- The Washington Times - Friday, March 9, 2007

There are those among us - Who fans to the tips of their crazy pinball-flipper fingers - who refused to drag themselves down to the Verizon Center Thursday night to see the Who. After all, they reasoned, the band is half dead and the survivors have reached old age-pension status. Better to remember The Who in its gilded heyday, circa 1967-73, when it was truly the greatest show on earth - a four-ring circus without equal.

These classicists have my respect for adhering to such lofty standards and maintaining respect for the dead. They also have my pity, because they missed as fine a rock’n’roll concert as is likely to roll through D.C. this year. Not that there was any room for them, since the arena looked virtually sold out.

With a pulsating riot of often hilarious photos and videos projected onto the backing video screens — often showing the Who in previous incarnations — it seemed the spirits of magnificent lunatic drummer Keith Moon and bassist extraordinaire John Entwistle were still present for the party.

The two surviving original members, singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist/alternate singer Pete Townshend, remain consummate showmen. While obviously not as athletic in his stagecraft as in his youth, Mr. Townshend nonetheless is still a highly energized figure, windmilling away at his guitars and occasionally springing skyward for one of his patented double-leg-bend jumps (no cross-stage slides, however).

Mr. Daltrey holds his own, still whipping his microphone about like a lariat and raising the hairs on the back of your neck when he hits that rebel yell at the climax of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” the last number of the regular set.

There’s a bit more hoarseness in Mr. Daltrey’s voice these days, but it adds as much as it detracts. There’s a little more pathos now when he sings “Behind Blue Eyes,” and when he pleads “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me,” there is no doubt he really meant it!

Ably, if not spectacularly, filling in for the dearly departed was drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo Starr’s son, and bassist Pino Palladino. Starkey is probably more Moon-like in playing than was original replacement Kenny Jones. Palladino passed his biggest test of the night: the lead bass runs on “My Generation.” He certainly doesn’t add the complexity and fire to the music that Mr. Entwistle did, but then, who else could?

Augmenting them was long-time keyboard man John Bundrick and second guitarist/harmony vocalist Simon Townshend (Pete’s younger brother).

As ever, the band opened with the staccato blasts of its first hit, “Can’t Explain,” then slid into “The Seeker” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere.” Then came “Fragments,” the opening track from The Who’s fine new album, “Endless Wire.” The video images of swinging London and 1960s pop culture icons used for the first three numbers then gave way to gorgeous videos of clouds, seascapes and falling snowflakes.

Probably the most expendable number of the evening was Mr. Daltrey’s “Real Good Lookin’ Boy,” a tribute to Elvis Presley, whom he credited as his inspiration for becoming a rock musician. It’s a wonderful title, but deserves a better song. A Sun-records style rockabilly treatment would certainly be more apropos and fun.

Hearing a medley of six brief songs from the new “Wire & Glass” mini opera further confirms that the band’s first new studio album in 27 years is a fine addition to the Who canon, although it drew a comparatively mild crowd response, perhaps because many of them didn’t know when the medley had ended.

In introducing “Pinball Wizard,” which kicked off a medley of about five excerpts from “Tommy,” Townshend noted that he had written most of his best songs when he was young. “I’m not young, and don’t want to be,” he stressed. “I’m just what I’m supposed to be in the great scheme of things.”

So let’s all stop ribbing him about the “Hope I die before I get old” line from “My Generation.” It seems Pete has finally grasped the fact that nine out of 10 times, the guile and treachery of corrupt old age will trump the exuberance and folly of precious youth.

Speaking of which, Rose Hill Drive, a young power trio that sports the heaviest crop of really long, straight blond hair since Nelson, opened the show. The band plays pile-driving, riff-based hard rock that sounds a bit like Rush meets Blue Cheer. Not bad if you like head banging music. But guys, please dump the “aw shucks, we never seen so many people before” stage demeanor.

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