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Shortly after the release of "It's Hard" (in 1982), The Who embarked on their farewell tour. -- Wikipedia history of T
About that same time, the Rolling Stone cover headline read thusly: "The Who: The End."
Won't get fooled again? Well, we got fooled again (in 1985, at Live Aid) and again (in 1989's "reunion" tour) and again ("Quadrophenia" in 1996). And again and again. And each time Pete Townshend picked up his Rickenbacker and Roger Daltrey grabbed the microphone and John Entwistle anchored himself and his bass at the left of the stage, we cheered and thanked the music gods that no Who "farewell tour" had ever lived up to its name.
On Wednesday night -- only one night into the U.S. leg of its current swing to introduce international audiences to a whole bunch of new songs -- The Who ensemble pounded and pranced through four decades of material, fixed at the core by an energized Townshend and an almost thoughtful Daltrey.
We say ensemble, because the quartet that erupted out of the United Kingdom in 1964 and challenged a worldwide rock audience with music that was stunningly passionate and relentlessly tense ceased to exist in 1978 with the death of drummer Keith Moon. When Entwistle died in 2002 of a heart attack brought on by excessive drug use, The Who's final act seemed fated.
But The Who had been a rock and roll soap opera since its early days, and why change now? Drummer Zak Starkey has the chops if not the unbridled nuttiness of Moon; Pino Palladino on bass is more than adequate, even if he lacks the flying fingers of the Ox.
So there they were, backed by a multimedia extravaganza of videos and colored lights and all the machinations of a 21st century rock show, serving up "My Generation" and "The Seeker," "Who Are You?" and the obligatory "Tommy" medley. The show jiggled the memory, although it was not memorable. It lacked the single majestic element that separated a Who concert from all others: that infinite cycle of energy between audience and band that began when the guitarist struck the first chord of "Substitute" and ended with Townshend smashing a guitar, or Daltrey toppling a tower of monitors, or Moon -- after the show -- driving a car into a swimming pool.
But it was all right, and more than all right considering the emotional tolls time has taken on The Who. Townshend has weathered it well, although he brings to mind the theory that Englishmen, as they age, begin to look like Englishwomen. His vocals are strong and sure, his execution on the guitar impeccable, and his sense of pacing still immaculate. He and Daltrey closed with an acoustic song from the band's new album,"Endless Wire," the album arriving next month. The song, "Tea and Theatre," is sad, but it made a wonderful coda for the evening.
Daltrey appeared slightly less involved throughout: the shotgun sings the song. Sporting eyeglasses and with his blond hair cropped and sporting eyeglasses, Daltrey looked more like an Eton football coach on the pitch than a rock star. That's nothing, though.
This tour is courageous stuff. If its makes you remember that gig in the old Boston Garden after the "Who's Next" album changed your life in 1971 and Moon fell off the drums and we thought he was dead (he wasn't -- he had a "fever"), that's surely enough.
THE WHO. Wednesday night at the Nikon at Jones Beach Theater, Wantagh. Something old, something new, nothing borrowed. Also appearing Monday and Tuesday at Madison Square Garden.