Of the four greatest bands of the 1960s British Invasion - The Beatles, Rolling Stones, The Kinks and The Who - nobody spent more time thinking about what it meant to be part of a youth culture revolution than Pete Townshend of The Who.
The group's first two songs, "Zoot Suit" and "I'm the Face," released when they were known as the High Numbers in 1964, directly addressed the Mod subculture the band helped define. And by the next year, with "I Can't Explain" - which the band opened with on Sunday at the Wells Fargo Center on their nostalgic 'The Who Hits 50!' tour - they had captured the fumbling inexpressiveness of youth ("I'm feelin' good now, yeah, but can't explain").
Later that year, in "My Generation," whose rumbling bass (now played by Pino Palladino, in place of John Entwistle, who died in 2002) and talking drums (Zak Starkey, instead of Keith Moon, who OD'd in 1978) still make you get up out of your chair, Townshend wrote the "I hope I die before I get old" line that would follow him around for decades.
Early on in the two-hour show - which found Daltrey, 71, in strong enough voice, and which the band will repeat at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City on Friday and again at the Wells Fargo on Nov. 4 - Townshend, 69, spoke to the way his songs' have aged along with the audience that's remained loyal to the band. "This song has changed," he said before "The Kids Are Alright." "When I wrote it, it was about us. And then it started to be about our kids, and our grandchildren, and other people's grandchildren."
The show, in which the core four were backed up by four other musicians, including Pete's bother Simon Townshend on guitar and multi-instrumentalist music director Frank Simes, who played banjo on "Squeeze Box," included a number of mid-60s Mod singles early ("The Seeker," "I Can See For Miles") and closed with the double shot finale from 1971's Who's Next of ""Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," in which yes, Daltrey's final bellow of "Yeah!" after one of the most iconic instrumental breaks in classic rock as sufficiently climactic.
In its middle stretches, the set dragged a bit. With only two songs represented - "I'm One," sung by Townshend on acoustic guitar, and "Love Reign O'er Me," the 1973 masterpiece Quadrophenia, which the band played in full in 2012, was given short shrift.
I was happy to hear the 1966 mini-rock opera "A Quick One, While He's Away," which was the bridge to the full blown Tommy, it lurched along episodically, like a charmingly amateurish grade school play. The Tommy medley itself, however, was pretty darn majestic, from "Amazing Journey" and "Sparks," one of several impressive Townshend guitar showcases, to the still transcendent communal experience of "See Me, Feel Me"
The elephant in the room at any Who concert is the issue of the songs deeply cherished by fans that Townshend has sold to innumerable TV shows and commercials. He addressed it in impromptu comments before "Eminence Front," joking that he had only allowed use for positive "ecological" causes (lots of car commercials, ha ha) and told people who didn't like it what they could do.
But then, ever the self-contradictory complicated soul, he acknowledged his hypocrisy, talking about how much he loved Lead Belly and Jimmy Reed when he was "young and screwed up looking fro something to hang on to." And if those folk and blues artists had sold their songs "I wouldn't have liked it either. So I understand."
Newly inducted Rock and Roll Hall of Famer Joan Jett opened the show with her band the Blackhearts. Before exiting with a banner behind her that identified her as Philadelphia born - she came into the world at Lankenau Hospital in Wynnewood and lived in Upper Darby before spending most of her childhood in Rockville, Md. - she made the most of 38 minutes on stage.
The femme rock pioneer - all in black, from head to toe - went back to her beginnings with The Runaways' "Cherry Bomb," and included a number of songs that dealt with issues of sex and identity from her most recent, appropriately titled album, Unvarnished. She also did her trademarked versions of songs by Bruce Springsteen ("Light of Day") and Tommy James & the Shondells ("Crimson & Clover"), and got the sold out audience, which arrived early to see her hit the stage at 7:30, up on its feet with her own dependably rousing "I Love Rock 'n' Roll."
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