Ever since I was a young boy, I’ve listened to the Who. From St. Paul to “Live at Leeds,” they sure played a mean rock ‘n’ roll.
The Who rank as one of the most forceful, galvanizing live bands in rock history. I remember when Roger Daltrey was one of the most powerful, charismatic frontmen in the field, right up there with the other British kingpins Mick Jagger and Robert Plant.
Not anymore, not on The Who Hits 50 Tour, now in its second year. On Sunday night at Target Center in what could be the Who’s last Twin Cities appearance, Daltrey seemed to be laboring. Sure, the 72-year-old appeared fit, but he also seemed stiff. He didn’t attempt a microphone chord twirl — one of his signature moves — until two-thirds of the way through the concert. Moreover, it was pretty halfhearted.
More importantly, Daltrey just doesn’t have his voice. It was apparent in 2006 when he had “terrible bronchitis” (his words) in St. Paul, and it was obvious in 2012 at Target Center and again Sunday.
On “My Generation,” at the end of nearly every line, he would either drop his words or garble them. At the end of “Love Reign O’er Me,” Daltrey didn’t even reach for the stratospheric passages; instead, he dropped to his deepest range, singing notes in a most unmusical manner.
To be sure, Daltrey had his strong vocal moments — “Bargain,” “You Better You Bet,” “See Me, Feel Me,” “Baba O’Riley” — but not throughout the entire song. Only on the closing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” did Daltrey turn back time in full-throated glory.
Thankfully, Daltrey’s partner in the Who — actually the only other survivor from the original quartet — Pete Townshend, was consistently terrific all night.
Townshend, who will turn 71 this month, was a chatty, amiable emcee, a monstrous guitarist and an age-defying showman. He saved the show by the Two, who were supported by six musicians.
(Actually, the band sounded first-rate all night, buoyed by drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo Starr’s kid who has been with the Who since 1996. Original drummer Keith Moon died in ’78 and original bassist John Entwistle died in 2002.)
Between songs, Townshend turned into the naughty professor, giving the back story and context of many songs and adding personal touches about such things as his boyhood porn collection of women in bathing suits that he kept under his bed.
Townshend acquitted himself as a singer (loved his verse on “Baba O’ Riley”), but it was his guitar work — and those much-imitated and heroic windmills — that carried the show. With maybe half the dudes in the crowd playing air guitar along with him, Townshend got all trippy psychedelic on “My Generation,” rocked out with multilayered operatic splendor on the instrumental “The Rock” and showed amazing versatility on the medley from “Tommy” including “Amazing Journey,” “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me.”
But Townshend delivered his tour de force on the finale, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” summoning the ferocious punk fury of a golden-aged man. The geezer was all right, indeed. At the end of the two-hour concert, the glib guitarist commented to the 10,000 fans, “We do our best. We’re really too old for this. And from what I can see, you’re much too young.”