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“The Who Hits 50” At Barclay Center, Tuesday, May 26th, 2015, Reviewed

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The Who At Barclay Center by Larry Lachman

It is a small step for rock fans from kid fiends  to thanatologists and the Who, are closer than most to the last breath of rock, embodied it last night at the Beacon Theatre on their 50th anniversary traipse around the States. If that sounds like a put down it is only as much as you don’t share the decaying of your body with the decaying of theirs, if you do there is little to do but wonder how well they define the aging of the kids.

What Pete Townshend and Roger Daltry prove on this last Autumnal tour is decay is a process of the body first, the brain follows it sadly and Tuesday night, we followed the Who down, as they seemed bother eternally Mod kids (I mean the opening, better portion of the show) and elder statesmen battling forces beyond their control. They were kids in old men’s bodies.

The poignancy of the Who’s 2012 Quadrophenia tour is more pronounced on 2015’s greatest hits package, because the songs are more pronounced, but even so  the band is tighter, Simon Townshend on second guitar, Pino Paldino on bass and Zak Starkey on drums, John Corey and  Loren Gold on keyboards,  and musical director Mark Simes on everything else, made a tight bunch and the songs, certainly the first 90 minutes, were mostly tighter than we have been used to. Townshend was a tonic, mustering energy still, even at 70, and Roger Daltry is in better voice then he has been since his 2011 throat operation, was on form. It has taken him years to get here, “On ‘Won’t get Fooled Again’, he was hitting notes he hasn’t reached in a long time, rock nyc partner John Pasquale noted.

All true and while the concert was rote (early hits, followed  by rock opera excerpts, followed by Who’s Next masterpiece) , with the occasional ringers -was that “Slip Kid”?  (why thanks, though I’d have preferred “Squeezebox”) and “A Quick One While He’s Away” but I guess they’re forgiven for that, the set didn’t build, it dithered, and then, in a show highlight, Townshend performed a solo “I’m One”. The conversation was witty little stories from the road, or from Townshend’s autobiography, After the singles the usual touch me feel me here, baba there, won’t get fooled everywhere. Like the last coupla decades. A good, steady performance. Not what I wanted to hear really,  I’d have gone “A Legal Matter”, “Magic Bus”, “I’m A Boy”, “Substitute”… like that. Townshend the avant-garde pop maestro as acid fueled image merchant, or if not the Face, the Mod,  the speedy r&b monster, but I’ll take it.

Nut really what survives forever with Townshend is “hope I die before I grow old”, the one undeniable aphorism, the howl of youth, the “it’s a trap” of aging where death is better than turning cold. That Who is the Who of the ages and watching this one, who has grown old, and who seem like a nightmare twilight zone image of themselves, as I do of myself, is not nostalgia, it is self-annihilation: the death mask, the rattle of death, is an exorable pull as we go from Eric to Paul to Roger to Ringo, one long death rattle, a final move through the graveyard, a really farewell tour, and who knows when it will be the last.

For me as well, their last but also my last as the tick tock of the Who, the join together with the band is going somewhere and there is no way out and as we face Roger and Pete, they are so old, so far away from the Kids it is like a final parting for all time. Then somewhere inside Roger and Pete’s brains nothing has changed, somewhere they are still young as they deny their visage and their time, and we step between the then and the when, balanced one last time, still alright –whatever that might mean.

Grade: B+

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