December 4, 2006
Air Canada Centre
It seemed a little odd that mere minutes before The Who were set to hit the stage at the ACC, Roger Daltrey’s climactic scream in “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was played over the arena p.a.
In this case, though, it was a sort of good faith gesture when it became clear very quickly from the one-two opener of “I Can’t Explain” and “The Seeker” that Daltrey’s voice was a tattered instrument, hoarse and ragged, and that he was more just belting out notes and words by willful grunt than actually singing.
Before launching into “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere,” Daltrey admitted as much, telling the packed ACC, “As you can probably hear, I’ve got a bit of a cold tonight” before promising to soldier through.
He didn’t need to worry, however, as guitarist Pete Townshend ably stepped forward to become the magnetic force that held the show together. For a near senior citizen, Townshend was a ball of fury. Stooped over his guitar, he pounded out power chord after power chord before launching into trademark windmill spasms.
His tones were vicious, snarling things, the sort of violent noises more closely associated with gutter punk than cinematic rock operas. It was a display of virulent guitar power that left his increasingly complacent peer group in the dust. Indeed, with Keith Richards reduced to foolish blubbering, Eric Clapton churning out increasingly tepid blues-pop and Neil Young ever oscillating between country, rock and misadventure, Townshend’s dynamic bursts are now just about as close as any students of classic rock will ever get to reliving the primordial power of ’70s rock ‘n’ roll.
The city had something to do with it, too. After “Fragments,” Townshend told the audience that Toronto “is probably the favourite city of mine to play in” and that “when I used to drink, I had such a good time here.”
It was nice tip of the hat to the T.O. crowd, which helped when Daltrey raised arms, mic in hand, during the peak of “Who Are You,” entreating the audience to scream in his stead. The anthemic singing along also buoyed Daltrey’s work on “Behind Blue Eyes.”
The six-song Endless Wire mini-opera was an indulgence politely tolerated by the audience. If nothing else, it made the transition into “Baba O’Riley” all the more welcome.
“Eminence Front” proved that The Who actually did put out something of quality in the ’80s, though “A Man In A Purple Dress,” “Black Widow’s Eyes,” “Mike Post Theme” and “You Better You Bet” were undeniable low points.
Still, as with any marquee act, all it took was a dip into the hit vault to shake things up. “My Generation,” “Cry If You Want” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” were all blistering Townshend showcases, with Daltrey tolerably attempting to mirror his bread ‘n’ butter CSI moment on the latter.
The encore was Tommy-heavy, with “Pinball Wizard,” “Amazing Journey” and “Sparks” joining “See Me Feel Me” and the acoustic closer, “Tea And Theatre.” Much like the last song’s name might suggest, it was a tepid ending, but the point had already been made. With his bandmate failing, Townshend took up the mantle of rock ‘n’ roll and jumped, thrashed, bashed, power-chorded and windmilled his way through a textbook lesson in true rock.
This review was originally published December 5, 2006 via Chart Communications.