THE WHO. Reconnecting with the rage and rebellion of rock and roll. With Robert Plant. At Madison Square Garden on Wednesday, Thursday, Saturday and Sunday. Seen Wednesday.
For bands of a certain age, it's a thin line between nostalgia and giving the crowd what it wants. The Who didn't worry, though, swaggering along that line during its set of hits as if it had invented them three hours earlier, instead of more than three decades ago.
Between Roger Daltrey's powerful vocal delivery, whirling microphone and all, and Pete Townshend's windmilling guitar attack, The Who tore through its classics with an intensity the band hasn't mustered in years.
Somehow, they have funneled all the recent turmoil - both in the band and in the world - into their anthems of rebellion, in especially fiery versions of "My Generation" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." "It's nice to play for an audience that isn't in uniform," Townshend said, referring to the star-studded benefit "Concert for New York," when the crowd was filled with police and firefighters connected to the Sept. 11 tragedies. However, he made the band's solidarity with the city clear, saying: "We're back. We're with you. We remember. And we'll never -- forget."
The same goes for the death of bassist John Entwistle. Though many fans are still reeling from the recent revelation that cocaine sparked Entwistle's deadly heart attack on June 27, the night before the current tour was to launch, the band referred to him only indirectly and in a video montage on giant screens above the stage.
The tribute to Entwistle came mainly in the music, in Townshend's passionate ad-libs during "The Kids Are Alright" and the moving "See Me, Feel Me." Veteran bassist Pino Palladino, brought in within days of Entwistle's death, did his best to fill The Ox's immobile shoes and thunderous fingers onstage, especially during the bass fills of "My Generation." The Who was at its best re-creating rebelliousness in songs such as "Who Are You?" and "Baba O'Riley," which turned into one massive sing-along.
Even latter-era Who songs, such as "Eminence Front" and "Another Tricky Day," have held up amazingly well, though that's not really a surprise.
No other '60s rockers - except, arguably, The Beatles - can match The Who in terms of clout in today's music scene. The band's lighter, jangly side can be seen as the direct influence of melodic alt-rockers such as Guided by Voices, while the heavier side is enjoying a revival thanks to The Vines and The Hives. With shows such as this one, The Who seems set to
"I know you people like nostalgia," said Robert Plant, who opened the show with a 65-minute set. He then went on to twist Led Zeppelin classics and blues standards into something completely different, a combination of Eastern-influenced rhythms and a laid-back delivery. The unusual set culminated in his version of the Cocteau Twins' art-pop classic "Song to the Siren." "Gotta keep moving on, people - sideways and forwards," he said. Amen to that.