Dave Ferman, Star-Telegram Pop Music Critic
DALLAS -- Just about 20 years ago, the Who played Reunion Arena on a hot summer night -- and they were very good, a legendary band running through its back catalog and giving a solid, if unspectacular, performance.
Last night, believe it or not, they were better. No, this is not a case of putting on rose-colored glasses; I've seen the Who as a bloated dinosaur act (remember that cold day at the Cotton Bowl in the early '80s?) and I've been as amused/slightly disgusted by their multiple "farewell" tours as anyone. But it has to be said: Last night at Reunion Arena, vocalist Roger Daltrey, bassist John Entwistle and constantly windmilling guitarist/vocalist/main songwriter/guiding light Pete Townshend (with help from Zak Starkey on drums and John "Rabbit" Bundrick on keyboards) played with a conviction, a zeal and a righteous sense of purpose reminiscent of their glory days. That was apparent from the start as, at 8:40 p.m., the band walked on and, after a brief hello, Townshend ripped into the signature riff from "I Can't Explain." Daltrey twirled the mike, Townshend windmilled furiously during the lead guitar break and a huge roar of recognition and fierce joy erupted from the audience. It was a goosebumps moment, and many were to follow: taut versions of "Substitute" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere"; Entwistle introducing his vocal showcase "My Wife" as a "subject very close to my wallet" and then following up with a sure-handed performance of "Who's Next;" the majesty of "Baba O'Riley;" the band's forceful reading of "Bargain;" and so on. And then there was "Naked Eye," one of the most thrilling moments of music I've heard in the last several years. Anyone who hit the beer line during this (and there were many) missed a remarkable version of a relatively obscure piece, complete with Townshend and Daltrey trading verses, lovely organ work by Bundrick and stellar Townshend guitar work. Bantering with a couple of guys down front, Townshend looked and sounded thrilled to still be making rock 'n' roll. This was Pete's show; his guitar work, in particular, was better than the three previous times I've seen the band. Some of these songs are nearly 40 years old, but Townshend is "still" finding new ways to interpret them. And the Who, against all odds, are still finding ways to imbue their concerts with a true sense of occasion and celebration.