LOS ANGELES -- Remember when The Who was one of the most exciting rock bands around? Remember when Roger Daltrey could really sing and was capable of spine-tingling wails? Remember when the band had a truly explosive drummer?
If you remember any of those things, get ready for a big letdown if you see The Who tonight at the Pond in Anaheim. This shell of a once-great group performed Tuesday at the Inglewood Forum.
Back in the '70s, you'd stagger out of a Who concert spent, emotionally drained by the dazzling performances and nearly deaf from the thunderous music. But many fans (the Forum audience was teeming with boomers) probably staggered out of Tuesday's show thinking, "I paid all that money for that"?
These shows are part of reunion tour featuring leader-composer-guitarist Pete Townshend, singer Daltrey and bassist John Entwistle. It's their second tour since the big breakup in 1982. The last time they played together was the 25th anniversary tour in 1989. With each tour there's been a drastic dropoff in quality.
The first part of the show was devoted to "Quadrophenia," Townshend's 1973 rock opera about a teen-ager named Jimmy who suffers all sorts of angst while English youth factions, the Mods and the Rockers, are rioting in the mid-'60s.
At the Inglewood concert, a film narrative told the story while The Who and guests Billy Idol and Gary Glitter performed the songs.
First of all, keeping up with the muddled story line, always the opera's glaring weakness, is just about impossible. "Quadrophenia" never has been more than a minor-league "Tommy," anyway. And Glitter and Idol are major distractions. A second-rate singer during his heyday, Glitter seems to have gotten worse. And feeble-voiced Idol is still nothing more than a handsome, fist-in-the-air poser.
When properly performed, songs like "The Real Me," "I'm One," "Love, Reign O'er Me" and "5:15" can be stark and moving. But Tuesday night, there were no compelling performances. One problem was Daltrey's voice. It's totally shot, through age or the rigors of touring, or a combination. He may look lean and muscled, but he sounded like Rod Stewart with bronchitis. His voice kept cracking in the wrong places and he was having trouble sustaining notes.
Realistically, you can't expect musicians in their 50s to perform as they did when they were in their 20s. But these guys should have been much better. The show didn't have the kind of exhilarating energy you associate with a Who concert. Townshend was the best performer of the lot, but couldn't carry the show by himself. One of the problems is that Ringo's Starr's son Zak Starkey isn't really a powerhouse drummer. In the old days, the original Who drummer, the late Keith Moon, was the driving force of the stage shows. Since Moon died in 1978, the Who concerts haven't been the same. No other drummer has been able to give Townshend's songs that seething percussive undercurrent, that almost excruciating intensity, which propels them to the highest level.
After "Quadrophenia," the band, which includes a horn section, backup singers and Simon Townshend, Pete's brother, on guitar, played some oldies, like "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Who Are You." If you're a nostalgia addict and not too demanding, that section was fun. But if you're a hard-core fan who can't shake those memories of The Who at its best, that jaunt down memory lane was as disappointing as the rest of the show.