The concept of The Who having a farewell tour has long since become a joke, since they have been going on farewell tours since 1982. That being said, there were enough people wanting to get a look at Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, the two remaining members of the legendary rock group, to fill about three quarters of the Honda Center last night.
Slydigs opened the show for The Who, and the audience received them well. Interestingly, the lead singer’s voice was reminiscent of Roger Daltrey’s; however, this wasn’t too surprising as the 4-piece Manchester rock outfit was clearly influenced by a number of classic rock acts, which is probably why the rather elderly crowd received them so well. Well, there’s that and the fact that the vigorous young performers played with the energy of a local band ripping the roof off of a tavern. The cheeky buggers even put it to the crowd that they didn’t know where Manchester was, and for the most part, they were probably right.
Prior to Slydigs’ set and during the intermission between the bands, various illustrated trivia cards were projected onto the large screen which hung over the stage. All of this trivia had to do with The Who’s colorful history and included many lovely bits — like the one about how Woodstock was not a fun experience for The Who because they had to park a mile or so away and walk while carrying their children and their instruments, and they were on acid. Closer to showtime, a short commercial for Teen Cancer America played; the commercial demonstrated The Who’s commitment to raise funds for the charity. Following the commercial, there was a number shown on the screen that audience members could text to in the event that they wanted to pledge $5 to the cause. Beyond that, the printing on the concert tickets revealed that for every ticket sold, $1 went to the cause, which meant that for this evening alone, on their 70 stop “The Who Hits 50!” tour [now in its third year due to last year’s illness-related tour postponement], they probably raised at least $15,000.
As for the music itself, the septuagenarian rockers performed a satisfying set of 22 classic tunes. Ironically, whereas the band started with four great players (including the late John Entwistle and Keith Moon), the two remaining originals were now padded by no fewer than six additional musicians. This arrangement made the show into something of a Las Vegas spectacle. That being said, Daltrey’s voice was still impressive and Townshend could still play the guitar well (as in the opening / bridge rhythm guitar of “Pinball Wizard”). Unfortunately, many of the audience members did not attend to experience a band playing music; they were there to commemorate their own memories, as in the drunken yahoos who sang louder than Daltrey during the tender moments of “Behind Blue Eyes” and who loudly recounted the first time they discovered a given Who album while Townshend was giving a softly spoken intro to a song.
Photos and stylized images of the band in its prime mingled with the colorful graphics throughout the two hour set. This backdrop coupled with a standard lighting show adequately complemented the performers as they tore down memory lane. There were very few audience members under the age of 40 (most were in their 50’s and up), but the younger ones seemed to enjoy tapping their feet along with the music — even if they had a slight haze in their eyes revealing that they didn’t quite understand the band’s massive appeal. That being said, the band secured everyone’s rapt attention during their two instrumental numbers, “The Rock” and “Sparks.” The former enlisted the aid of a film montage of: presidents, royalty, and prime ministers come and gone; various wars; images of suffering children and destruction; and revolution, all of which occurred during the band’s lifespan. The latter was performed with minimal visual accompaniment, and both made very good use of the supporting musicians.
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Fourteen songs into the show, Daltrey probably overdid his singing during “Love, Reign O’er Me.” This was evident by his struggle during a suite of songs from Tommy (which included: “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “The Acid Queen,” “Pinball Wizard,” and “See Me, Feel Me”). Still, this suite cast a spell over the audience, which became noticeably tranquil during its performance; even the younger audience members seemed to become transfixed at this time. Perhaps not so incidentally, it was also at this time that the arena smelled most pungently of marijuana.
Following the Tommy songs, the band performed their teenage wasteland theme, “Baba O’Riley,” and then concluded their show with “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” It was amusing to watch the eldest Who fans (probably in their 70’s or 80’s) hobbling up the stairs in an effort to beat the crowd while the band sang the anthem of their youth. However, the fact that many of the fans still have a good 20-30 years of life left in them suggests that if The Who decide to keep going on farewell tours, the audience will be happy to go on getting fooled again and again.