Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey have made every indication that The Who Hits 50! Tour is their last trek around the world before calling it a career.
If Sunday’s concert at the Target Center really marked the final time Twin Cities music fans will be able to belt out “My Generation” and “Baba O’Riley” with the genius guitarist who wrote them and the singer who made them worldwide anthems, then what a swan song it was.
Over the course of two hours, the two surviving members of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame British rockers and their six-piece live band treated baby boomers and their babies alike to a well-balanced set of hits such as “The Kids Are Alright” alongside rock-opera deep cuts like “I’m One.” Eight of the group’s 11 albums were represented in the 20-song set, which played like a bonafide best-of of the Who’s incredible run from 1964 to 1982.
The thunderous one-two punch of 1978’s “Who Are You” and 1970’s “The Seeker” kicked off the show, which found Townshend and Daltrey in a playful, talkative mood early on.
Introducing The Who Sell Out’s “I Can See for Miles,” the former talked about the band’s initial struggles to get noticed stateside and how that 1967 tune, along with some legendary New York City gigs and the Monterrey Pop Festival with Jimi Hendrix that summer, made them stars here. “At last you bought one of our fucking records!” Townshend yelled, eliciting laughs across the arena.
All-time great masturbation ode “Pictures of Lily” (Townshend: “In those days, of course, it didn’t even really deserve the name ‘porn'") and the Who’s Next duo of “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Bargain” were also highlights of the first half of the set. Both songs featured strong vocals from the 72-year-old Daltrey and all the windmill moves you could ever ask for from Townshend, two years younger.
The band turned its attention to its masterpieces, the era-defining rock operas Quadrophenia and Tommy, in the second hour. The Quadrophenia portion of the show opened with the Townshend-sung “I’m One,” on which Daltrey added harmonica before exiting the stage for what he called his bandmate’s best instrumental piece, “The Rock” (he could be seen rocking out behind drummer Zak Starkey as a crew member fetched him water).
The singer returned for an impassioned take on Quadrophenia closer “Love Reign O’er Me,” crying out that powerhouse chorus like it was the last time he’d ever pick up a microphone (indeed, only 16 dates remain on this likely farewell tour). He took a drink of cool, cool water and shot it out of his mouth as “Reign” reached its climax, hopefully intended as the badass move of rock bravado it was and not a protest of his roadie’s choice of H2O.
Funky 1982 hit “Eminence Front” separated the selections from Quadrophenia and Tommy, whose exquisite four-song suite consisted of “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “Pinball Wizard,” and “See Me, Feel Me.” It wasn’t quite enough to do justice to the full story of the titular deaf, dumb, and blind boy, but underscored the Who’s need to press pause on the whole retirement thing and go on a Tommy tour for the first time since 1989 (they’ve done two Quadrophenia jaunts in the meantime).
“Pinball Wizard” predictably garnered a huge response from the crowd, only to be topped by the mass singalong of “Baba O’Riley” two songs later. In between, “See Me, Feel Me” proved the most triumphant moment of the evening, with the “Listening to You” coda packing all of the emotional release it has on record for half a century.
Who’s Next closer “Won’t Get Fooled Again” finished off both the gig and an unbelievable four-song stretch that could go against that of any other band in history. The eight-minute epic was a stirring finale, as Townshend’s transcendent fret work and Daltrey’s trademark scream sent the Target Center’s 15,000 former, current, and would-be Mods home for the night.
Sunday night's concert had been a long time coming for patient Who fans. The tour was originally announced in October 2014, a full year before it was scheduled to hit Minneapolis last autumn. Then, a few shows into the North American leg, Daltrey contracted viral meningitis and every date was postponed until spring. Was it worth the wait?
Judging by the massive applause from generations of Who fans after rocking out with Pete and Roger one last time, the answer is a resounding yes.
The hypnotized never lie, do they?
Critic’s bias: The classic question is “The Beatles or the Stones?” but if there’s room for the Who in that question, they are unquestionably the winner for me. Tommy is one of my favorite albums ever, and their performance of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” from Woodstock is among the greatest things I’ve ever seen on YouTube.
The crowd: Too small. It’s a shame that on a legendary rock group’s last visit to town ever, the whole upper section opposite the stage was curtained off. Especially when tickets could be had for less than $50.
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See for Miles
Pictures of Lily
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better You Bet
Love Reign O’er Me
See Me, Feel Me
Won’t Get Fooled Again