zak Starkey and bassist Pino Palladino continued to add their own flavors to the Keith Moon-John Entwistle prototypes.
There were a few opening night flubs — a miscue coming out of the bass solo on “My Generation,” for instance, some noticeably missed technical cues and Townshend having to stop “Pinball Wizard” in order to change guitars. The mix was muddy, often burying Townshend’s guitar and over-amplifying Starkey and Palladino. “Who Are You” sounded more messy than musical, and “Magic Bus,” while a crowd-pleaser, was a forgettable vamp, especially with the “Tommy” medley driving up right behind it.
But polish and perfection have never worn well on the Who, anyway. A genuine sense of occasion eclipsed any gaffes, and the Daltrey, Townshend and company managed a convincing job of recalling teenage wasteland a couple of generations past its own.
The Who’s opening-night set list included:
“I Can’t Explain”
“Getting in Tune”
“Who Are You”
“Behind Blue Eyes”
“Mike Post Theme”
“Love, Reign O’er Me”
“Won’t Get Fooled Again
“See Me, Feel Me”
“Listening to You”
“Tea and Theater”