Roughly 8,000 people showed up for the Who last night, really a sad sum when you consider the huge crowds that have gathered for the band over its 30-year history. But then the cover should probably have closed on that history in 1982 when the Who officially broke up, or three years earlier when Keith Moon, not only the band's drummer but its keystone and its heart, died.
Instead there have been reunions, and like all reunions, they are inevitably eroded and lessened by the passage of time.
Still, 8,000 people plunked down $40 to $50 apiece - those who didn't take advantage of the scalpers - and they stayed until the last song of the encore, stayed after Pete Townshend threw down his guitar, even stayed for a moment after the house lights came up, still savoring the last note of the last song »Who Are You,« arguably the last great song the Who ever recorded.
Those 8,000 people cheered as loud and long as a full house, perhaps more so. They sang along, they called out for their favorite band member, they even cheered the sidemen. For the most part they've grown up and old with the Who and they seemed genuinely happy to be alive and in the same stadium with the band.
For those who best remembered the Who at their zenith, who reveled in the Who's energy and audacity and youth, it was a more difficult time. Those days can't be revisited except in film and video, and film and video are a cruel mirror.
Personally, it wasn't nearly as awful as I thought it would be. Townshend, who I've always admired and even worried after, was in much better physical shape than I expected, as was Daltrey Entwistle stoic, except for his ever-flailing fingers.
Musically, Townshend came off the strongest of the original band. Although he only played electric guitar on half the songs, and lead on half of those, his were still the most exciting moments of the night. He's often complained he's never been able to play what he heard in his head, and with his hearing as damaged as it is, it's doubtful he hears much of anything.
So he must be playing by instinct, because nothing propelled the music with the intensity his instrumentals did, no embellishments were as meaningful as his. After two hours he was understandably tired, and his guitar smashing may have been as much about frustration as expected showmanship, but when he was on top of his game, nothing was more exhilarating or joyful.
Roger Daltrey was never as good a singer as Townshend and what voice and range he once had is gone. Still, no one can play lasso with a microphone cord quite like Daltrey and he can still strike the melodramatic pose.
Guest vocalist Gary Glitter seemed happy to have a job, while guest vocalist Billy Idol didn't.
And the backing band - five horns, two keyboards, two vocalists, Pete's brother Simon on guitar, a percussionist and especially drummer Zak Starkey - were first rate. They truly helped the Who of now sound like the Who of then.
»Quadrophenia,« the 1973 rock opera the Who is presenting on this reunion tour, was musically solid, although the story line remains dramatically flat. The accompanying film narrative was intrusive and redundant. But ultimately its songs like »The Real Me,« »5:15« and »Love, Reign O'er Me« that make the piece.
Local ambient instrumentalists Hovercraft were the unlikely openers. They actually seemed to intrigue a portion of the house, either that or overwhelmed their detractors.