Live Review: The Who’s Farewell Tour Comes to TD Garden

The rock legends played Boston for what could be the final time...again. —Michael Christopher

This post originally appeared on Vanyaland.

The Who at TD Garden

The Who at TD Garden / Photo by Michael Christopher

Look, we’ve all fallen for this one before, the whole notion of a band’s final tour: “The Who are going to call it a day, this is the last chance you’ll have to see them—don’t miss it!” For the legendary British mod band, that bill of goods was initially put forth in 1982, and audiences snatched up tickets for the successful “Farewell Tour.” The Who did stick to their guns—for seven years.

For real though, they mean it this time. “This is the beginning of the long goodbye,” frontman Roger Daltrey said when The Who Hits 50! tour kicked off last April and, for what it’s worth, last night’s show at the TD Garden in Boston did have a certain sense of finality to it.

Originally slated to take place in late October but postponed due to Daltrey’s bout with viral meningitis, the spirited Boston set was heavy on the hits, kicking into gear from the outset with “Who Are You.” It put the stoked audience on alert that the guys who once boasted earnestly about hoping they died before they got old may have fossilized, but are still convinced they can bring it. And, for the most part, The Who delivered. Pete Townshend was wind-milling, really playing up to the crowd, still hopping up and down and fist pumping during the intro to “Baba O’Riley,” the second to the last song in a two-hour set.

“I want to hear people love me and cheer me because I say ‘Boston,'” the guitarist joked early on, going for the easy cheer by repeating the name of the city over and over. But for the most part, he was his typically droll self, at one point taking a sip from a can of Coke and declaring, “They say this stuff will kill you. Sure it’ll kill me. When’s that gonna happen?”

Much of the show felt like an episode of VH1 Storytellers, as Daltrey and Townshend went back and forth with little nuggets about the song they had just played, reminiscing where their head space was at the time of its composition and the inspiration behind them. The visual backdrop was absolutely stunning, with footage of mods on motorcycles, ’60s kids swiveling hips on the dance floor, swirling Union Jacks, iconic British scenery and early footage of the band when they were cutting edge and still in small clubs.

Since returning in 1989, The Who have had a fair share of ups and downs, the worst being the 2002 death of bassist John Entwistle, but Daltrey and Townshend soldiered on no matter what, for better or worse. These days it’s definitely the Pete and Roger show, painfully evident in the camera track slider that went from Townshend’s side of the stage and stopped right at Daltrey’s position—it didn’t even extend the full length. There was no need to focus on the faceless yet integral players like bassist Pino Palladino and guitarist Simon Townshend, Pete’s brother. The shadow of Entwistle and even more so drummer Keith Moon, who died in 1978, loomed large; both received resounding cheers whenever their faces came up on the backdrop.

More often than not, the two remaining originals were up for doing the heavy lifting. A three song mini-set of Quadrophenia tracks, including a fantastic rendition of “The Rock,” was a welcome treat for hardcore fans and a taste of what others missed out on when the rock opera was performed in full throughout 2012 and 2013. “Pinball Wizard” was mercifully brief, as even the band seems to have given up the silly ruse of the deaf, dumb, and blind boy plays who by sense of smell. Townshend didn’t even bother changing guitars, he simply used an acoustic pickup for the overplayed hit, which blended seamlessly into “See Me, Feel Me” and was never revisited.

After taking a long swig of water and spitting it out Triple H style, Daltrey nailed the “love” scream at the end of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” though he didn’t come close to hitting that CSI: Miami wail for the finale of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” There were some extended jams, notably on “My Generation” and “Bargain,” but instead of having that Live at Leeds quality, they felt unnecessary and like unfortunate placeholders where another song or two could’ve gone in their place.

Daltrey swinging his microphone was a bit labored, kind of like if your grandfather suddenly decided to bust out a hula hoop a give it a spin. Then again, this isn’t the archetypal rock god with the flowing mane who lassoed the thing with reckless abandon back in his heyday; having just turned 72 a week ago, dude gets an “A” for effort. The singer even made sure to throw a special shout out to Dr. Steven M. Zeitels at Mass General Hospital, who he credited for saving his voice back in 2010.

Still, as one of the biggest acts who got their start in the ’60s, there comes a time when The Who just won’t be able to physically tour any longer, no matter how many surgeries or replacement musicians are recruited to share the load. Will this indeed be Who’s last? If it is, they went out on a respectable high note.

The Who, Boston March 7: Setlist

Who Are You
The Seeker
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See for Miles
My Generation
The Real Me
Pictures of Lily
Behind Blue Eyes
Join Together
You Better You Bet
I’m One
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Eminence Front
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me / Listening to You
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again

Follow Michael Christopher on Twitter @blackbranchMC