Jim Harrington, Medianews
For Halloween, the two remaining original members of the Who -- vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend -- masqueraded as real recording artists and released their first new studio set since 1982's "It's Hard."
"Endless Wire" is a pretty fine effort, especially coming from a band that took a 25-year hiatus between albums, and these Englanders are justifiably proud of it.
That pride, however, led these rock legends to put on a show Wednesday night at the HP Pavilion in San Jose that wasn't nearly as enjoyable as the ones at the Shoreline Amphitheatre in Mountain View back in 2002 and 2004.
Let's face facts here for a minute. What are Who fans looking for from the band in 2006? They want the hits. They want to scream along at the top of their lungs to "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" and "Baba O'Riley." Most significantly, they are looking for a show with momentum that keeps them up on their feet and dancing from the opener to the closing number. That's exactly what they got during those two Shoreline dates.
In contrast, the Who was determined to force-feed the crowd new material in San Jose and, really, fans weren't biting. There was a dramatic drop-off in enthusiasm from the audience whenever the Who played new songs and that really derailed much of the show.
Kicking off in fine fashion with "I Can't Explain," the band initially had the crowd eating out of its palm as it followed that traditional opener with rocking renditions of "The Seeker" and "Substitute." That early momentum was enough to carry the group, and the crowd, through the first offering from the new album, "Fragments."
The band sounded great -- especially Ringo Starr's kid, Zak Starkey, on drums -- as it rolled through a forceful rendition of the classic "Who Are You." The tune sounded nearly as powerful as when it first came out in the late '70s, although, thanks to hip-hop, dropping the f-bomb doesn't carry the same weight it once did.
After a lukewarm take on "Behind Blue Eyes," the band played the entire six-track mini-opera from this year's "Wire and Glass" EP (which was also included as part of "Endless Wire"). It was a gutsy move, but one that didn't pay off. Many of the fans, most of whom were obviously unfamiliar with the material, sat down and simply waited politely for the segment to finish.
Just to be clear, a polite response from the crowd isn't usually what occurs at a Who show.
Folks were back on their feet for the always-enjoyable "Baba O'Riley," which once again hit with the force of a wrecking ball, and the too-slick "Eminence Front." Daltrey, moving a bit slower than usual on this night, rose to the occasion with "Baba O'Riley" and Townshend was definitely on his game for "Eminence Front."
Yet, the good times wouldn't last as the band reopened the book on "Endless Wire" and bored the crowd with a triple-shot of "A Man in a Purple Dress," "Black Widow's Eyes" and "Mike Post Theme."
The group did its best to get back on track with "You Better You Bet" and the anthem "My Generation," during which Pino Palladino masterfully recreated the memorable work of original Who bassist John Entwistle (who died of a cocaine-induced heart attack in 2002).
The main set came to a close with the fan-favorite "Won't Get Fooled Again." That song was a showcase for the entire band -- from Starkey's beat-happy runs to the fine rhythm-guitar work of Pete Townshend's brother Simon -- but it was mostly an opportunity for Daltrey to shine. He did just that as he summoned up the will necessary for the Shark Tank-shaking howl that came near the song's conclusion.
The band filled its encore with tracks from its most famous rock opera, 1969's "Tommy," and the result couldn't have been much more different than what it achieved with "Wire and Glass." Led by Townshend's most passionate playing of the evening, the Who knocked the crowd for a loop with stellar takes on "Pinball Wizard," "Amazing Journey" and "Sparks."
The Who was moving with the momentum of a freight train by the time it hit the "See Me" and "Listening to You" segments of "We're Not Gonna Take It!" Too bad the rest of the show wasn't nearly as good.
It's hard to knock a band for wanting to play new material, just like it's difficult to rag on a fan base that wants to hear old hits. It's just the situation that the Who finds itself in after waiting 25 years between albums.