Rick Massimo, Journal Pop Music Writer
Boston. No band has been more devoted disciples, and evangelists, of what my pal Jim Slade calls The Power and Glory of Rock (the capital letters there are critical) than The Who. It's true that last night at the TD Banknorth Garden, in front of a sold-out crowd of 14,473, they were in their dotage, with only two original members left - singer Roger Daltrey looking like a slightly hip grandpa and Pete Townshend as a slightly batty uncle, hectoring the crowd and not jumping nearly as high as he used to. (And they've got Townshend's brother, Simon, to help with guitar and especially backing vocals.) Somehow, that only added to the nobility of what they were trying to achieve.
And for the most part achieved. Their evergreen set opener, "I Can't Explain," was a little sluggish, but the rest of their classics from the '60s and '70s were as rampaging as ever. Daltrey's howl, which virtually invented classic rock, is still in good shape, and Townshend still manages to simultaneously attack his guitar and play more complex chords and structures than 90 percent of what's out there today.
The Who have a new record (The Endless Wire) coming out next month, and the songs they've released in the past couple of years stoked as much trepidation as anticipation. (One of those songs, "Real Good Looking Boy," was played last night, and its puzzling mix of Elvis Presley tribute and self-help narrative of learning to accept oneself is still befuddling.)
But a good percentage of the new stuff they played last night holds up. "Fragments" was a little too Power-and-Glory for its own good, drowning in its majesty and reminiscent of the less satisfactory aspects of Townshend's solo work. But "Sound Round," "Pick Up the Piece" and "We Got a Hit," three of the songs thrown together in a mini-set in the middle of the show, managed the balance of mature lyricism and pure rock kick. And "Tea and Theatre," the last encore, was a sweet if sentimental Daltrey-Townshend duet.
On both the new and the classic, drummer Zak Starkey was the not-so-secret weapon. With Starkey (son of Ringo Starr), the group has finally adequately filled the void left by the death of Keith Moon in 1979. Starkey's playing was an exemplary mix of Moon's freneticism mixed with rhythmic solidity. On "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" he equaled Moon's bombast; on "Who Are You" he easily topped Moon's recorded performance (done shortly before his death and betraying his depleted condition).
Bassist Pino Palladino, taking over from the deceased John Entwistle, wasn't as successful, lacking Entwistle's growling, in-your-face tone.
The axis around which The Who revolve is Daltrey's leather-lunged voice and Townshend's propulsive guitar, and on classic anthems such as "Baba O'Riley" (with a Daltrey harmonica solo) and the encores "Amazing Journey/Sparks" and "See Me, Feel Me, Touch Me, Heal Me," both from Tommy, one of rock's great combinations was still Powerful and Glorious.