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It’s easy to tell when Roger Daltrey is about to sing one of the more iconic songs from the Who catalog such as like “Love, Reign O’er Me” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” He unbuttons his shirt to the waist, revealing an impossibly toned torso for a 68-year-old man. The gesture, as much as his still-powerful voice, signifies that this legendary band is still able to rock.
Performing at Brooklyn’s Barclay Center as part of its Quadrophenia tour, Daltrey and his fellow surviving bandmate Pete Townshend delivered a musically impeccable rendition of that entire 1973 classic rock opera/concept album, followed by a crowd-pleasing if too-brief selection of their biggest hits.
They’ve toured with this material before, back in 1996 and 1997, but this version was technically superior, boasting state-of-the-art video projections on multiple screens that enhanced the song cycle with images referencing its seaside-set coming-of-age storyline (lots of waves crashing on the shore) as well as a virtual photographic world history of the past 70 years. Featuring scenes ranging from the London Blitz to the present, it also included generous amounts of archival footage of the band in its prime, adding a genuine poignancy to the sight of its two main players who are now near-septuagenarians.
Not that their age seemed to matter. Daltrey’s voice sounded stronger than it has in years, as he displayed no visible vocal strain during the two-and-a-quarter-hour show or unveiling his massive roars on “Love” and “Fooled.” Townshend’s slashing guitar work was as exemplary as ever, and he infused his vocals on such songs as “I’ve Had Enough” with a moving world-weariness. Both performers reprised their signature moves — Daltrey twirling his microphone and Townshend waving his arms windmill-style during power chords — with enough frequency to garner cheers without launching into self-parody.
They were supported by their usual excellent band: Zak Starkey on drums, Pino Palladino on bass and Pete’s brother Simon Townshend on guitar, as well as John Corey, Frank Simes and Loren Gold on keyboards and a two-man horn section.
“You know that we could have carried around a few hundred more musicians and it would have sounded roughly the same,” Pete half-joked.
But the ironic highlights of the show came from the deceased band members, thanks to beautifully integrated video footage of John Entwistle delivering a mind-blowing bass solo on “5:15” and Keith Moon raucously singing the lead vocal on “Bell Boy.” The response from the crowd was rapturous.
After a straight run-through of the entire song list from Quadrophenia performed without a break, the band satisfied the demands of the audience with a mini-set featuring “Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” all delivered with galvanizing power. Townshend was in particularly playful form during this segment, following his intricate guitar solo on “Who Are You” with the mock whispered pronouncement, “Jazz,” and he put particular dramatic emphasis on the lyric “Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss.”
They took time to sing the praises of the new Brooklyn arena — “We didn’t come on the subway,” Townshend humorously pointed out — and made frequent sympathetic references to the victims of Hurricane Sandy.
At show’s end, the two Who originals remained alone onstage to deliver a sweetly moving acoustic version of “Tea & Theatre,” the elegiac song from their 2006 album Endless Wire.
“A thousand songs/Still smolder now/We played them as one/We’re older now,” sang Daltrey. They are indeed older now, but as this show demonstrated, the aging kids are still all right.
I Am the Sea
The Real Me
Cut My Hair
The Punk and the Godfather
The Dirty Job
Is It In My Head?
I’ve Had Enough
Sea and Sand
Love, Reign O’er Me
Who Are You
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Tea & Theatre
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