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Concert Reviews:
The Who Continues Detroit Love Affair At The Palace

Of the Oakland Press

Posted: Wednesday, October 22, 2008

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AUBURN HILLS -- The Who's Pete Townshend may have joked that "everything is too far back for us to remember," but he and longtime partner Roger Daltrey, both in their mid-60s, knew exactly where they were on Tuesday night. (Oct. 21)

The British rockers portrayed the opening show of a 10-date U.S. mini-tour at the Palace as more than coincidental. Townshend recalled that the Who "first hit out of Detroit" when radio stations here played the group's first single, "I Can't Explain." "That's why we're here," he said. "We made a special point of kicking off here."

The Who also made it a special night by donating proceeds from the show to Gleaner's Food Bank and Focus: Hope. And Townshend curried more favor with the crowd of 11,000 when he announced that "I've owned quite a few cars in my time...The best car I ever bought was a Lincoln Continental Mk. II, built right here."

But the Who won the night with its performance -- a 23-song, two-hour and 20-minute trip through the past, distant and recent.

This is not the same reckless 'n' rowdy Who that won over Motor City rock crowds in the '60s, of course. Two of the original members, drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle, are dead. Daltrey and Townshend's voices have aged, and there's not quite as much microphone twirling, leaping or windmill guitar playing as you've seen in the films and videos.

In its place on Tuesday, however, was a confident and exuberant group with a body of work that ranks among the best in rock 'n' roll. Keys have been discreetly changed and some arrangements have been tailored in different and, frankly, tamer directions. But there was a sense of occasion as Daltrey and Townshend led the group on stage, and a respect and occasional awe at the energy they and their compatriots marshalled over the course of the show.

Playing on a simply dressed stage with images accompanying each song on a large video screen behind the band, the Who delivered plenty of hits -- the show-opening "I Can't Explain," "The Seeker," "Baba O'Riley," "Who Are You," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Won't Get Fooled Again" and more. But many of the highlights came when the Who dug deep into its catalog, pulling out 1967's "Tattoo" for the first time in nine years, 1982's "Sister Disco" for the first time in 19 years and the seldom-performed "Getting in Tune" from 1971's "Who's Next." An extended romp through the rarity "The Relay" let Townshend and keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick stretch out a bit, as did a similarly lengthened version of "My Generation."

The Who also touched on its rock operas with an encore medley of material from "Tommy" and a coupling of "5:15" and "Love Reign O'er Me" from "Quadrophenia." Its 2006 album "Endless Wire," meanwhile, was represented with three songs -- "Fragments," "Mike Post Theme" and the show-closing "T and Theater," which Daltrey and Townshend performed as a duo.

There were a few opening-night snafus, such as a miscue coming out of the bass solo on "My Generation" and Townshend stopping "Pinball Wizard" in order to exchange guitars. The mix was muddy, often burying Townshend's guitar and over-amplifying drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son) and bassist Pino Palladino. "Who Are You" sounded more messy than musical, and "Magic Bus," while a crowd-pleaser, was a forgettable vamp, especially with the "Tommy" medley driving up right behind it.

Then again, the Who never was a band that did smooth and polished very well. A little raggedness suits them just fine -- even more than 40 years after Detroit stations started blasting "I Can't Explain" to their listeners.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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