Tom Kielty, Globe Correspondent
MANSFIELD -- The Who's standing as one of rock's most
influential and enduring acts is without question. The band has suffered the loss of two founding members, drummer Keith Moon in 1978 and bassist John Entwistle in 2002, yet it has soldiered on to build on its legend status.
All of which made the more human aspects of the group's performance Thursday at the Tweeter Center that much more compelling. Kicking off its latest US tour, after a surprise Carnegie Hall gig the night before, the band weathered the occasional sound glitch and instrument miscue to deliver a rewarding two-hour set.
Running through one of classic rock's most recognizable catalogs would seem old hat for guitarist Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey. But what differentiated their performance from the oldies circuit was the focused passion they brought to the material. The fervor has spread to the band's newer members, particularly firebrand drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr), who was joined in the rhythm section by bassist Pino Palladino.
Launching into "Who Are You," Townshend was the epitome of a rock statesman, wearing black wraparound sunglasses and firing the first of countless guitar volleys. Daltrey warmed up his voice, as well as his customary microphone cord tricks, and by the time the band pounded into "I Can't Explain" it was clear that lack of intensity would not be an issue.
While the Who have no shortage of hits to draw from, some of the show's most memorable moments came from relative obscurities. The "Quadrophenia" track "The Punk and the Godfather" received an energetic workout while "Love Ain't for Keeping," from 1971's "Who's Next," benefited from Daltrey's acoustic guitar.
The band also introduced two new songs, with mixed results. If the title of "Real Good Looking Boy" was enough to raise the eyebrows of anyone familiar with Townshend's recent legal struggles (the guitarist was investigated following child pornography charges), the song itself was nothing memorable. "Old Red Wine," however, stood tall against the band's best, starting as a slow ballad before exploding into a brutal guitar burner.
As the set wound down, Townshend attacked the classic "My Generation," segueing into a wonderfully slowed down version of "The Kids Are Alright" that proved the guitarist is still striving for fresh ways to deliver hooks.
Townshend's windmill arm gestures seemed to approach 90 miles per hour at times, but he still can pick out a single note and deliver it with a frightening ferocity. The enthusiastic treatment he and Daltrey gave the set-ending "Won't Get Fooled Again" was a worthy exclamation point.