Pop culture writer George Haas
At 61, Pete Townshend is literally a graybeard. In 40-odd years of windmilling his way through amphitheatres around the globe, the guitarist has lost two bandmates and seen The Who willingly relinquish its title as The Loudest Rock Band in the World. But Monday’s rafter-shaking concert at Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates showed the rock legend "can smile and grin at the change all around" — and pick up his guitar and play, just like yesterday.
In a rousing two-hour set that featured a number of classic hits and a sprinkling of new music, The Who turned back the clock (heck they ripped off whole calendar pages), in crafting a performance that brought most of the baby boomers in the crowd back to their youth as well.
Opening with "I Can’t Explain" and "The Seeker," Townshend and 63-year-old singer Roger Daltrey looked and sounded better than two card-carrying members of rock’s four-decade club have a right to look and sound.
Daltrey looked especially fit and trim in black T-shirt, jeans and blue-tinted glasses. Townshend, meanwhile, sported a 19th century sailor outfit and seemed energized all night.
Sure, the reconstituted Who now require six members to produce music that four once conjured, and there were a few rough spots here and there as Daltrey strained to hit some notes late in the performance.
But, like a shiny 1965 Mustang that’s acquired a few dings over the years, few in the crowd seemed to notice or care as long as the pedal was pushed to the metal.
They did just that in slamming through old favorites such as "Who Are You," "Baba O'Riley" and "My Generation," complete with Daltrey’s microphone-twirling to complement Townshend’s windmilling and scissor kicks.
The backing band, which consists of Townshend’s brother Simon on guitar and vocals, Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey on drums, Pino Palladino on bass and John "Rabbit" Bundrick on keyboards was more than up to the task.
There was little mention of drummer Keith Moon, who died in 1978, and bassist John Entwistle, who died of a heart attack in 2002, but their presence was felt in the vintage photographs of the band that were shown on one of the five video screens at the rear of the stage. Three more screens showed live close-ups of the band.
Touring in support of "Endless Wire," their first new album in years, the band drew polite applause for "Fragments," "A Man in a Purple Dress" and "Black Widow’s Eyes." They also included a heartfelt version of "Real Good Looking Boy," the 2004 ballad Daltrey said was inspired by singer Elvis Presley.
Townshend almost apologized for the new songs. "We don’t want to shove it down your throats," he said, adding "we’re very honored to be able to celebrate the music with you."
Overall, they did a great job of blending the new material with the old, with Townshend giving fans a taste of his mini-opera from the new disc then offering up classics such as "You Better You Bet," "My Generation" and "Won’t Get Fooled Again," which closed out the set to thunderous applause.
The generous encore included a medley from their first rock opera, "Pinball Wizard," "Amazing Journey," "Sparks" and "See Me Feel Me," with Daltrey pushing his vocal chords to the max.
After a quick salute to the band, who exited the stage, Daltrey and Townshend remained in the spotlight for the acoustic "Tea and Theatre." Then the two old friends exited arm in arm.
Canadian rockers The Tragically Hip opened the show in style and got the crowd going early with renditions of "In View," "Yer Not the Ocean" and "Family Band."