The Who got its rep as one of the greatest live bands in rock partly through theatrics - like Pete Townshend's windmill attacks on his guitar and Roger Daltrey's microphone-as-boomerang act, both of which were on frequent display Sunday night at Reunion Arena.
But what really made - and still makes - the Who so enthralling in concert is its ability to drive a song at 120 m.p.h. down some unknown back road and wind up at the end without a scratch. That daredevil improvising during its two-and-a-half-hour show wasn't phenomenal enough to make anyone forget Live at Leeds - but it was solid enough to make the group's bloated 1989 tour seem as a tame as a puppet show by comparison.
Like the Who's last Dallas show - in 1989 at the Cotton Bowl - their current tour is a sure-to-please greatest-hits tour. The most recent song it played, "You Better You Bet," dates back to the first Reagan administration, so on one level, you could argue the Who has sunk to the same level as Three Dog Night, Herman's Hermits and every other oldies rock band that milks nostalgia for a living.
Yet the band blew that argument out of the water with its brilliant jams at the end of "Bargain," "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" and obscurities like "The Relay" and "Naked Eye." Mr. Townshend might be better known for his majestic riffs and power chords than his hit-and-miss soloing, but he was ablaze Sunday night as he led his four bandmates through the freewheeling song finales.
Drummer Zak Starkey - Ringo Starr's son - sounded remarkably like the late Keith Moon, thrashing out the beat with the perfect balance of mayhem and precision. Founding bassist John Entwistle was his usual statue of a self, but his fingers were as nimble and lightning-quick as ever as he hammered out a jazzy free-for-all solo in "5:15." Longtime touring member John "Rabbit" Bundrick sounded fine, but wisely kept his keyboard parts in the background.
The only weak link was Mr. Daltrey, whose Teflon voice was unusually ragged. The hoarseness actually worked in his favor during "The Real Me," the Quadrophenia rocker about a kid on the verge of a nervous breakdown, and during his famous shrieking climax of "Won't Get Fooled Again." Yet his inability to hit the high notes marred parts of "Bargain," among other songs. And even if he didn't always sound so hot, at least he still looked great, unbuttoning his shirt to show off the same perfectly tan, perfectly chiseled torso he had in the film version of Tommy. At 56, the singer is two generations removed from the "teenage wasteland" he sang about in "Baba O'Riley," but like so many aging British rock gods, he still looked mah-velous.