Karen Sorensen, Staff writer
Ever listen to a song that doesn't sound quite right? The melody's there but the beat's a little off? That could describe the entire Who concert Monday night at Chicago's United Center.
A top-notch band and a thoroughly engaged Pete Townshend were not enough to pull off a show where lead singer Roger Daltrey was straining to hit notes and stay in tune. Not that he didn't make the effort, but it was an odd show made odder toward the end when Daltrey left the stage to "get some oxygen," leaving Townshend to take on "My Generation" and "Cry If You Want" by himself.
Daltrey returned about 10 minutes later, blaming his departure on some sort of undisclosed allergic reaction that he jokingly blamed "on that bloke there" in the audience. And God love him, he did his best to get back in the groove and execute a few signature moves -- even if it did become a bit distracting waiting for him to knock himself out with his twirling microphone.
Equally distracting were the videos that played on movable screens set up behind the band. Sometimes the film was of the band in the 1960s -- back when all four original members were still alive; sometimes it was nonsensical cartoon characters or groovy Lava lamp bubbles moving up and down.
While fun to watch, they only served to make you forget that the Who -- or at least its two most famous and only remaining members -- were performing right in front of you.
And you know what? Even on an off-night, it's still fun to watch Townshend and Daltrey rip through the songs that rightfully made them famous, especially when backed by exceptional drummer Zak Starkey. You can't beat an opening one-two punch of "I Can't Explain" and "The Seeker," nor are there greater guitar riffs than those found in classics such as "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Who Are You" -- even if they conjure up the opening credits to "CSI" shows these days.
If Daltrey was ailing, Townshend was in fine form and -- amazingly -- smiled through much of the set as he did his trademark windmill guitar strokes and double-legged jumps. At one point, he did a pogo and joked, "Hey, the Red Hot Chili Peppers."
The strength of his voice evened out some of the lapses in Daltrey's, a tremendous help on "Baba O'Riley" and "Eminence Front" and, to a lesser extent, on "You Better You Bet."
The band's latest album comes out next month, and they plowed through several new cuts. Most were less-than-impressive -- the anti-Catholic diatribe "The Man In a Purple Dress" was fairly heavy-handed, and "We Got A Hit" was simplistic at best, derivative at worst.
But Townshend clearly enjoyed playing them, and that was worth seeing.
Because of Daltrey's problems, the band skipped the pre-encore break and headed into a run-through of several "Tommy" songs, including "Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You."
It would have been a rather perfunctory finale had it not been for an unexpected bear hug between Daltrey and Townshend at the end. It was touching and, odd show or not, a sober reminder that these two remaining Who founders aren't getting any younger.