The Who Hits 50! at Oracle in Oakland

BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER Upon arriving in Oakland Thursday night to finally perform a twice postponed show originally scheduled for last September, The Who wasted no time establishing their presence as the unmistakable opening strains of “Who Are You” kicked off a well polished career spanning setlist that provided a far more diverse overview of their catalogue than their most recent Bay Area appearance in 2013 which promoted the 40th anniversary of Quadrophenia.

Dubbed as “The Who Hits 50!” tour, the iconic English rockers are Mod’s no more, a fact quickly documented by guitarist Pete Townshend’s early proclamation to the crowd that he was celebrating his 71st birthday. The bands career spanning two hour performance featured a sampling of their most recognizable hits that have become classic rock staples for at least two generations of fans.

Supported throughout the show by a brilliant massive high definition video screen, Townshend and lead vocalist Roger Daltrey performed with a backdrop ranging from psychedelic imagery to time appropriate album covers and promotional photos synched to each song. The extended animated segment during “Squeeze Box” of the cartoonish “Who by Numbers” cover was one of many highlights. So too were the scenes during “The Rock”, which ranged from World War II England to Princess Diana, Mikhail Gorbachev, the Soviet invasion on Afghanistan, Columbine and the 9/11 attacks to the more recent Syrian refugee crisis and terrorism in Paris.

The elastic intro to “Join Together” showcased the duo playing to the crowd as they traversed the stage with the vigor of musicians half their age, while the subsequent “You Better You Better” presented one of their most upbeat tracks. Daltrey, 72, continues to provide spot on vocals. While the scent of herbal supplements was heavy in the arena, strictly medicinal of course, the one time pin up has lost none of his showmanship in fronting the still bombastic band, as his many microphone twirls and tambourine bashes continue to demonstrate. Townshend’s lead solo on “I’m One” also showed that time has had little affect on his golden pipes.

Any production that also includes tracks including “Eminence Front”, an always epic “Love, Reign O’er Me”, the legendary “Pinball Wizard”, “Baba O’Riley” ( defined in Webster’s as how to play harmonica on a classic rock track with a picture of Daltrey ) or a finale of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” has clearly left nothing on the table. Yet for a show that provided no encore, one of the most lasting memories will be the nearly five minutes that Daltrey and Townshend addressed the crowd after the music had concluded.

Along with band introductions that included Pete’s brother Simon Townshend on guitar, Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey on drums, and Pino Palladino on bass, the duo generously thanked the crowd for it’s support over the years. But Townshend’s statements that “most people can play guitar better than me, but they can’t play it like me. I can destroy them with my finger”, and tributes to deceased bandmates Keith Moon and John Entwistle “part of the great band in the sky. What a F!#king band that must be !” were more personal moments that will be long remembered from a band that has been in the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Fame since 1990.

For a band that has survived much adversity and played their first “Farewell Tour” in 1989, we will continue to hope that they will grace stages in the Bay Area again, but you just never know. As their British colleague Mick Jagger has been known to say, “This Could Be The Last Time”. The tour continues this Sunday with stops in Southern California and Las Vegas before heading back across the pond to headline the Isle of Wight Festival on June 11th.

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