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The Who, masters of the Minnesota Goodbye, swell majestically at the Xcel

The Who at Target Center in 2016.

The Who at Target Center in 2016. Star Tribune

Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend would make exemplary Minnesotans.

The two still-standing members of The Who have been bidding adieu to their audience for nearly four decades now, first on their 1982 “farewell” tour and then, beginning in 2014, with their “long goodbye.” Hell, the band’s latest global jaunt, which passed through St. Paul’s Xcel Energy Center on Friday night, is called the Moving On! Tour. The singer and guitarist may as well be swapping State Fair stories and discussing the Wild’s 2020 playoff prospects in the breezeway, because they’ve perfected the Minnesota Goodbye.

As with any good party guests, though, there’s a reason they’re sticking around. For a band that’s been cashing in on its ’64-’82 golden era ever since 1989, Daltrey and Townshend do a commendable job of switching things up from tour to tour. Sure, the Minneapolis stop of the enjoyable yet unimaginative The Who Hits 50! Tour in 2016 (supporting a best-of of the same name) was little more than a cursory hit parade, but on the trek behind 2006’s Endless Wire the band played 10 of its new tracks in St. Paul, while their 2012 show across the river featured a full performance of their 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia.

Ever since bassist John Entwistle died in 2002, Daltrey and Townshend have been criticized for carrying on as an aging, two-legged dog under the alias of an explosive foursome that was the epitome of a group effort. The joke about how a geriatric Daltrey can’t be taken seriously singing, “I hope I die before I get old” is a tired one, but it’s true in the respect that the co-frontmen can’t quite conjure the magic of grandiose numbers like “Pinball Wizard” and “Baba O’Riley” with a half-dozen session players assuming the roles of Entwistle and gone-too-soon Keith Moon.

But you can’t really dismiss them as “The Two” when there are nearly 60 musicians crammed onstage, now can you? (And the ageist quips are harder to make when they skip “My Generation” altogether.) This weekend, The Who breathed new life into its back catalog by welcoming a 48-piece local symphony into the fold.

Backed by such a large ensemble, Daltrey’s microphone twirls felt more majestic. Townshend’s famous windmills appeared more heroic. The songs from Quadrophenia and its 1969 predecessor, the equally ambitious Tommy, were elevated to the stately plane of their recorded versions, the strings swelling “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and “Love, Reign O’er Me” into cathartic, stadium-sized bursts of defiance and exaltation once again.

Tommy and Quadrophenia were tailor-made for performing with orchestral accompaniment, so extended suites from those records (six and five tunes, respectively) bookended the 23-song show. In between, the band let the violinists, cellists, flautists, and god-knows-who-else take five and treated its fans to a career-spanning set in a slimmer incarnation. Here, The Who punched through energetic early rockers “Substitute,” “I Can See for Miles,” and “The Seeker,” before slowing down the proceedings for acoustic renditions of Who’s Next’s “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Behind Blue Eyes.”

Elsewhere during the gig, the strings discovered brand new melodies inside the seams of 1982’s “Eminence Front,” while 1975’s “Imagine a Man” (which The Who had never played live prior to this tour) and “Hero Ground Zero” (the first single from forthcoming twelfth album Moving On!, which Townshend announced would be dropping this fall) got their first-ever Twin Cities airings.

That part about moving on, though? Daltrey and Townshend won’t reach the front porch before being baited into an hour-long recap of the 2019 Boundary Waters fishing season. Don’t let go of the coat, boys.

Setlist
Overture
1921
Amazing Journey
Sparks
Pinball Wizard
We're Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Eminence Front
Imagine a Man
Hero Ground Zero
Substitute
I Can See for Miles
The Seeker
Won't Get Fooled Again
Behind Blue Eyes
Join Together 
Guantanamo
The Real Me
I'm One
5:15
The Rock
Love, Reign O'er Me
Baba O'Riley