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Concert Reviews:
The Who shows much love for Detroit at Joe Louis Arena tour opener

Digital First Media, @GraffonMusic

Posted: Sunday, February 28, 2016

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DETROIT -- The Who made its Detroit fans wait a little longer than expected to see its The Who Hits 50! anniversary -- and ostensibly farewell -- tour.

But on Saturday, Feb. 27, at Joe Louis Arena, the iconic British group more than rewarded their patience.

The nearly two-hour, 20-song show -- kicking off the rescheduled second North American leg of the tour delayed by singer Roger Daltrey's bout with viral meningitis -- was special not just for the occasion but also for the place. "We feel very welcome in Detroit," guitarist Pete Townshend told the near-capacity Joe Louis crowd, noting that the city gave the Who its first U.S. hit ("Happy Jack" in 1967) and hosted memorable performances by the band at the old Grande Ballroom.

Townshend also name-checked Grande founder Russ Gibb, who attended Saturday's show, and his good friend Tom Wright, who managed the venue. A video scroll Prior to the show, meanwhile, recapped all of that history -- from an appearance at Southfield High School through the Palace of Auburn Hills and Joe Louis Arena (though curiously omitting the Pontiac Silverdome), and also paid tribute to the late Glenn Frey of the Eagles, who was declared a "Son of Detroit" beneath his photo.

The concert itself was an unabashed and unapologetic trip down memory lane, fortified with most of the Who's biggest hits as the screens displayed plenty of vintage band photos, prominently featuring late members Keith Moon and John Entwistle. Though skipping early career staples such as "I Can't Explain" and "Substitute," Daltrey, Townshend and the other six members of the ensemble -- including Townshend's younger brother Simon on guitar, Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey on drums and Detroit-born keyboardist John Corey -- delivered favorites like "Who Are You," "I Can See For Miles," "You Better You Bet," "The Kids Are Alright" and selections from the rock operas "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" with a grizzled kind of grit that suited the material well. And the Who has walked enough musical tightropes in its career that even when things got a little loose, on "Bargain" or "Join Together" for example, they felt more deliberately daring than unhinged.

As Townshend exulted mid-show, "We are not just senior citizens. We are wise, wonderful, worthy wankers!"

In only his second concert since July, Daltrey sang with robust confidence, strained at times but strong in key moments, such as the lung-busting scream of "Won't Get Fooled Again." He was helped, too, but a set list shortened and tweaked a bit from the 2015 run and paced set with extended instrumental forays -- such as the "Quadrophenia" instrumental "The Rock" before the vocally demanding "Love Reign O'er Me" -- to give him a bit of a break. And five of the band members also contributing backing vocals helped bolster Daltrey and recreate some of the songs' studio magic.

"If you listen to our stuff you know we do a lot with backing vocals," Townshend explained. "We pretended to be the Beach Boys -- only better," though he quickly added, "I could never have written 'God Only Knows.' That's one of the best songs ever." Townshend also took good-natured jabs at U2 and Birmingham's Townsend Hotel, but it was Daltrey who had the heartfelt final words of the night.

"I want to thank you nice people who supported me last year" through his health issues, Daltrey said. "We never gave up. Thank you for your support. It was fantastic."

So was the Who on Saturday. And if it does wind up being the band's last Detroit appearance ever, the group ended on a strong and mutually loving note.

Send your thoughts and comments to Gary Graff


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