LITTLE ROCK — Who knew? Fans of The Who in central Arkansas got lucky Thursday night. It was down to the wire on whether the concert would even happen because of singer Roger Daltrey’s bout with bronchitis. But the show must go on, they say, at least in Alltel Arena, even if fans in Tampa, Mexico City and San Antonio would take exception to that old saying.
Perhaps never having played in mysterious Arkansas was all it took to motivate the lads.
Maybe Daltrey’s voice cracked in a few places, but he held up amazingly well, quipping after struggling through "Behind Blue Eyes" that "It feels good to be out of bed."
Fans of The Who who were not there will want to know if guitarist Pete Townshend smashed any guitars. He did not, but he sure tortured a few into submission, wringing notes out of them that were sometimes beyond belief. I don’t think Eric Clapton could have matchedTownshend’s talents Thursday night, certainly not in Clapton’s current mellowed era.
Starting with "I Can’t Explain" and extending through 26 more songs or fragments of songs, the 5,893 fans surely got their money’s worth from these two old pros who held back nothing in their two-hour show.The set list included "Who Are You," "Baba O'Riley," "Eminence Front," "You Better You Bet," "My Generation," "Won’t Get Fooled Again," "Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me."
There were new songs off the band's 2006 CD, Endless Wire, with "A Man in a Purple Dress" standing out. The lights were tastefully done, as were constant slide projections and films. On the song, "Real Good Looking Boy," Elvis Presley was saluted in good form.
A further concern was whether drummer Zak Starkey would be any good, and although he didn"t really look like dear old dad, Ringo Starr, he did drum up a storm, more in the slamming tradition of original Who drummer, the late Keith Moon. Three more musicians completed the lineup nicely: bassist Pino Palladino, keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and rhythm guitarist and backing vocalist Simon Townshend, Pete’s brother.
Opening act Rose Hill Drive was not as irritating as opening acts can be, although it was confusing to try to distinguish between the three blond, longhaired members of the band. It was like seeing Kenny Wayne Shepherd in triplicate.