Gary Graff, Of The Oakland Press August 24, 2002
"Every time we come out, there's a few less of us," Pete Townshend of The Who cracked early in the venerable British rock band's concert Friday night at The Palace of Auburn Hills.
He was alluding, of course, to the late June death of bassist John Entwistle on the eve of The Who's North American tour. And if there remains some surprise that Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey decided to go ahead with the jaunt, the duo spent two hours and 20 minutes Friday making a convincing case that there's still every reason for them to go out and play their nearly four decades of landmark rock 'n' roll.
Kicking off the third leg of the tour with fiery renditions of "I Can't Explain" and "Substitute," Daltrey and Townshend were clearly playing for keeps, the former twirling his microphone like a lariat and Townshend slashing his guitar with windmill arm strokes.
Extended versions of "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" and "The Relay" proved that this incarnation of The Who - with Townshend's brother Simon on vocals and guitar and Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey channeling the late Keith Moon's drum trademarks - has abundant chops for jamming.
And "Who Are You" remained a performance powerhouse - and, in this particular scenario, a statement of purpose from Daltrey and Townshend to their audience.
Indeed, Townshend seemed well aware that the crowds could have decided The Who was over with Entwistle's death.
"We're really happy to see all you guys come out," he told the sold-out Palace. "It's really special for ... Roger and I to come out on this tour. We're really, really grateful ..."
The gratitude showed not only in the caliber of the performance, but also in the hits-heavy song selection. Relative concert rarities such as "Another Tricky Day" and "Bargain" joined established favorites like "Behind Blue Eyes," "You Better You Bet," "My Generation" - with bassist Pino Palladino recreating Entwistle's famous licks - and the epic "Won't Get Fooled Again." The Who also presented mini-sets from its rock operas "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia," and, when all was said and done, it seemed as if the kids were truly alright.
The same could be said for former Led Zeppelin frontman Robert Plant, who "opened" Friday's show with a 65-minute set that drew on a variety of creative sources ranging from the Delta blues to American western whilst not forgetting what the fans wanted to hear.
But he delivered Led Zeppelin's "Celebration Day" with more of a boogie rhythm and gave a bit more accent to the Eastern flavors of "Four Sticks."
The crowd got its "Whole Lotta Love," too, but initially in a rural blues style before Plant and his band charged into the crunchy arrangement familiar ad nauseum from plays on the radio.
The Who's performance Friday is available for fans to purchase online at www.themusic.com. The two-CD soundboard recording costs about $25, with proceeds going to youth charities designated by the band.