Scott Cronick, Staff Writer
ATLANTIC CITY - Pete Townshend's scissor-kicking leg leaps are certainly a lot lower these days, but his windmill power chords seem as fast as ever.
Roger Daltrey's long, curly locks are a thing of the past, but his unmistakable voice sounds husky, powerful and nothing like a 62-year-old voice is expected to sound.
Yes, the two remaining members of The Who still sound like the rock royalty they are, impressing a sold-out Borgata crowd Friday night. Their high-intensity performances - a benchmark in rock - are still present, and combined with the band's sheer musical passion, a Who show is still a must-see event.
Unlike their British Invasion cronies The Rolling Stones - who were in town last week - Townshend, and especially Daltrey, don't look like they have one foot in the grave. While his voice is showing minor signs of wear, Daltrey's body is still muscular, and his face seems as timeless as the songs he sings. And while Townshend's hair has receded, he still attacks the guitar with the ferocity of a 20-year-old. They may be eligible for Social Security, but Daltrey and Townshend still belong on stage in front of rabid fans because they still put on a better show than most acts half their age.
The night began with the band's first hit, 1965's "I Can't Explain," proving that a 40-year-old song can still have legs, followed by two more classics - "The Seeker" and the surprise oldie but goodie "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" - making fans feel justified they spent $100 to $300 to see The Who play for two hours in such an unusually small venue.
After performing the solid "Fragments," the first of 10 new songs The Who played off their new album "Endless Wire," they continued to control the enthusiastically standing crowd with their signature "Who Are You" and the equally appreciated "Behind Blue Eyes," which probably brought most Who fans goosebumps. Another surprise followed as The Who broke out "Real Good Looking Boy," a rarity off 2004's "Then and Now" box set.
Then, as if someone made a crowd-wide announcement, a good amount of people rushed to the bathroom as The Who pounded out six straight songs from the mini-rock opera portion of "Endless Wire." While most of the crowd seemed a tad bored with this self-indulgence, true Who fans seemed relatively pleased, especially with the title track.
After all, it's been a long time since Who fans heard new material performed live from the genius of Townshend. And the guitarist admits the only reason The Who is on the road again is to show off its first new album in nearly 25 years. And while most of the tunes from "Endless Wire" don't pack a wallop like their past hits, The Who has earned the right to play whatever it wants.
That said, it's tough to swallow mediocre songs like "Pick Up The Peace" and "Mirror Door" when "Magic Bus," "Squeeze Box" and "Love Reign O'er Me" never get pulled out of the arsenal.
After winning the crowd back with sing-a-long versions of "Baba O'Riley" and "Eminence Front," they played three more songs from "Endless," including an acoustic duet of the lame "A Man in a Purple Dress" and the "Mike Post Theme," one of "Wire's" better tracks, before closing the set with three songs that were worth the price of admission themselves: "You Better You Bet," "My Generation" and "Won't Get Fooled Again."
The Who's new lineup has developed into a tight bunch of stellar musicians. Drummer Zak Starkey - yes, Ringo Starr's son - keeps the spirit of his mentor Keith Moon alive to the point that you feel like Moon is guiding Starkey's hands in every frantic, yet precise strike. Pino Palladino has fit in nicely on bass since John Entwhistle's death. And Townshend's brother Simon, while talented, seems to have taken a more appropriate backseat role than he used to at past Who concerts. And Townshend seems the happiest he's been on stage, smiling at his bandmates, laughing with the crowd and being more chatty than previous tours.
The encore could have been called a "Tommy" tribute as The Who cranked out five tracks from their seminal record, including "Pinball Wizard" and the anthem "Listening to You."
Appropriately, they closed with "Tea and Theatre," the last song of Townshend's new rock opera. Once again as a duet, the remaining original members produced one of the most emotional moments of the night. When the song ended, the crowd gave Townshend and Daltrey what they were looking for: respect for their new music. And that new sense of purpose for rockers that have been around this long will hopefully keep them around a lot longer.