Venue: Nokia Theatre, Los Angeles (Saturday, Nov. 8, 2008)
The Who has no new material to support, but it's almost as if Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey feel like they have something to prove.
The surviving members of one of rock's true giants overcame Daltrey's early vocal woes to wow a packed house in the first of two nights at the Nokia that wrap a U.S. mini-tour. The band offered visceral, often drawn-out versions of classics, nuggets and more recent fare that blew away the gripes that half a Who somehow just isn't worthy.
But it certainly was dodgy early as Daltrey struggled to find his voice. "My vocal chords kinda go to sleep after two days off," he told the crowd, somewhere between cheekily and sheepishly. But he appeared less than enthused when Townshend mentioned the shortcomings a few songs later.
And that was an example of the only real negative about this show: There's an obvious disconnect between the surviving members of the nearly 45-year-old band. They kept their distance throughout almost the entire set, even for the two-man encore coda of "Tea & Theatre." They traded lines during between-song banter but never conversed or interacted. In introducing the recent "Real Good Looking Boy," Daltrey said, "I know Pete probably didn't write it for this guy, but I sing it for Elvis Presley." It seemed likely that Daltrey had never asked him about it.
But personal chemistry aside, the professional relationship remains strong. Coincidentally, Daltrey's voice kicked in for "Getting in Tune" about 35 minutes into the show. And it was mostly strong for the rest of the night. He even reached down and conjured the old power for the key screams in "Love, Reign O'er Me" and "Won't Get Fooled Again."
"Eminence Front," with that so basic yet mesmerizing four-note riff, was typically grabbing; "5:15" was at full throttle, and "Who Are You" exploded through the hall with its threatened funk, with Townshend deploying his first guitar windmills (a triple) and Daltrey offering slow enunciations of the snuck-in "Who the f*** are you?" lines.
And the all-ages crowd -- rife with parents and their children -- stood throughout. Even those who rocked to "My Generation" on AM radio.
Related concert review: Rachel Fuller In the Attic With Pete Townshend and Friends