Long live rock

The Who, TD Banknorth Garden, December 2, 2006  
By TED DROZDOWSKI  |  December 4, 2006

A GOOD WAKE: But the Who — and the Pretenders — are far from dead.
Pete Townshend — slightly hunched and dripping sweat, the words “teenage wasteland” projected on a screen behind him — hit the last guitar chord of the Who’s anthem of unrepentant youthful rebellion and pride, “Baba O’Riley,” and stepped to the microphone. He remarked that the song has been getting the biggest reaction on the band’s current tour (which began in June and ends next week) despite his no longer having an emotional connection to it. “For us, it’s an example that this music is more yours than it is ours now.” Then he quipped, “Unfortunately, I still own the copyright.”

Which is why, despite Townshend’s public disclaimers that he wouldn’t pay to see the Who today, plenty of others do. Although these days, at least on their second pass through Boston, the Who don’t sell out. The upper middle tiers of the TD Banknorth Garden were bare. It might have been the $200 tickets. But say what you will about hearing the sixtysomething survivors singer Roger Daltrey and primary architect Townshend pant into their microphones after particularly grueling numbers, they still have some of the classic rock era’s best songs, and the energy to deliver them to an arena crowd.

Chrissie Hynde, leader of openers the Pretenders, may have been onto something when she told the audience, “I see a lot of you brought your kids so they could see what it was like in the days of yore — in the days of rock and roll.” Perhaps that’s why the Who didn’t play “Long Live Rock.” Even a prince of irony like Townshend has his limits.

But if rock is dead, the Who and the Pretenders put on a hell of an Irish wake. Both bands concentrated on hits. Hynde’s voice was buoyant, flexible, and undiminished by time. Daltrey also sounded good up till the end. A few hours of powerhouse screams, extended forays at the top of his range in tunes like “I Can’t Explain” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and the more complex melodies of new songs like “Tea and Theatre” — which he and Townshend performed as an acoustic voice-and-guitar duet — wore his throat to the scratchy nub. But he gave 100 percent to get it there. So did Townshend with the support of a crack five-piece core back-up that included studio bassist Pino Palladino (an expert player but a wooden replacement for the late, charismatic John Entwistle), Ringo offspring Zack Starkey on drums, and Townshend’s brother Simon on second guitar.

Even the material from Townshend’s latest rock mini-opera, Wire & Glass, a shaky endeavor that makes up roughly half the Who’s new Endless Wire (Republic), was better live thanks to the raw energy and exceptionally clear and nasty sound coming off the stage. The Who have made several farewell tours in the past, but if this round really is their last, they threw a hell of an Irish wake for themselves, too.

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