Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff, 7/4/2000
MANSFIELD - Let's get it out of the way: The Who are geezers. Geezers, geezers, geezers. Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltrey. Geezers.
And, what of it? They also rock hard and bring you to emotional peaks with what is, arguably, the best catalog of still-active rock 'n' roll bands. They make you smile and sweat and glad to be alive, and sad that drummer Keith Moon isn't among us to have given it a go in his 50s as well.
Or so it felt last night at the packed Tweeter Center, where the three surviving members, plus drummer Zak Starkey and longtime sideman/keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick, turned in a 2 1/2-hour show that was about as rewarding as they come. It started with "I Can't Explain" and closed with an extended "My Generation." (Supply your own age-ist joke if you must - only Keith died before he got old, yada, yada.)
However cynical you might feel about yet another Who reunion and however much you might chafe at the $150 top ticket price, you had to salute 'em for the quality of the work. It was classic rock 'n' roll, but not calcified, not a museum piece. Townshend, looking priestly in black, played some dazzling leads with his acoustic-electric guitar; the leonine, still-strapping Daltrey sang his heart out; Entwistle was stoic and stellar as usual on bass. Starkey was every bit the young clone of Moon, from his mod looks to his drumming style. Townshend introduced "Naked Eye" as being written years ago as an onstage composition; last night he said, "We're just gonna try to get it right."
Mission: Accomplished. Although Daltrey and Townshend had a great Monty Pythonic "Argument Clinic" moment after "See Me, Feel Me." "It nearly worked," said Daltrey. "No, it didn't," countered Townshend. "Your part always works," said Daltrey. Back and forth it went. Ah, the once bickering mates were bantering. Later, hugs and kisses were exchanged among band members. Townshend explained: "We're old enough now to forget the difficulties we had, which were pretty heavy."
Highlights? Hard to choose. Ferocious skronk-spiced versions of "Bargain" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"; the psychedelized, jazzy, bluesy jam on "Magic Bus," the climactic power chords and up-the-establishment (any establishment) rise of "Won't Get Fooled Again"; the tension and release of the acoustic-to-electric "Behind Blue Eyes"; the giddy buzz of the Who's last actual hit in America, 1979's "You Better You Bet"; the multilevel rush of "5:15," with its protagonist "magically bored on a quiet street corner" and "sadly ecstatic that the heroes are used," as the contrasts and complexities of life descend upon him.
So it goes with the Who. "In the old days," Daltrey said, "it used to reek of pot from the audience; now it's cigars. Bring back the old days!" Townshend, for his part, executed more than a few scissor-kicks, jumps and windmills, sometimes self-mockingly so. This tour, in its early stages, has to with making money, yes, but also to do with self-validation, as Townshend suggested when one of his guitars remained defiantly out of tune. The old guitar-smasher threatened to do it in, but it wouldn't be "for you, but for me." As it turned, he did not destroy. Rather, he and his mates gave us their creations.