David Segal, Washington Post Staff Writer
If you had a child around the time the Who famously declared that "the kids are alright," your infant, in all likelihood, is now married, employed and gearing up for a 15-year college reunion. So let's get this whole age thing in the proper perspective: The Who have been scissor-kicking and windmilling for more than three decades. And if they don't pack the power they once did, it's largely because the band was so utterly vicious during its spry days.
Not that the Who's show at Nissan Pavilion on Wednesday night could be confused with mellow. Stripped down to a five-piece ensemble, the Who put on a rollicking back-to-basics show that stuck mostly to their hits, many of them clustered around 1971's "Who's Next," but spanning a career that long ago proved just how grandiose and bombastic rock can get.
"Yeah, I'm enjoying myself," chuckled a nearly giddy Pete Townshend midway through this hour-and-a-half show, getting ready to launch "Behind Blue Eyes." "Makes me strangely miserable to admit that."
The band, of course, can't meet standards it set 30 years ago, when a great Who concert made you want to crawl under the bed and scream for your mommy. Roger Daltrey's shriek at the time sounded like a man getting fricasseed alive, and Townshend lunged, snarled and levitated on some mixture of homicidal rage and guitar-borne ecstasy. The now-deceased Keith Moon would either deliver the greatest drum show in history or swallow a pharmacopeia of drugs and flail like a wounded duck. And every member of the band despised the others, which made each performance a round robin of chagrin and one-upmanship.
The Who aren't exactly lovey-dovey these days--aside from the requisite pre-encore hugs, barely a flicker of genuine warmth surfaced the whole night--but their days of mutual loathing are clearly behind them. Townshend giggled a bit when Daltrey wheezed for air at the end of a song ("It's pretty fun, isn't it? If you get to see Roger Daltrey die from lack of oxygen during 'Can't You See The Real Me?' "), though his needling never approached flat-out animosity. In the old days, Townshend would have considered Daltrey's breathing trouble an opportune moment to choke the guy.
On Wednesday night, Townshend aimed his best jabs at himself. He ridiculed the ending to "Baba O'Riley" as evidence of his "Polish genes," belittling it as a revved-up polka. He derided his age (55) by noting that a nasal problem, not drugs, explained his sniffles: "I'm too old for cocaine, so there's none of that going on here." And he made fun of his famously oversize nose, musing aloud that a plastic surgeon could tip it slightly upward and give him the Nicolas Cage look.
"I drank a lot of coffee before I came out here," he muttered, illuminating the source of his digressions.
John Entwistle, one of rock's great bassists, sported a green leather jacket and stood as implacably ramrod stiff as ever, his fingers the usual rumbling blur. Time has added not a scintilla of panache to Entwistle's delivery; the closest he came to an emotional outburst arrived at the climax of his solo during "5:15," when he momentarily let down his guard and--oh so briefly--raised an eyebrow. The crowd cheered, in shock.
Daltrey, the least time-ravaged of all Precambrian rockers, has lost barely a decibel in his dotage. His microphone spinning gets only more intricate, and he looks buff enough to bench-press the drum kit. His scream at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again" was somewhat muffled compared with the roar he unleashed on "Who's Next," but hey, that was 29 years ago.
The geezers, it seems, are alright, too.