Kyle Munson, Register Music Critic
It was no surprise that the baby boomer faithful cheered loudest Tuesday night at Wells Fargo Arena when the Who sang "Teenage wasteland," "Hope I die before I get old," "Meet the new boss" and other key youthful sentiments from its hefty chapter in the classic rock canon.
The big surprise was that the new Who songs from the band’s forthcoming album, "Endless Wire," rated far better than a bathroom break — coaxing some of the night’s finest performances out of the 42-year-old war horse of British rock’s holy trinity (with the Beatles and the Rolling Stones).
There’s plenty of room to debate whether frontman Roger Daltrey, 62, and guitarist Pete Townshend, 61, have been brave or ludicrous to soldier on as the Who after the deaths of monster drummer Keith Moon in 1978 and stoic bassist John Entwistle in 2002. But there was no question that during Tuesday night’s rendition of "Man in a Purple Dress," as Townshend strummed an acoustic guitar alongside Daltrey with their quartet of backup musicians off stage, the two of them were more than able to carry the weight of Who legend.
"Thank you so much for bearing with us through the new material," Townshend humbly told the 6,158 fans 70 minutes into the concert, by which point more than half the songs had been previewed from an album that won’t even hit stores until Halloween.
I call that a gutsy move, the sort of thing that should be remembered from the Who’s first concert in Des Moines in 30 years — instead of the requisite guitar windmills and Daltrey’s ragged scream in the latest rehash of "Won’t Get Fooled Again." The same acoustic-duo treatment fittingly capped the night, for the final track from "Endless Wire," "Tea & Theater." And the medley of "Tommy" songs that filled the encore before that was bracing stuff, worth the wait after lapses into weaker songs such as "Eminence Front" and "You Better You Bet."
The last song that the Who played in Iowa, on its premature 1982 "farewell" tour that included Cedar Falls, was the Beatles staple "Twist and Shout," originally by the Isley Brothers. On Tuesday, the Who benefited from an impressive Beatle offspring behind the drums: Ringo Starr’s son, Zak Starkey.
Townshend’s younger brother, guitarist Simon Townshend, did heavy lifting for Daltrey on backup vocals early in the concert. Daltrey’s clearest tones all night came from his harmonica solo at the end of "Baba O’Riley," though his vocal cords did warm up by the time "Tommy" was unleashed.
The Who paid the best tribute to its ’60s incarnation with a killer, extended take on "My Generation." There also was a heartfelt tribute to Elvis Presley, "Real Good Looking Boy."
If you want to give the rock opera a little too much credit and claim that it influenced the extended noodling of the jam-band scene, then jam quintet moe. as opening act more or less made sense.
Guitarist-singer Al Schnier even reminisced from stage about his sleepless excitement leading up to attending the Who’s 1982 tour. For its part, moe. more than filled the arena with its two guitarists and an extra percussionist to flesh out the drums. The band’s tight, concise six-song set must have been one of the shortest of its career.
The last time the Who hit Des Moines, tickets were vastly cheaper ($7.50), and the crowd was more than twice as large (13,500). Might I suggest a correlation?
Now that both a Beatle (Paul McCartney) and the Who have played the Well, I guess it’s high time to book the Stones.