Troy Carpenter, Chicago
A good 37 years after they first started making music together in Shepherd's Bush, London, the surviving members of the Who -- Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltrey -- took the stage Sunday (June 25) at the New World Music Theatre outside of Chicago to kick off yet another American tour.
Backed by longtime keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and youthful drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr), the Who reprised 100 minutes worth of hits from their '60s/'70s heyday and gave their best effort at "being" the Who after all these years.
Nobody's making any excuses for the Who these days, 18 years after their original "farewell" tour. Drummer Keith Moon's fatal drug overdose in 1978 was considered by many to be the creative death of the band, even as the three remaining members produced two more albums and sporadically continued to tour. In the sense that the Who are still a viable band, the post-Moon era now spans a longer (though markedly less significant) period in the band's existence.
But while the majority of the material played at Sunday night's show was at least two decades old, the pluck and tenacity of Townshend, Entwistle, and Daltrey had to be admired. Daltrey's mere presence on stage, at age 56, unbuttoning his shirt, swinging around his microphone and singing youth anthems with irony-laden lyrics like "I'm in tune" and the classic "I hope I die before I get old" was a sight to behold. Entwistle put the night in perspective when he took over vocal duties for "My Wife": "We used to make jokes about wives here," he quipped, "but my second ex-wife is in the audience, so we'll just play the song."
Entwistle's characteristically spidery bass lines were very much up to par, showing off with some impressive soloing in an exquisite rendition of "5:15," from the 1973 rock opera "Quadrophenia." The song ended with Townshend crooning "Why should I care / why should I care," and after a chorus of applause, he added a coda: "We care because we love you so, Chicago."
For his part, Townshend showed plenty of flash and stellar fretwork worthy of his reputation as one of rock's greatest all-time guitarists. Supported by Starkey's manic drumming and Entwistle's thunderous bass barrage, Townshend pulled off some great riff-and-distortion workouts in songs like "Magic Bus," "The Seeker," and the "Who's Next" classic "Won't Get Fooled Again."
For all their years, the crew put on an enthused performance, and the immense crowd cheered heartily throughout. Though the Who is certainly past its prime, the band is a well-oiled engine that, at this late date, can still put on an affecting stadium rock show. Sunday's performance proved that diehard Who fans planning to see the elder masters on this tour won't be disappointed.