Imagine a Who concert that’s not loud enough.
No, you don’t need to adjust your bifocals. And I don’t need a hearing aid.
It was a combination of Roger Daltrey’s aging voice being thin and Pete Townshend’s glorious guitars being lost amid a full orchestra on Friday night at Xcel Energy Center. “Tommy,” we could not hear you. At least, not enough to believe that the first half-hour of the concert — six tunes from “Tommy” — was a mini-version of the 50-year-old rock opera that fans of classic rock know and love.
We got the grandeur and certainly the rhythmic propulsion but not the electrifying power of the Who, one of England’s greatest contributions to the pantheon of rock.
Thankfully, the Who — or more precisely the Two, Daltrey, in a black T-shirt, and Townshend, in a white T-shirt, are the only original members left — had the guitar hero. At 74, he remains passionate, intense and spirited — and humorous if sarcastic.
He joked about how, after the anarchy of opening act Reignwolf, a sludgy Seattle power trio, the Who would provide “discipline and order.”
In a more serious moment, Townshend pointed out that when the Who last performed in the Twin Cities in 2016, Prince had just died. On that tour, Townshend was staying in a local hotel that had paintings of Prince on the wall. He said he’s in the same room this time but somehow the paintings “look more peaceful.”
Beyond being a charming emcee, Townshend was a windmill wizard on guitar, full of punk fury, roaring power chords and galvanizing drive. And he had a forceful gruffness and appealing theatricality on occasional lead vocals, notably on 1982’s “Eminence Front.”
That compensated for the 75-year-old Daltrey’s vocal shortcomings, including his lack of control on the 1975 deep track “Imagine a Man” and 1971’s smash “Behind Blue Eyes.” The latter came midshow after the 40-some symphony musicians were given a break.
Curiously, during the non-orchestra segment, Daltrey teamed with just Townshend’s acoustic guitar for a stripped-down treatment of the rock anthem “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” known for its multitracked electric guitars and whirring synthesizers. It was hard to tell if the 12,000 fans were cheering for the performance or the song itself.
The Who joined together again with the orchestra and suddenly things got better, starting on “Join Together,” a poppy rally cry. Daltrey’s voice had a little more oomph, though honestly he hasn’t been in great voice in a Twin Cities concert since 1994 at the Minnesota State Fair when he did his first tour with an orchestra, sans Townshend.
A 2015 Townshend political commentary piece — introduced as “Ball and Chain” but previously called “Big Cigars” and “Guantanamo” — was the perfect prelude Friday to several selections from 1973’s “Quadrophenia,” the Who’s other famous rock opera.
Without being drowned out by the orchestra, the furious drumming of Zak Starkey — who has toured with the Who since 1996 (founding drummer Keith Moon died in 1978) — propelled “The Real Me,” and Townshend’s spiky, soulful and speedy guitar work transformed “5:15” into one of the highlights of the 130-minute performance.
Emotions peaked on the majestic “Love, Reign O’er Me” and the closing “Baba O’Riley,” an overpowering wedding of power chords, orchestral heft and social commentary.
Too bad that the first half of the concert was such a rocky — or actually unrocky — marriage.