Sandra Sperounes, The Edmonton Journal
When: Friday night
Where: Rexall Place
Opening act: Inward Eye
EDMONTON - Old habits die hard.
After 40 years, the surviving members of the Who still like to start their sets with their very first single, I Can't Explain, and guitarist Pete Townshend still can't help tossing his arm around like a windmill.
Can you imagine vocalist Roger Daltrey and Townshend, now 61, doing anything else? Their fans, all 12,500 of 'em on Friday night, would've rushed the stage at Rexall -- or at least considered it before flexing their aging joints and coming to their senses.
Townshend didn't seem to be suffering much from the affects of, er, maturity, shall we say.
As soon as he walked on stage, to whistles and chants of "Whooooo," he started jumping around, then assumed his classic crouched position as he kerranged out the opening notes to I Can't Explain. Vintage images of the Who -- particularly of late drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle -- flashed on the screens around the stage.
Heaven. Sheer rock 'n' roll heaven.
We've been spoiled with a number of fabulous performers over the last few weeks, but nothing could top the Who. The pair followed with more glorious classics -- The Seeker, Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, Who Are You, Behind Blue Eyes and Real Good Looking Boy, a tribute to Elvis Presley which also samples from his hit, Can't Help Falling In Love.
"I thank him for his music -- or the good bits," said Daltrey. "And his haircut."
The big question of the night wasn't who, but how would his vocals hold up?
He has experienced a few difficulties over the last few weeks, particularly in Chicago, where he had to leave the stage before My Generation.
Daltrey's vocals aren't nearly as supple as they once were -- nor does he throw his mike 10 feet into the air -- but his rasp didn't let him down. He even sounded like a ragged Bruce Springsteen at times. He also regaled fans with tales of the Who's first trip to Edmonton in 1967.
"We first came on my birthday," he recalled. "The boys had bought me a birthday present, which I duly shared with them. Her name was Sapphire. Thank you, Canada."
In fact, it was Townshend who was plagued with technical difficulties all night -- even having to switch guitars in the middle of Won't Get Fooled Again.
"When you make as many guitar sounds as Pete, it gets complicated and sometimes it goes wrong, but it's worth waiting for," quipped Daltrey as Townshend and his tech fooled around for a few minutes, delaying the start of their plaintive ballad, Behind Blue Eyes.
No kidding. To watch one of rock's legends crank out his licks and jump around like a 16-year-old was priceless, and even brought a few tears to the eyes of some mushier-hearted fans: "Hey, that's Pete Townshend -- history in motion!"
While other veteran acts -- such as the Eagles -- claim to be writing new tunes, but don't want to perform them live in order to stymie bootleggers, The Who's Two could give a rat's ass.
Townshend and Daltrey performed a medley of tracks from their mini rock opera, Wire & Glass, which was released in the U.K. earlier this year. They also played several cuts, including A Man In A Purple Dress, from their upcoming album, Endless Wire, due Oct. 31.
The six snippets from Wire & Glass, in particular, were tantalizing -- ranging from Americana-flavoured to snappy, rock anthems such as We Got A Hit and Mirror Door, a love letter to music. Fortunately, those two songs are also going to be included on Endless Wire.
After the medley, the Who and their four backup musicians -- including Ringo Starr's son on drums -- returned to one of the group's most explosive hits, Baba O'Riley. You Better You Bet came soon after, then My Generation, which featured footage of teens throughout the years as Daltrey stuttered his way through his lyrics, then segued into the jazz-rock undertones of Cry If You Want. The moment wasn't quite as satisfying -- perhaps because Daltrey's line -- "Why don't you all f-f-fade away" -- was lost in the morass of guitars, drums and bass.
Opening for the Who is an once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and Inward Eye tried to make the most of their set.
The trio of Winnipeg brothers and their retro-rock songs were a nice complement. The only thing remotely memorable about them, however, was drummer Anders Erickson. As he pounced on his kit, he was obviously trying to channel the spirit of Moon.
Sigh. We can only dream.
Long live rock! Long live the Who!