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The Who Hits 50! At Gwinnett Arena, Duluth, Georgia, Thursday, April 23rd, 2015, Reviewed

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For whatever reason, The Who take an inordinate amount of “Just go ahead and hang it up already” heat. Most of this stems, of course, from the toll time and (especially) mortality have taken from the band. While The Who were given a hero’s welcome back after Keith Moon’s death, the loss of John Entwistle was met with declarations that Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend were The Who no more.

It’s not necessarily a standard that’s applied equitably…after all, many of the same friends who gave me static about buying a “Half-Who” ticket refuse to hear so much as a negative syllable said about the “Equally-Half-Replacements.” But I’m a Who lifer. I bought a fifteen-dollar ticket just to watch their 1982 “farewell” show on a cinema screen. So…if Roger, Pete, and their crew of always world-class ringers are within an easy drive, I’m there. Just as I was Thursday night at Gwinnett Arena in Duluth, GA (just outside Atlanta).

The Who have always competed with themselves when it comes to live performances. It’s especially daunting when the definitive performances of your biggest hits were captured for posterity decades ago. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” will inevitably fall short compared to the ferocious “The Kids Are Alright”  finale. No “Magic Bus” will ever touch the Live At Leeds version. But that’s not really what a near-capacity crowd was looking for Thursday night. You could tell from the faded Quadrophenia tour shirts and the kids decked out in their best attempt at mod gear that this was a supportive gathering of the gang, ready and willing to meet what was left of The Who halfway.

House lights down…and, honestly? “I Can’t Explain” felt obligatory. It’s a song that strains credulity if not performed with a young man’s yearning, even more so than “My Generation.” While I expected things to pick up with “Substitute,” the long-time Who setlist second-song mainstay, the band instead launched into a chugging take on “The Seeker,” replete with windmill strums and swinging microphones.

With momentum now established, it was, as you might expect from a retrospective show (“THE WHO HITS 50!”), hit after hit after hit from that point on. Roger was in fine voice and he continues to defy Father Time with his G.I. Joe action-figure chest threatening to burst free from a barely buttoned shirt. If I look like Roger when I’m 71(!), I’m not even going to own any shirts. Pete, for his part, gave every impression of being slightly shitfaced. He chatted up the crowd after almost every song and was prone to explosive giggle fits. He dropped names shamelessly (Sir Elton John! Lady Gaga! Matthew McConaughey…or, as Pete called him, Matthew McWhat’s-His-Fuck!) and proved his Metro Atlanta bona fides with a hilariously profane rant about Atlanta’s unchecked suburban sprawl.

For all of the pre-tour talk about deep cuts being played, there was only one real curveball…a late-set “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” that sent me into my own profane rant as a sizable chunk of the crowd took the opportunity to plod up the aisles. You are NOT all forgiven. Most of them managed to get back to their seats in time for the obligatory “Tommy” medley/”Baba O’Riley”/ “Won’t Get Fooled Again” trifecta ending. That’s a high-octane half-hour…and it delivered, as it always does, sending a now good-and-sweaty throng home happy.

Is this the last tour? Is it ever? It’s actually hard to see where The Who go from here. Roger’s a genuine “have mic, will travel” troubadour…but I can’t see Pete at his age and temperament being arsed to live out his dotage on a never-ending greatest hits tour. So if you’ve never seen them…or you want to see them one more (and possibly last) time, chances are The Who are coming your way sometime this summer. Meet them halfway.

Grade – B+

Setlist:

I Can’t Explain

The Seeker

Who Are You

The Kid Are Alright

I Can See for Miles

Pictures of Lily

My Generation

Magic Bus

Behind Blue Eyes

Bargain

Join Together

You Better You Bet

I’m One

Love, Reign O’er Me

Eminence Front

A Quick One (While He’s Away)

Amazing Journey/It’s A Boy/Sparks/Pinball Wizard/See Me, Feel Me

Baba O’Riley

Won’t Get Fooled Again

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