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The Who in Vegas

by Roger Len Smith on August 04, 2017

On the first night of a six-show residency at the resplendent Colosseum Theatre inside Caesars Palace in Las Vegas, The Who showed again why they have long been one of rock’s top live bands. It seems impossible for the songs of The Who to be played without passion; even the ballads rock away any complacency. Even in their early 70s, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey continue to tour and clearly love playing live.

Breaking in the first night with a snappy version of the usual opening sing-along, “I Can’t Explain,” the road-tight band then ripped into a really grooving “The Seeker,” another song still very timely. A powerful “Who Are You” followed, providing momentary CSI flashbacks. The band really clicked from there, “Kids Are Alright” and “I Can See For Miles” among many standouts.

“I hope I die before I get old,” the mantra goes; they may be septeguanariums but you wouldn’t know it. Daltrey is still in excellent shape and Townshend, who was particularly talkative on this evening, stated that new Who material could soon be entirely possible, “provided Roger can still sing it,” he said to audience laughter.

The fact that there were no songs performed newer than 1982’s “Eminence Front” didn’t make them any less enjoyable, or fierce. Daltrey’s voice, like Mick Jagger and many others, has barely lost any quality. While Daltrey had difficulty hitting the final high note in “Love Reign O’er Me,” opting to go low, he absolutely nailed the big, loud scream at the climax of “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” shockingly so. Townshend’s guitar work was masterful as always, especially during the demanding instrumental pieces from Tommy and Quadrophenia, “Sparks” and “The Rock.” The band was stellar as always, led by the energetic Zak Starkey, son of Ringo and pupil of Keith Moon. Naturally, Starkey is likely the most Moon-like drummer The Who has employed since Moonie’s death in 1978.

The rare and underrated “Relay” has made a comeback to the set list and was played (and sung by the crowd) to perfection. In lieu of new material, the occasional rarity seems to give the band a little extra, but the crowd on this night was fiercely enthusiastic. Fiery versions of “Bargain” (Townshend called it his favorite from Who’s Next) and “The Punk and the Godfather” were a pleasure to hear, as was “You Better You Bet” and “I’m The One,” featuring Townshend on acoustic guitar.

The band was clearly enjoying playing in a small venue. The 4,600-seat Colosseum Theatre is immaculately designed and the sound clear and full. Normally playing to crowds of 15,000-20,000, Daltrey, in particular, noted how pleasant it was to have a run of shows in an “intimate” venue. “I can actually see you folks,” Daltrey exclaimed. This writer has seen The Who a dozen times or more and never has Townshend been so chatty. His trademark inspired, hilarious and foul-mouthed British wit was on full sarcastic display on this Saturday night and the band delivered to a delirious crowd.

If B.B. King and Willie Nelson can keep playing into their 80s, there’s no reason The Who can’t still be truckin’ up a storm. Long live rock, indeed.

Authors: Roger Len Smith