Hector Saldana, Express-News Staff Writer
HOUSTON – The surviving Who are old. They refuse to die. But it's not for lack of trying. They nearly killed themselves during a brilliant, cathartic two-hour concert for a nearly 10,000 fans at Toyota Center on Saturday.
The remaining two — Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey — are promoting the first Who album in more than two decades, "Endless Wire." There is something to prove beyond "My Generation's" defiant prayer.
And it is so powerfully executed that it's irresistible on its merits — and not just in memory. Old and new songs came passionately alive onstage with the help of drummer Zak Starkey, guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete's brother), bassist Pino Palladino and keyboardist John Bundrick.
Townshend played his guitars as dramatically and self-possessed as ever: famously, violently wind-milling his right-armed power chords and scissor-kicking the air on opening songs "Can't Explain," "The Seeker" and the seething "Substitute."
Daltrey (in great voice and with a face and body that are truly ageless) twirled his microphone and its cable like a lasso, often letting it wrap around his body like a python and then fighting it off like Tarzan as he roared back into a verse.
"We're just trying to kill ourselves," Townshend said about the current tour. "We're trying to die before we get old."
So crazed was Townshend (whose hearing loss is legendary) that he could often be seen cranking the volume on his amplifiers and distortion effects as if delivering himself into a strange vibration land and reclaiming guitar god status.
Mania onstage and off (chaotic archival footage often flickered on four overhead screens) was tempered, too.
Daltrey tenderly recalled his days of as an 11-year-old Elvis Presley fan before singing "Real Good Looking Boy."
Where nostalgia might suffice, they took risks with songs from the new "Wire & Glass" mini-opera, including "Sound Round," "Pick Up the Peace," "Unholy Trinity," "We Got a Hit" and the chilling "They Made My Dream Come True."
Later, the new "A Man In a Purple Dress" (performed only by Daltry and Townshend, it devastated) and "Mike Post Theme" (glorious in its crescendo madness) offered critic-defying genius.
The best evidence? They stood side by side with "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Eminence Front" and a generous selection of "Tommy" tracks as encore.
Just in case, buried deep in the end-of-song mayhem and release of "My Generation," Daltrey repeatedly murmured the phrase, "Still got something to say." So do the Pretenders who opened the show.
Chrissie Hynde, cocky and assured behind her Telecaster electric guitar and wearing red, knee-high heel boots, hypnotized with signatures like "Message of Love," "Talk of the Town," "Kid" and "Back on the Chain Gang" that still feel like they matter, her vibrato unmatched.