Brett Milano/ Music Review
Everybody knows The Who has dozens of great songs in its catalog.Everybody, that is, except The Who itself.
You couldn’t fault much about The Who’s show this weekend - not the obvious chemistry between founders Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, or the appreciation they expressed for their fans. You couldn’t fault Daltrey’s voice (craggier but on target), or Townshend’s revitalized guitar playing.
You couldn’t even fault the new lineup, with bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Zak Starkey replacing the late John Entwistle and Keith Moon. After a few years to jell, they sound like a proper band instead of a substitute.
But you could definitely fault the predictable set list. Unlike many rock vets, they haven’t been digging up many deep tracks or fan favorites - in fact, they’ve been playing most of the same songs since their return to active touring in the late ’90s. It’s the classic-rock radio version of The Who, heavy on later commercial tracks and light on the real nuggets.
Some of their peak albums weren’t even represented - no "Tommy" until the encore; no "Sell Out" or "Quadrophenia" at all. The mythical Mod era was also passed over, with only three mid-’60s songs (including the opening "Can’t Explain" and the obligatory "My Generation"). Instead there were early-’80s tracks such as "Eminence Front" and "You Better You Bet," which got plenty of airplay but were hardly The Who’s greatest. The set’s second half seemed like a countdown to "Won’t Get Fooled Again" - which had a good jam going before the taped synthesizers kicked in.
The one new wrinkle was a stack of songs from the current "Endless Wire" album. Though the disc is spotty, the material had more impact live; and the mini-opera "Wire & Glass" truly soared. The last encore, "Tea & Theatre," found Daltrey and Townshend alone, looking and sounding like grizzled survivors in a movingly stripped-down moment.
The Pretenders’ opening set was simply flawless, mixing hits with a few catalog surprises, a warm cover of Dylan’s "Forever Young" and a hellbent "Precious" to slam it home. Chrissie Hynde looked impossibly sexy in top hat and tails; her voice and Martin Chambers’ manic drumming seemed untouched by time.