Behold the rock gods at twilight, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, fighting off tired bones and talk of retirement, not to mention the last vestiges of bronchitis, with one more Jurassic riff, one more anthemic chorus.
Twelve days after canceling a Tampa show due to lead singer Daltrey's bronchial malaise, the Who returned to the Ford Amphitheatre on Sunday to settle a score, to show God and everyone that it takes more than a virus to knock out these still- swaggering, still-bloody-LOUD Brits.
"I might hit some bum notes tonight, but what I have is yours," Daltrey told the crowd of 9,500 (which was a bit more than the original date's attendance). "And if everyone sings along, no one will give a (bleep) anyway."
Co-authoring the British Invasion with the Rolling Stones and the Beatles, the Who started as a quartet, four blokes who blended surly rebellion with pure pop hooks. Over the span of the band's 42-year career, drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle were lost to their fatal vices, leaving the 63-year-old Daltrey and the 61-year- old Townshend to carry on as a duo.
They know they're fighting Father Time - and they know they're winning, too. For opening song I Can't Explain, the band was backed by a video screen flashing black-and-white footage of the group circa '65. But Daltrey today sounded downright magnificent, howling the old refrain with new verve (the crowd went nuts as soon as he started singing), and whipping that mike around. And Townshend shredded his guitar with windmill verve, the arrogant axman stubborn on his throne.
How can you not root for these guys?
Just look at Roger: still a hunk, his blonde locks shorn close, his build still that of a prize fighter. He searched high and low on The Seeker and found every last note. He gave Who Are You a newfound punch. He smiled and pointed skyward during Behind Blue Eyes.
And check out Pete: There aren't many guitarists, alive or dead, who look as cool cradling a Fender. And he showed off every one of his guitar-icon poses: the hop, the slap, the crouching reload, the double windmill, the triple windmill. You couldn't take your eyes off him, especially during the classics: The Kids Are Alright, Substitute, Baba O'Riley.
The sound was so clean, so loud, so in-your-face, even the new tunes from the 2006 album, Endless Wire - the throwback sound of Fragments, the acoustic thoughtfulness of A Man in a Purple Dress - were received as old faves by the cheering throngs.
Of course nothing could top the hits. With Daltrey and Townshend backed by a youthful four-piece, the band unloaded Who Are You, Eminence Front, You Better You Bet, an extended My Generation.
The Who rocked away for almost two hours, tacking on encores that honored their rock opera days, including Pinball Wizard from Tommy. But the night's most gooseflesh-inducing moment came at the end of the first set. Won't Get Fooled Again, arguably one of the top five rock songs of all time, was a jaw-dropping marvel, especially the epic finale, in which Daltrey is required to howl into the mike, an iconic snubbing of authority.
As the big moment came, the crowd started chanting: "Roger! Roger!" Daltrey took a long sip of water and then, the spotlight finding him, unleashed the roar. And he held it, too -- for at least as long as it took Townshend to windmill once, twice, five times, 10 times.
Take that, Father Time.