Jim Bowen, Daily Record Staff Writer
EAST RUTHERFORD - The Who dispelled about a decade's worth of bad feeling with a spectacular performance at Giants Stadium Thursday.
Opening a four-night stand that continues through tomorrow, they delivered far more than expected by the sellout crowd of 54,000. In just over 3 1/2 hours they supplemented the obligatory hits and rock radio favorites with seldom-heard numbers, solo showcases and surprising covers of others' songs.
As a result, the British rock band's 25th anniversary reunion tour is more than a cynical exploitation of fans' nostalgia. The Who sounded far more vital than on their farewell tour of 1982, which did feature new material.
Taking the stage as the crowd was still filing in, they opened with a 40-minute abridgement of their 20-year-old rock opera Tommy. It was clear from their high-voltage versions of such sturdy numbers as "Amazing Journey" and "Acid Queen" that this performance would mean something musically.
The band had seen to that. Besides the best stadium sound system around, Townshend and fellow members Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle had added a dozen musicians and singers to do justice to their best material.
Drummer Simon Phillips had the difficult job of filling in for the late Keith Moon but held his own against the memory of rock's most explosive drummer.
Lead guitarist Steve Bolton, recruited to ease the strain on Townshend's damaged hearing, proved less impressive. Soloing infrequently in Eddie Van Halen style, he added little to Townshend's own work on acoustic and electric guitars.
Three backup singers fleshed out the songs that required harmonies - something the band had never managed on stage before. And while the five-piece horn section sounded superfluous on the older material, it added punch to songs from such later albums as Quadrophenia and Who Are You.
The selections spanned the Who's entire history, even taking in some pre-history. Introducing "I'm a Man," a Bo Diddley song from the British edition of their first album, Daltrey mentioned the group's early devotion to rhythm & blues. Later he paid tribute to Roy Orbison, another early favorite, with oft-covered ballade "Love Hurts."
Townshend, for his part, demonstrated the Who's continuing influence with selections from his solo ablums (including one from the brand new Iron Man) and an acoustic version of the English Beat's "Save It for Later."
Entwistle's hoarse solo spots were less rewarding. Still, he did muster some conviction for his best-remembered Who songs, the satirical "My Wife" and the macabre "Boris the Spider."
But it was Daltrey who dominated the show -- running tirelessly in place during "Who Are You," bellowing the chorus of "Love, Reign O'er Me," his charisma and stamina seemingly undiminished since the '60's. He also joined Townshend for some charmingly intimate moments - sharing a mike for the come B side "Mary Anne with the Shaky Hands" and a bluesy acoustic finish to "Sister Disco."
The audience, which only tolerated some of the band's musical digressions, came alive for the finale, singing the verses of "Behind Blue Eyes" and roaring as the lights came up for Daltrey's climactic scream on "Won't Get Fooled Again."