Four decades ago, the volcanic power of the Who lay in their signature moves -- Roger Daltrey twirling a microphone stand; guitarist Pete Townshend ripping chords in big windmill motions -- performed with the same precision force as their tightly constructed rock 'n' roll songs.
Monday night at Sunrise's Bank Atlantic Center, the near-capacity crowd cheered every time the sexagenarian rockers performed those moves -- seemingly relieved they could do so without falling down or throwing out their backs.
In their heyday, the Who had a manic energy that was almost without peer, in an era when youthful ardor was changing the world. Townshend wrote and Daltrey sang some of the ultimate anthems of the '60s and '70s: My Generation, Won't Get Fooled Again. "The kids are alright," they famously assured. In 2006, though, the geezers are just so-so.
The Who is one of those acts that every few years says farewell. This is the two surviving members' first tour since original bassist John Entwhistle died in 2002. (Amazingly, and somewhat alarmingly, they finished up the tour they were on when he died).
At least this go-round, for the first time in a quarter-century, the seminal British Invasion band has a new album to play. A couple of songs from Endless Wire, their recently released album, sounded even better than on disc: The two performed the anti-clergy rant A Man in a Purple Dress without the other four musicians, with Townshend strumming an acoustic guitar. We Got a Hit, from the "mini-opera" Wire & Glass, was a peppy self-parody, similar to their old hit Substitute.
But most of the meandering new tunes lack Townshend's usual pointed wit and allegorical force. The audience -- dominated by middle-aged men -- tended to swarm the bathrooms every time a new song was played. They were there to hear the songs of which classic rock radio is made.
The Who complied, opening with I Can't Explain; footage of the band as youths ran on screens behind them. In the generous, two-hour show, they dutifully and even lovingly trotted out most of their golden oldies. In a tight black T-shirt and blue jeans, the muscled Daltrey, 62, looked Dorian Gray fit. Balding and gray, Townshend, 61, looked more his age. They interacted little with each other or the rest of the band -- Pete's brother Simon Townshend on guitar, Pino Palladino on bass, Zak Starkey on drum. Usual keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick was absent to tend to a sick wife; his technician ably filled in.
In fact, they barely left their little parts of the stage. Townshend talked to the crowd, recalling how he'd written both their early hit The Seeker and the start of Wire & Glass in South Florida.
Opening act the Pretenders were far more relaxed and engaging, less obviously trying to be something they once were. Chrissie Hynde's voice is getting better with age. She was in a self-described "cheesy" mood, trying to teach the audience an awkward dance. She, too, played her hits -- but she also made fun of the obvious nostalgia value of the bill.