AUBURN HILLS - Bless The Who. Two of them died before they got old. Two of them didn't.
Roger Daltrey, the archetypal macho rock singer with the muscular voice, and Pete Townshend, the tortured genius who plays a mean guitar, have soldiered on without wild-man drummer Keith Moon, who died, unbelievably, almost 30 years ago, and fleet-fingered mysterioso bassist John Entwistle, who died one day before their last sizable tour in 2002.
So Daltrey and Townshend have a new sense of urgency to add to, rather than rehash, their legacy.
They tried to do both Friday night at the Palace, with typically rough and typically inspiring results. The crowd of more than 13,000 spanned three generations, from graying, balding boomers who've been there from the start, to their kids and their kids' kids, including 7-year-old Ethan Neuvirth of Bloomfield Hills, attending his first concert with plugs in his ears and his cool mom (herself a second-generation fan). He sat next to me, eager to hear the songs from the Broadway version of "Tommy" that were his introduction to the band.
The Who played "Pinball Wizard" and a medley of songs from the "Tommy" rock opera as most of the encore, but they also played 10 new songs that Ethan wouldn't know.
The audience, some besotted like it was some '70s ritual they hadn't outgrown, mostly sat and listened politely to the new stuff, including six short songs from the new album's "Wire and Glass" mini-opera, as Townshend called it. They included a plodding anti-war anthem "Pick Up the Peace," a lovely, lilting, country-flavored "Out on the Endless Wire," and a final trio of songs that reflect on stardom from its first blush (the "Substitute"-quoting rocker "We Got a Hit") to the aging rock star reflections of "Mirror Door."
The biggest problem with the new stuff is that the band clearly hasn't grown into these songs yet.
The other problem is that some of the new stuff, like the overwrought "Fragments," and its "Baba O'Riley"-quoting synth riff, sounded like recycled, not reinvigorated Who.
Given time, some of the new songs could grow into worthy additions to the Who's considerable canon.
The predicament legacy bands like the Who, or the Half-Who find themselves in, is that their aging fans didn't shell out big bucks to hear a bunch of songs they don't know or care about. (That's where their more bottom-line conscious friends, the Rolling Stones, caved long ago.)
The Who at least have regained their confidence in new songs, even if the results are mixed, and they're not concerned with recreating the records note for note.
Having honed the hit-parade approach recreating "Tommy" (remember when Townshend played mostly acoustic because of his tinnitus?) and "Quadrophenia" in the '90s, they know how to please, balancing the audience's lust for the familiar with an old flair for improvisation rediscovered on the '02 tour.
Even though opener "I Can't Explain" was listless (as was most of the first quarter of the two-hour set) and "Behind Blue Eyes" was muted, early career staple "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" benefited from an end-of-song jam.
Second-tier hit "Eminence Front" featured a fiery Townshend vocal and a little extra funk from Roger Daltrey's rhythm guitar. The buoyant "You Better You Bet" turned into a sing-along that put a smile on struggling singer Daltrey's face.
"My Generation," which has regained its relevance in today's post-9/11 climate, turned into a bluesy improv that took some interesting twists and featured some of Townshend's most articulate guitar work of the night.
They weren't as tight as little-known opening act moe. And they weren't as good Friday as they were at the Palace four years ago. Nor are they very relevant today.
But the Who - whose Dec. 5 Grand Rapids show went on sale Saturday - appear determined not to die creatively even if they are getting old.