By Gene Stout, P-I Pop Music Critic
It was no surprise that the Who kicked off Wednesday night's concert with "I Can't Explain," a song that has opened countless shows. What's harder to explain is how the venerable rock band continues to create so much excitement decades after its formation.
Except for two high-level sections that were curtained off, KeyArena was packed for the final show of the first leg of the Who's current world tour, a remarkable trek for a band that hasn't had a hit in years.
Baby boomers outnumbered everyone else at a nostalgia-driven show, which celebrated one of rock's greatest bands and its enviable repertoire of generation-defining songs, from "Who Are You" to "Baba O'Riley," a song that includes the memorable phrase "teenage wasteland."
Though singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend are now in their early 60s, there's no denying the talent and skill that inspire longtime fans to return to arenas each time the Who launches another tour.
Townshend teased the audience, saying it wasn't he and Daltrey who were greedy to start another tour -- but the fans who demanded it.
Daltrey is still a formidable singer who can swing a microphone and wrap himself in its cord, while Townshend provides the energy, muscle and power chords that are at the heart of the band's music. Townshend played guitar with his trademark windmill strokes, though sparingly. He looked somewhat tired.
Backing surviving members Daltrey and Townshend -- often dubbed "the Two" -- were Townshend's brother, Simon Townshend, on second guitar, John Bundrick on piano and keyboards, Pino Palladino on bass, and Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son) on drums. Daltrey and Townshend have outlived original drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle.
Video played a huge role in the show, with five screens immediately behind the band and three overhead. During "Eminence Front," images of giant lava lamps danced in the background. Kaleidoscopic, psychedelic visuals accompanied "Behind Blue Eyes." "Pinball Wizard," performed during the first of two encores, featured spectacular images of a pinball whizzing past the Seattle and New York City skylines. But the best videos were those showing film clips from the band's Mod-inspired heyday in the '60s.
Ten new songs were introduced, including a series of tunes (among them "Pick Up the Peace" and the catchy "We Got a Hit") from the recent mini-rock opera album "Wire and Glass," as well as songs from the band's upcoming album, "Endless Wire." Townshend curiously described "Fragments" as a song about music, the past, the future and "breaking in and breaking out."
One of the most surprising songs was "Real Good Looking Boy," a tribute to Elvis Presley that acknowledged the debt of gratitude so many rockers owed the King. The song was accompanied by black-and-white film clips of Presley's early performances, his stint in the Army and marriage to Priscilla Beaulieu.
The audience was patient with the new material, but exploded for such songs as "Baba O'Riley," "My Generation," "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Pinball Wizard," often singing along.
Opening the show was Boulder, Colo., trio Rose Hill Drive, a talented, hard-driving rock band of skinny, hair-swinging white boys that surely reminded the boomer crowd of bands they loved in their youth.