Jim Farber, Daily News Staff Writer
The Who didn't quite sell out their show at the Izod Center in the Meadowlands Wednesday night, which may help explain why guitarist Pete Townshend made more than one reference to the looming recession.
After pointedly thanking the audience for coming - and paying up to $200 for the privilege - he referred to people losing their homes and possibly their jobs. "Times are hard," he told the crowd. "Luckily not for me."
At least the guy still has a sense of humor. In fact, he specifically described the show as a way for fans to revel in lightheartedness. "You can forget about your troubles for a while," he said, positioning the band as aural comfort food.
That's a far cry from the role the Who's music had decades ago - as a voice for anger, frustration and possibly even revolution.
But these days a Who show isn't about confrontation but connection. Last night's audience featured many father-son couplings, providing a bonding experience for the boomer generation and the "Guitar Hero" generation to which they gave birth. (Full disclosure: I brought my nephew.)
The young set - seeing the Who for the first time last night - weren't experiencing the band at their esteemed peak. But they were seeing a first-class bunch of pros, wailing and pounding with gusto.
The set stuck largely to time-worn hits, with just a few songs sprinkled in from the band's unsteady studio album of last year, "The Endless Wire." Those provided the beer runs and subsequent bathroom breaks.
The band did best when it stretched the songs out, allowing them to briefly circumvent nostalgia and keep in the moment. During "My Generation," the Who veered into a long psychedelic jam, moving the Mod-era song into trippier, late-'60s territory. In the deathless "Anywhere, Anyway, Anyhow," Townshend windmilled through the riffs, adding new rhythms as he went.
Both passages proved the guitarist's rare ability to fashion solos largely out of rhythm work. Long ago, he mastered the art of striking chords that have the invention and drama, of a melody.
Roger Daltrey had his own burly appeal, though he wasn't in his finest voice last night. He growled more often than screamed. And he had to work his way gingerly around the big yelps in barn-burners like "Baba O'Riley."
Yet, when the whole band put its back into numbers like the great show-stopper "Won't Get Fooled Again," they showed once again why their virile riffs have endured - and why they will long after this recession ends.