At one point during The Who’s Friday night concert at Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City, Pete Townshend started talking about the city itself and its hard times of recent years, mentioning its “empty casinos” and Hurricane Sandy. “We’re here to give you hope!” he added.
Indeed, there is something inspiring about The Who, who are currently on their 50th anniversary tour (though they actually launched in 1964) and still a potent force. Townshend, 70, and Roger Daltrey, 71, have stopped short of saying this is a farewell tour, though Daltrey has said he believes this is the last time they will do this kind of big trek through the world’s arenas.
It was a greatest-hits extravaganza, leaning heavily on the band’s ’60s and ’70s glory days. The most recent song was “Eminence Front,” released 33 years ago. But it was still a thrill to hear the old stuff, sung and played well: Short, punchy early songs such as “I Can’t Explain” and “The Seeker,” the majestic “Love, Reign O’er Me,” the anthemic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley,” the sizzling instrumental “Sparks” (part of a Tommy mini-set that also included “Amazing Journey,” “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me”).
There were no real obscurities in the setlist, though the band didn’t always go for the most obvious choices, either. “Magic Bus,” “5:15” and “Substitute” didn’t make it into this show; the contemplative “I’m One” (from Quadrophenia) and the sometimes playful “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” medley did.
As usual, Daltrey had a few rough moments early on, when his voice didn’t seem fully warmed up. But he settled down quickly enough, and was soon unleashing his best roar. Townshend, with his windmill power chords and slashing leads, is still playing guitar as well as he ever has. The other five musicians didn’t really try to put their own stamp on the material, but re-created classic Who sounds — Zak Starkey is one of the few drummers alive who can approach the out-of-control energy of the late Keith Moon, and bassist Pino Palladino, while not as daring as the late John Entwistle, plays with the same kind of restless, melodic flow.
The show was an unapologetic tribute to the first and greatest version of the band; frequently, images of the original foursome were shown above the live musicians. At one point, an iconic portrait of Daltrey, Townshend, Moon and Entwistle was superimposed on the White Cliffs of Dover, as if it were a British version of Mount Rushmore.
Throughout the show, Daltrey functioned as the gracious, dignified host. Townshend, though he seemed to be in a good mood (he even did a goofy little dance during “Squeeze Box”), couldn’t help but chime in with the occasional acerbic aside.
“At least we don’t look as old as fucking Willie Nelson,” he said at one point. “But then we don’t get as much sex, either.”
After the band asked, via a video message, for people to light their lighters or turn on their cellphones before “Behind Blue Eyes,” Townshend looked out at the thousand points of light and sneered, “It’s a Lady Gaga show!”
Opening the show, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts played a hit-filled, enthusiastic set of their own. It’s a bit of an odd double bill, since Blackhearts music is so simple and straightforward, and The Who often aim for much more complexity. But they’re as masterful in their own way as The Who are, and their opening set should not be missed.
They have signed up for the entire tour, which returns to New Jersey for a show at the Prudential Center in Newark, Oct. 25. For information, visit PruCenter.com.
The tour also comes to the Barclays Center in Brooklyn, May 26; Forest Hills Stadium in Queens, May 30; and Madison Square Garden in Manhattan, Oct. 27.
“I Can’t Explain”
“Who Are You”
“The Kids Are Alright”
“I Can See for Miles”
“Behind Blue Eyes”
“You Better You Bet”
“Love, Reign O’er Me”
“A Quick One (While He’s Away)”
“See Me, Feel Me”
“Won’t Get Fooled Again”
Joan Jett & the Blackhearts
“Do You Wanna Touch Me”
“You Drive Me Wild”
“Light of Day”
“Love Is Pain”
“The French Song”
“Soulmates to Strangers”
“I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll”
“Crimson & Clover”
“I Hate Myself for Loving You”