Lights created waves that washed over the crowd as video montages on giant projectors lit up Staples Center with old news clips, battle scenes and, of course, a very familiar logo. The trademark guitar chords and synthesizers of The Who sent shock waves through the crowd that undoubtedly made the middle-aged folks who remember their rock years feel like they were seeing the band again for the very first time.
He might be 68, but Roger Daltrey can still rock like it’s 1964, and the frontman for The Who teamed up with legendary lead guitarist Pete Townshend to blow the roof off of the Staples Center for more than 15,000 attendees in spectacular fashion. It was a performance for the ages, and one that truly captured the electrifying spirit of the rock shows of old.
Daltrey and Townshend, the last two surviving members of the original four, replaced the late drummer Keith Moon with Zak Starkey and former bassist John Entwistle with Pino Palladino. The band opened with its album Quadrophenia, a rock opera that tells the story of the four personalities of Jimmy, a fictitious English teenager in 1965. They blasted hits like “Love Reign O’er Me” and the montage of news clips from the ’70s all the way through the Occupy Wall Street movement created the sensation of a true journey through time. Daltrey, who appeared in a button-down shirt and gray blazer, eventually lost the blazer and, in characteristic fashion, left the shirt unbuttoned for the rest of the night. Pete Townshend donned his dark grey sunglasses and a white blazer, which he eventually ditched (to facilitate his signature right-arm windmilling on the ground).
Entwistle and Moon might have been replaced, but they were not forgotten. Bringing an air of nostalgia to the crowd who fondly remember the original bassist and drummer, videos and audio of them performing live were interspersed with the band’s production of Quadrophenia, as if the original four were back again.
Daltrey, who underwent vocal surgery in late 2009 to remove a pre-cancerous growth, was last in the spotlight when The Who performed at the 2010 Super Bowl halftime show. It was only after being heavily criticized for his failure to hit high notes that Daltrey revealed that he had the surgery. Yet Thursday’s performance was an incredible improvement from the Daltrey two years ago as he belted out “We Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Baba O’Riley” and “Pinball Wizard” with no trouble at all. Though Daltrey opted not to attempt some of the more daunting notes at the end of the songs, the main lyrics shot through the Staples Center in the same manner fans have known for years.
Starkey, the son of former Beatle Ringo Starr, made a perfect replacement for Moon. Many consider Moon to be one of the best drummers in rock history, and his antics (drum explosions, hotel-room destruction and impromptu nudity at parties) will likely never be replicated. But Starkey, who learned the drums from Moon, played the part well. His beats allowed Daltrey and Townshend to rock their most famous songs as if Moon was there with them. Starkey continued the tradition of clothing removal, with his flamboyant white jacket disappearing midway through the first set. The drummer, who Townshend described as “fresh from the operating table,” sported a brace on the left wrist but seemed to bang away with ease.
After two-and-a-half hours, The Who had Staples Center rocking with their biggest hits from throughout the years. As the band gets older, fans know that their touring days are numbered. Daltrey, though, is optimistic.
“My doctor say’s he’ll have me singing into my 80s,” he crowed.
After last night’s performance, it is clear that an entire generation will be there with him.