James Reaney, Free Press Arts & Entertainment Columnist
It was everybody's generation worshipping the Who at London's John Labatt Centre last night.
The great band, led by two of rock's icons -- guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey -- played the anthem My Generation late in a spectacular, two-hour show which mixed Who classics with Who knew what that tune was because it was new.
The 8,900 fans jamming the downtown arena stood when Daltrey and Townshend arrived and didn't stop standing and cheering whether the songs were old -- like the 1965 opener, I Can't Explain -- classic rockers like the late 1970s' Who Are You, or new, like a tribute to Elvis Presley.
"My generation's lives were changed forever when Elvis appeared on the scene," Daltrey said in an extended homage to the King before launching into 2004's Real Good Looking Boy.
Daltrey admitted to being smitten with Elvis when the young British star-to-be was about 11. "That's a scary thought," he said, to laughs from the boomer-heavy crowd. But it wasn't only boomers standing in tribute to the two Who originals -- there were rock kids there, too.
The decades certainly don't look too bad on Daltrey, even if his voice doesn't quite demolish buildings on Anyway Anyhow Anywhere or Won't Get Fooled Again the way it did when those songs were new. His scream may have gone, but when Daltrey has to go after the big effect, as he did on the encore pieces from the rock opera Tommy or the night's finale -- a complex work about regret and loss apparently called Tea and Theatre -- he was there.
More than making up for Daltrey's vocal and mic tossing concessions to the years was Townshend's guitar excellence, whether windmilling away, finger-picking little melodies or just making the finest thundering rock noise you will ever hear.
More than ever, Townshend is the key figure left from the great British bands of the '60s, still playing as hard as ever and still insisting on new material and nuances to justify a tour.
Along with their British contemporaries, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, the Who can make the case for being "the best rock 'n' roll band in the world."
The Who doesn't have to make the claim. It has its own history to recall. Film clips early in the set showed the Who's fallen warriors -- drummer Keith Moon, who died in 1978, and bassist John Entwistle, who died in 2002.
Daltrey is now 62 and Townshend, 61. Pino Palladino on bass and Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son) on drums, are in for Entwistle and Moon. Palladino earned his cheers for taking the famous Entwistle part on My Generation.
Simon Townshend, Pete's brother, is on second guitar and Texas product John (Rabbit) Bundrick is on keyboards.
On this tour, there are songs from the Who's first full album of new material in 24 years, Endless Wire, including what Townshend called a "mini-opera" last night. Those songs sound like the Who, but have to fight to stick out when compared with the classics -- the songs already mentioned and some other Who hits including The Seeker, a terrific Who Are You, and Pinball Wizard.
Then there is Fragments, apparently composed in tribute to Meher Baba, Townshend's late spiritual guru. Last night, Fragments was the fourth song and, as a Baba-inspired tune, it trails the magnificent Baba O'Riley. There were lyrics about breathing in and breathing out as if Townshend was still way out there and couldn't get the message across.
The best thing about Fragments last night was Townshend's inspired comment. "That was a song about you . . . it seems they're about me, but they're really about you," he said, pointing out the secret of the Who. Over and over again, in the new songs, in Who Are You, in the Tommy finale about getting the music from the fans, the Who and their audience are one huge force.
The superior tribute to his mentor, Baba O'Riley, arrived later, and its famous opening keyboard trills had the crowd cheering. Daltrey's vocal was one of the strongest -- but he had lots of help from the crowd when it came to the famous lines about it all being a "teenage wasteland" out there.