George Varga, Union Tribune Pop Music Critic
LOS ANGELES – When The Who recorded "My Generation" in the mid-'60s, it became an instant anthem of youthful angst and defiance. The song's in-your-face riposte at stodgy adults, Hope I die before I get old, like the young band's turbo-charged music, has since been embraced by everyone from The Jam and Pearl Jam to Green Day and Jet.
The Who's two surviving original members – singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist, singer, songwriter and conceptual mastermind Pete Townshend – are now approaching their mid-60s, and "My Generation" is still vibrantly defiant.
But with original Who members Keith Moon and John Entwistle both dead (drummer Moon fatally overdosed in 1978, while bassist Entwistle died in 2002), that defiance took on a very different tone when The Who – make that The Two – performed it during the group's triumphant concert Saturday night at the Hollywood Bowl.
The original 1965 recording was a raw, three-minute blast of youthful vigor and existential yearning. On Saturday, before a sold-out, multi-generational audience of 12,400, the song was expanded to eight action-packed minutes.
As the video screens above the stage showed footage of several generations of music fans, beginning with jitterbugging hipsters in the 1940s, "My Generation" morphed into "Cry If You Want," a song from The Who's moribund 1982 album "It's Hard."
In a weathered voice deepened by time, Daltrey, 62, intoned: Once it was just innocence / Brash ideas and insolence. After "Cry" deftly segued back into "My Generation," Townshend, 61, rapidly sang the "hope I die" line five times. The speed of his delivery almost obscured the key modification he inserted in conclusion: "Hope I get old."
Townshend and Daltrey, who were ably accompanied by four other musicians, then ripped into a rousing version of 1971's classic "Won't Get Fooled Again." It was followed by a spirited encore that included a stunning, four-song excerpt from the band's epic 1969 rock opera, "Tommy."
The two-hour concert repeatedly drew strength from The Who's newfound ability to revitalize, and not just rehash, its storied musical past. But it was much more than a nostalgia-fueled romp at this historic Hollywood venue, where The Who was set to perform again last night.
"The first show sold out in a day, and this is the best business The Who has done in L.A. since their stadium days," said Bill Silva, who promoted the band's 1982 San Diego farewell" tour show (at what was then Jack Murphy Stadium) and co-promoted the Hollywood Bowl dates. "It's a new chapter."
For the first time in 24 years, The Who is touring behind a new album. Released Oct. 31, "Endless Wire" is uneven but at times exhilarating. It focuses on such themes as youthful alienation, the disillusionment that can come with age, and the universal quest for love, meaning and redemption.
Saturday's Hollywood Bowl concert featured 10 selections from "Endless Wire." Six of these were from "Wire and Glass," the album's 11-song mini-opera.
Live, as on record, "Sound Round," "Pick Up The Peace" and the ebullient "We Got a Hit" each lasted less than 90 seconds. But nearly all of the new songs sounded fuller and richer live than on record. And two of the longer numbers, "Mirror Door" and "Black Widow's Eyes," were nearly as rewarding as the impassioned versions of such old favorites as "I Can't Explain" and "Baba O'Riley."
Moreover, the new acoustic ballads "A Man in a Purple Dress" and the show-closing "Tea & Theatre," which were performed as duets by Townshend and Daltrey, ranked with the night's most emotionally intimate and stirring moments.
The infusion of vitality and a new sense of purpose was unmistakable, in contrast with The Who's often perfunctory 2000 show at the San Diego Sports Arena.
"Let me assure you: I don't have to do this tour for the money," Townshend told the cheering crowd Saturday. For once, it was easy to believe him.