When the current formation of the Who last visited Chicago, the band gave its best effort on what proved to be an off night. During the Sept. 23 show at United Center, vocalist Roger Daltrey sounded as though he was gargling the shattered glass he sang about during "Fragments," a song from the band's recent "Endless Wire" album.
Monday night, at the more intimate Sears Centre, was different. Although he avoided a few high notes during "Baba O'Riley" and "You Better You Bet," Daltrey roared with conviction. Even during "Man in a Purple Dress," an intimate acoustic duet with guitarist Pete Townshend, Daltrey sang like a man who was both reinvigorated and had a reputation to protect.
Recent detractors have argued that a contemporary Who show simply isn't one, given the absence of drummer Keith Moon, who passed in 1978, and bassist John Entwistle, who died on the eve of a 2002 tour. The Two, as Daltrey and Townshend have been dubbed, nonetheless set out to breathe life into their legacy.
"A lot of stuff has been said about bands of our era, and whether we should be here," Townshend commented while introducing the new mini-opera "Wire & Glass." Townshend asserted that the Who has reason to continue "as long as we gather to celebrate what's new along with what's old."
The duo's solid backing quartet had opportunity to shine throughout the evening. Bassist Pino Palladino anchored the coolest of all Who grooves during "Eminence Front" from 1982's "It's Hard," as Townshend stretched the song's arrangement and lashed into furious blues licks.
Palladino earned cheers again while covering Entwistle's famous bass solo during a searing version of "My Generation." His parts, however, were more smooth and elastic than the rough-hewn thunder produced by the Ox. The song evolved into "Cry If You Want" from "It's Hard," during which the modern Who proved to be a living, breathing band, and not simply a classic rock jukebox.
At 61, Townshend continues to accent anthems like "Won't Get Fooled Again" with finger-slicing windmill chords, jumps and scissor kicks. Nearly two hours into the show, Townshend dug especially hard into the heavy R&B groove midway through "Amazing Journey" from the 1969 rock opera "Tommy."
The set concluded with an acoustic duet of "Endless Wire's" elegant "Tea & Theatre." "We did it all, didn't we," boomed Daltrey. His throaty baritone somehow expressed wistfulness and melancholy, giving voice to characters recalling their past in much the way that Daltrey and Townshend might today