When The Who announced its The Who Hits 50 Tour in the summer of 2014, singer Roger Daltrey called it â€œthe beginning of the long goodbye.â€ Well, the goodbye has taken longer than expected, with Daltreyâ€™s bout with viral meningitis last year forcing many shows to be postponed. But a makeup show took place Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, and another is scheduled for March 19 at the Prudential Center in Newark.
The tour is scheduled to continue through the end of May; after that, itâ€™s possible that The Who will never perform in New Jersey or New York again. Daltrey has said that while he and guitarist-songwriter Pete Townshend may continue making music together, in some way, this will be their â€œlast old-fashioned, big tour.â€
Indeed, Thursdayâ€™s show truly felt like it was putting a cap on something, and not just because of the hit-filled setlist, but also because the band kept filling the huge video screen behind them with iconic, vintage images of Daltrey, now 72, and Townshend, 70 â€“ as well as of deceased original Who members Keith Moon and John Entwistle. On one or two numbers, this would have been fine, but doing this on virtually every song in the first half of the show proved to be a distraction. The images got more abstract and psychedelic in the second half, which was a good change, making it easier to concentrate on the music.
The most misguided visual production was on â€œThe Rock,â€ a long, complex instrumental from the bandâ€™s great â€œQuadropheniaâ€ album. During this song, an incessant stream of historical photos and videos â€“ President Nixon, Princess Diana, the Tiananmen Square protester, 9/11, the toppling of Saddam Husseinâ€™s statue in Baghdad â€“ was shown. There may have been some connection to â€œThe Rock,â€ but if there was, it was a mystery to me.
Despite this minor annoyance, it was a very solid show. Daltreyâ€™s voice â€” which has sometimes taken some time to rise to its full power at past shows â€“ was strong throughout the evening, and Townshend played guitar with his customary ferocity. The band was fine too, with keyboardist John Corey standing out the most with his elegant new introduction to â€œLove, Reign Oâ€™er Me.â€ Drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo Starrâ€™s son, and a Who collaborator since 1994) and bassist Pino Palladino have a tough task, re-creating the parts of rock immortals Moon and Entwistle while giant images of those two are projected above them, but managed to not just get the parts right, but evoke the spirits of their predecessors, as well.
The setlist covered the bandâ€™s entire career â€“ or, at least, the years up to 1982, when The Who took a long break from recording after releasing its â€œItâ€™s Hardâ€ album (there was nothing in the show from the bandâ€™s lone studio album since then, 2006â€™s â€œEndless Wireâ€). Medleys from â€œQuadropheniaâ€ and â€œTommyâ€ took up a large portion of the second half of show, along with an edgy take on â€œEminence Frontâ€ and a closing blast of â€œBaba Oâ€™Rileyâ€ and â€œWonâ€™t Get Fooled Again.â€
Earlier in the evening, Daltrey dismissed â€œPictures of Lilyâ€ by reminding fans that the group was once a â€œboy bandâ€ that did pop songs, and Townshend recalled the time, immediately after he wrote it, when keyboard master Keith Jarrett visited him and he was almost too embarrassed to play it for him. (Townshend had kinder words for â€œBargain,â€ calling it one of his favorite tunes before singing it.)
Further underscoring just how long they have been rock stars, Daltrey and Townshend talked about the first time they came to the United States to perform, when â€œI Can See for Milesâ€ became their first U.S. hit, in 1967. In New York, they performed at the RKO Theatre, in a package show presented by disc jockey Murray the K, and co-starring acts like Cream, The Miracles and Wilson Pickett.
They did four or five shows a day, Townshend remembered. (It was actually two or three, but after five decades, one does tend to exaggerate a bit.)
That theater is long gone, of course, as is Murray the K, and most of the other acts. But The Who is still here, at least a little while longer, and still, somehow, doing justice to the fury of their old, youthful sound. To borrow the title of one of the songs they did as part of their â€œTommyâ€ medley, it really has been an amazing journey.