Gary Graff of The Oakland Press
AUBURN HILLS - Who fans met the new boss - which wasn't the same as the old boss - on Friday night at the Palace.
Although the players were the same, the Who that hit town was not really the same group we saw in August of 2002, and was certainly a far cry from the vintage version of the venerable British rock act. This was the Who of surviving founders Pete Townshend (the writer) and Roger Daltrey (the singer) who, both in their early sixties, displayed a sensibility more matured and wisened than the ferocious assault of prior tours.
The question, of course, is whether men old enough to hold AARP cards can still rock. The Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney have proven as much, and Townshend and Daltrey are certainly joining their ranks, although there's clearly a transition afoot that on Friday was both interesting and disarming. Things started off like a blast from the past, with images of the original Who flicking on the video screens surrounding the stage as Townshend, Daltrey and their four backing musicians - including Townshend's brother Simon on guitar and Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey on drums - worked their way through "Can't Explain." They followed with "The Seeker" and a nicely extended rendition of "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" before arriving at the real point of the visit.
The Who, you see, have a new album - "Endless Wire" - coming on October 31. It's the group's first of all-new material since "It's Hard" in 1982, and it's rekindled Townshend's and Daltrey's enthusiasm for working under the Who banner again. That much was evident in performances of "Fragments," "Mike Post Theme," "Tea & Theater" and the Dylan-like "Man in a Purple Dress," as well as a truncated version of the mini-opera "Wire & Glass," whose individual pieces were more captivating than any of the full-length songs. Poignantly reflective and unabashedly sentimental, the fresh pieces complemented the nostalgic veneer of the night and certainly made the case for the Who as a going concern rather than an oldies act.
Not that any of the 13,000-plus at the Palace - who were admirably attentive for the new songs - minded tripping through the past. While "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" seemed surprisingly tame - though Daltrey, who was perceptibly hoarse all night, ripped out a solid scream on the latter - "Eminence Front" benefited from a funkier arrangement and "My Generation" was another extended piece that incorporated bits of "Another Tricky Day" and "Cry if You Want" amidst Townshend's windmill-armed guitar solos.
And the encore sampling of songs from the rock opera "Tommy" was typically powerful, staring with "Pinball Wizard," continuing through a charged treatment of "Amazing Journey/Sparks" and wrapping up with the still- majestic "Listening to You."
The Who will likely never attain the grandeur or sheer power of its long-ago heyday. But at the Palace, Townshend and Daltrey showed that graceful aging and passion are not mutually exclusive.