PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Who put on a rock show Monday night in South Philly. Not an in-the-round experience, or a searing laser light spectacular – just a good old fashioned, windmill-strumming, vocal-soaring, fifty years of hits packed rock show at the Wells Fargo Center.
Originally scheduled for last year before Roger Daltrey’s bout with viral meningitis, the legendary rock group took to a simple stage littered with equipment and cylinder-shaped cases in front of a sign reading “Keep calm, here comes The Who.” It was a worthy warning to a crowd who had sat through several sad reminders of time. Before the show began, the large video screen set behind the stage alternated archive footage from the band’s fifty years with images and tributes to artists that we’ve lost recently. Kind words about the passing of old friends like Keith Emerson and George Martin gave way to strong warnings against smoking because of Roger Daltry’s allergies. It wasn’t exactly the perfect primer for a rock show to break out of, but maybe it was fitting for a band that’s collected enough war wounds to fill a wing of the Rock and Roll Hall Of Fame.
As the first notes of “Who Are You” rang out across the crowd though, all became right with the world. Townshend pummeled away at his guitar as images flickered behind him. Meanwhile, Roger Daltrey sang with impressive power. The two are still vicious at their respective instruments, with a supporting cast including Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey, coming along side strong to cover any holes worn away by time.
“I’m the only one in The Who who has a key to the city” proclaimed Townshend early on, remembering the ceremonial key given to him in Philadelphia in the early 90’s. Townshend would often give background to songs and stories between tunes throughout the night, and would later use said “key” to shut down a shouting member of the crowd. “You know I’ve got the key to this ****ing city” he said plainly to the interrupting fan. “A lot of our biggest fans are cops and firefighters.”
The stage presence of Daltrey and Townshend is that of a duo that have seen fifty years at the forefront. Both are captivating, but diminished. Daltrey looked more adorable than frenetic as he danced and sang his way through “My Generation”, and Townshend was understandably more sedate than in any of the history shown on screen before the lights went down. However when the music was the movement, The Who was just as bold and powerful as ever.
Roger Daltrey proved the pipes are still there as he ascended through “Love, Reign O’er Me”, and finished strong with classics “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The intricacies of Daltrey’s voice aren’t as they once were, but he still packed plenty of power.
The band ripped through twenty-one songs in all on this night at Wells Fargo Center, leading the crowd through hits like “I Can See For Miles,” “Eminence Front,” “Pinball Wizard” and everything in between. Looking around the arena, it thrilled fans from sixty to sixteen – all enjoying what could be The Who’s last stand.