Vit Wagner, pop Music Critic
The promotional tag-line for The Who's concert tour, projected on screens before the legendary band's sold-out show at the Air Canada Centre last night, proclaimed: "Uncut. Uncensored. Unrepentant."
Beyond sounding like a cliché for rock and roll defiance, it is hard to say how this slogan related to the show or anything the group is up to at this advanced stage in its career.
Unrepentant? For what? For soldiering on with two of its four original members dead and gone? Who knows?
The performance, while bracing at times, reflected a similar state of uncertainty. Touring in support of their first new album in nearly a quarter century, surviving frontmen guitarist Pete Townshend, 61, and singer Roger Daltrey, 62, seemed torn between dwelling on the past and trying to stake some claim to relevance in the present.
The new disc, Endless Wire, certainly received its due, including a six-song abbreviation of the mini-opera, Wire & Glass, that fills out the last half of the album. But the performance, wedged between renditions of "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Baba O'Riley," felt perfunctory.
The reception for the new material, while respectful, understandably paled in comparison to the standing ovations generated by familiarly anthemic hits, played against a nostalgic backdrop of photographic images, some including the departed bassist John Entwistle, who died prior to The Who's 2002 tour, and drummer Keith Moon, who exited in 1978.
The current incarnation can still deliver plenty of thrills, thanks mainly to the unflagging energy and incomparable ability of Townshend, who wasted no time showcasing his signature windmill move on opener "Can't Explain." Daltrey's voice has worn less well over time, the erosion of his range exacerbated last night by an evident cold. But there is no want of conviction in his desire to belt it out.
The rest of the line-up, including Townshend's brother Simon on second guitar and Pino Palladino on bass, is way more than satisfactory. Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr, is without doubt one of the most accomplished drummers in rock, a status earned through his work behind the kit for Oasis, as well as for The Who. From a purely musical standpoint, few bands can match the collective firepower that Starkey and Pete Townshend bring to an arena.
"Well, here we are again," said Townshend early in the proceedings. "This is probably the favourite city of mine to play in."
And, presumably, not for the last time, since no one is hyping this as the end of the story. Maybe "Not Another Farewell Tour" didn't have the right ring as a marketing slogan.