"I hope I die before I get old," roared The Who vocalist Roger Daltrey, near the start of the iconic British band’s long-anticipated show last night at the TD Garden.
Oops, too late. Daltrey is 72 years old and the charmingly irascible Pete Townshend, the band’s other surviving co-founder, is 70. This show, part of “The Who Hits 50!” tour, which was postponed about six months while Daltrey recovered from viral meningitis, is likely to be the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers’ last-ever Boston gig. Yeah, I know, this is not the first time The Who has embarked on a farewell tour. But its fans, mostly of the AARP generation themselves, believe this is Roger and Pete’s last go-round and are treating this with the reverence it deserves. They are also enthusiastically vocal, singing along with gusto to every single classic song.
It would be easy to put them d-d-down at this juncture, if The Who and its catalog weren’t so damn strong. It’s truly been an amazing journey for these guys, who busted out of London in 1964 and became one of rock music’s top four all-time bands (Beatles, Stones, Kinks). And even though the days of smashing guitars and knocking over the drum kit and other rebellious acts are long in the past, this was no mere nostalgia show. Daltrey is still reaching for — and mostly hitting — those screaming high notes and Townshend bounds all over the stage, still delivering his trademark windmill uppercut guitar moves with verve.
Yup, these kids are alright.
Daltrey, who looks more like Tony Bennett these days than the golden god of his youth, and Townshend are joined on stage by their longtime rhythm section of Zak Starkey (Ringo’s boy) and Pino Palladino on drums and bass, respectively, taking the places of the late Keith Moon and John Entwistle, and Simon Townshend (Pete’s bro) on guitars. Keyboardists/multi-instrumentalists John Corey, Frank Simes and Loren Gold fill in the blanks. It’s a wondrous outfit, and the band is on fire from the start (“Who Are You”) to the finish (“Won’t Get Fooled Again,” with Daltrey valiantly trying to replicate the greatest scream in rock and roll history ... he comes close).
A lot of Townshend’s older songs are about dying, namely “The Seeker” and the aforementioned “My Generation.” Both were presented in spectacular fashion. Many of Townshend’s newer songs — more than 20 years old, all — are about surviving in a mixed-up, muddled-up world; “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Love, Reign O’er Me” and “Bargain” in particular.
To my ears, the guitar crunch of “Pictures of Lily,” a song about masturbation, and “I Can See For Miles” (the first 45 I bought, along with Small Faces’ “Itchycoo Park” during a trip to Ted Cole’s music store in Salem back in 1967) were nirvana. The triple keyboard attack sapped some of power from the “Quadrophenia” and “Tommy” songs, though “Pinball Wizard” sounds as great today as it did on the day WBCN introduced the song to Bostonians in 1969. And the insanely groove-y “Eminence Front,” known to much of this generation as that rocker on the Cadillac TV commercials, will always get rumps a shaking.