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The News Tribune, 12-10-2006
It seemed a grim proposition on paper.
Take one Jurassic rock band that's quite literally half dead. Add a set list that's chock full of new tunes (read: numbers that, in this context, are usually mediocre to dreadful and and steal valuable set time from the classics you really paid to hear.)
With those ingredients in place, The Who's Wednesday night stop at Seattle's KeyArena could have easily been a big, honkin' ad for why veteran rockers should quit while they're ahead.
But it was quite the opposite, actually. Instead, the show felt like a triumphant declaration. Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are the half of the band that actually stuck around to collect their senior discounts, despite that "hope I die before I get old" nonsense Daltrey has been singing about for decades. And they wanted everyone to know there's still some good rock left in them creaky bones.
Townshend's windmill move still thrills. Daltrey's voice may have gotten a bit too growly to pull of the falsetto lead-in to "See Me, Feel Me." But he still delivers with gusto.
And with the help of a sharp backing band that included John Bundrick on keyboards, Pino Palladino on bass, Zak Starkey (Ringo's kid) on drums and Townshend's bro', Simon, on backing vocals and guitar, the duo was able to work a house that was nearly full of nostalgic baby boomers into a fist-pumping, sing-along frenzy during parts of their two-hour set.
Granted, things got off to a sketchy start as Townshend wandered off stage midway through "Can't Explain" in search of a functional axe. "They don't make guitars like they used to," Daltrey declared, stalling as a roadie got everything properly plugged in after the opener.
Glitch addressed, The Who fired back up with a rockin' rendition of "The Seeker" and oldie but goodie "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere," backed by vintage footage from the band's days as mod icons.
The staging was relatively simple with one notable frill. A big video screen would split into five segments and drift into different configurations as imagery enhanced the music; freaky eyes with kaleidoscopic irises during early '70s ballad "Behind Blue Eyes"; young Elvis during the Presley-inspired "Real Good Looking Boy"; pin balls soaring past skyscrapers, and the Space Needle on one screen, during encore opener "Pinball Wizard."
And about those new songs. Some of the material from the forthcoming "Endless Wire," due on Halloween, wasn't half bad. The first new tune, a soft rock number called "Fragments," was only so so. But after "Good Looking Boy," the band delivered several new songs in a row - including "Sound Round," "Pick Up the Peace," "We Got a Hit" and "They Made My Dream Come True" - apparently shortening some of the material to make it easier to digest.
Among the best new songs was the new album's title track, a mid-tempo country-rock number with Townshend singing lead. Townshend and Daltrey performed new ballad "A Man in a Purple Dress" without the backing band. And "Mirror Door" was a tribute to fallen singers, with images of Buddy Holly, Ray Charles and others appearing onscreen. A bit of funny trivia: Sources say Townshend didn't realize that Doris Day has yet to croak until after the song was already in the can.
As much as the fans seemed to appreciate the new stuff (few could be seen heading to the concession stands) they, of course, screamed loudest for the classics.
They sang along to "Who Are You?" early on. "Who's Next" opener "Baba O'Riley" was the perfect way to get the crowd pumped up after all the new songs. And the band took a bow after a roaring delivery of "Won't Get Fooled Again."
The first part of the encore was all about rock opera "Tommy," with "Pinball Wizard," "Amazing Journey" and a little bit of "Overture" thrown into the mix. And the band seemed to be taking its final bow with "See Me, Feel Me." But Townshend and Daltrey stuck around for one more new number.
"Tea and Theater" was delivered unplugged, sans the programmed drums fans will hear on the album. And it could have easily been anti-climactic if not for the lyrics' sentimental reflection on past trials, tribulations and triumphs.
"One of us, gone, one of us mad," Daltrey sang. "All of us sad."
Fans who missed the show shouldn't sweat it. It was recorded for DVDs available through the Web site www.themusic.com, with proceeds going to various charities. And Townshend said the second leg of the tour would swing through the West Coast in February. Could another Seattle date be part of the plan?
Colorado trio Rosehill Drive rocked during their opening set, which consisted of about 30 minutes of bluesy, stoner metal with obvious late '60s and early '70s influences. The Who wasn't necessarily one of them, but singer-bassist Jacob Sproul still took a moment to give props.
"I don't know about you guys, but 'Who's Next' changed my ... life," he declared midway through the set.