Thor Christensen / The Dallas Morning News
Pete Townshend might be the Who's heart, soul and brains, but Roger Daltrey is still its voice. When his voice falters, so does the Who.
And that was the predicament the band found itself in Friday night at American Airlines Center, as one of rock's greatest live acts was reduced to merely good by Mr. Daltrey's hit-and-miss singing.
At age 62, nobody expects his roar to be as virile as it was on Live at Leeds. But too often during the two-hour show, it wasn't even close. When he sang about a "voice too rough with cigarettes" in "You Better You Bet," it was pure self-description. He sounded like he was trying to dislodge a gob of phlegm.
He skipped the sky-high notes altogether in "Who Are You," but decided to try to hit them in "Baba O'Riley" – with embarrassing results. Yet somehow, he rallied during the set-closing "Won't Get Fooled Again" and uncorked a spine-tingling wail.
Even though his voice wavered, his spirit never let up. As a showman, he's still a sight to behold, strutting and preening and lassoing his microphone with so much fury he broke it during the encore of "Amazing Journey."
Mr. Townshend, 61, has cut back on his ballet leaps and scissor kicks. But he remains an athletic performer, and on Friday, his manic windmill arm strokes continued to inspire awe.
And while there's simply no way to replace musicians as distinct as the late John Entwistle and Keith Moon, new bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Zak Starkey did an admirable job trying.
In fact, Mr. Daltrey's voice notwithstanding, the show was stronger than the Who's 2002 visit to American Airlines Center – and a far cry better than the strange, Las Vegas-y 1989 tour. Chalk it up to new material.
Fair-weather fans bolted to buy beer during songs from Endless Wire. But the diehards were thrilled by new tracks like "Mike Post Theme" (with its snarling power chords), "We Got a Hit" and the Dylanesque folk tune "A Man in a Purple Dress." Who's Next it wasn't. But for a band's first album in 24 years, it was quite impressive.
The music of the Pretenders, who opened the show, has aged nearly as well as the Who's.
Chrissie Hynde and company cranked out a dozen gems in a tight 55-minute set, ranging from "Message of Love" (Herman's Hermits on steroids) to the candy-coated torch of "I'll Stand By You" to a blistering take on Jimi Hendrix's "Room Full of Mirrors."
Ms. Hynde's tremulous purr remains one of the most stirring sounds in rock, and at 55, she still looks like the young punk who once sang "Bad Boys Get Spanked." But she's also mellowed with age.
The last time she played Dallas, she hurled expletives at fans who eat meat and called them "morons." This time, she merely said they weren't nearly as good-looking as all the "gorgeous vegetarians" in the house.