IN THE last gasps of The Who show at Madison Square Garden last night, during the encore rendition of "My Generation," Roger Daltrey stuttered the classic line: "I hope I die before I get old." Too late.
At the opening concert of the band's four-show series, which continues tonight, Friday and Saturday, the band, whose principals include singer Daltrey, guitarist Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle, were all bluster, relying on the greatness of the music to carry the night rather than on the quality of the performance. For most at the nearly sold-out show, that was good enough, but in comparison to the performance that The Who offered concertgoers at the PNC Bank Arts Center and at Jones Beach this summer, the MSG performance was a pale reflection.
Townshend struck his six-string electric with his customary windmill strums; when Daltrey wasn't singing, he whipped his mike around like a lariat; and workman bassist Entwistle hammered at the bottom. But the only real signs of life at this flat-line concert came from Zak Starkey - Ringo Starr's son - an inspired young drummer who carried the evening for these geezers.
The evening wasn't with out its fun. Townshend actually whacked himself in the nose during one of the windmill maneuvers, which probably accounts for his between-song babbling, which often made little or no sense. Whenever Townshend would start to ramble, Daltrey seemed to cringe at what nonsense the man would utter next.
Still, since Townshend's thick accent and clipped diction is nearly unintelligible, it hardly mattered.
While the babbling patter was a major waste of time, what was at the bottom of most of it was that the music of The Who is often about identity crisis. Who? That's right. Still, the band hit all the notes, and the devoted fans loved the withered performance, but it all seemed so tired, as if no one except young Starkey cared.
What was interesting about the show is how the band extended individual songs with jams that often did nothing to enhance the tune except make it longer. As the songs were longer, so was the show, which wound up after midnight.
The best numbers of the opening performance were the encore of "The Kids Are Alright," plus "Baba O'Riley" (also known as "Teenage Wasteland") and "Can't Explain." On that trio of tunes, the band seemed invigorated and ready to conquer Madison Square Garden - but in the end, The Who was too small for the job.
If The Who was bad, the warm-up act, The Wallflowers, were worse. Jakob Dylan's band played like they were a last-minute addition to the bill (which they were, since the Black Crowes, featuring Jimmy Page, ducked out of this show).
So down in the mouth was Dylan the younger that before he played his final song he uttered lifelessly, "The main event is on its way. You've all been very patient. We're going to do one more."
The Wallflowers, though, were fun, even a little exciting, during songs such as "One Headlight" and their cover of Bowie's "Heroes." It's when they worked material from their upcoming disc, "Breach," that they were a snooze.