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« The Who at the Air Canada Centre- April 27th, 2016 »

“The Who Hits 50” was supposed to go across North America last fall, a celebration of their half-century as a band in the form of a big stadium tour. Last week, after two date changes(one from last fall and then another to accommodate our NBA playoff-bound Raptors), I saw the second of their two rescheduled shows at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. I decided to get tickets to both evenings because I suspected it would truly be the last time I saw this band. There is an irony in my saying this because my first exposure to them live was the rehearsal concert for what they had dubbed their farewell show back in late December, 1982. Since then, I’ve seen them in Toronto, Hamilton, at Madison Square Gardens in New York, across the continent in California at Mountainview near San Francisco, and farther even still across the bigger pond in Berlin back in 2006.

The Who in Berlin in the summer of 2006. Memories…

The show last Wednesday was exceptionally good in terms of sound quality: the band as an ensemble was powerful and tight, something I’ve really noticed has been consistent on the last two tours. As well, Roger Daltrey, having recovered from a dangerous bout of meningitis that postponed the tour for many long months, had a strength and range that seemed greater than it was a few years back. The banter between him and Pete between numbers was charming and amusing, and the local audience thoroughly enjoyed the reminiscences about their beloved city, but it was the passion and liveliness of the two frontmen that impressed me the most as they went through a two-hour set of big hits that spanned the length of their half-century careers. From our great vantage point just twenty rows from the front, it was easy to see that the band was enjoying itself and not merely going through the motions. Roger twirled and swung his microphone a bit more cautiously than in the past, but Pete jumped around, leapt into the air, and did his famous Birdman pose with the same agility and strength of a man half his age. The rest of the group, and in particular Zack Starkey on the drums, played with great precision and energy.

Roger Daltrey, looking and sounding magnificent on the rescheduled tour date.

My only complaint, despite the fantastic, engaging performance, is that the setlist was identical to the one presented just over a month and a half ago at the same venue. Surely an effort could have been made to alter one or two songs for fans returning to see them a second time. I have less of an issue with the lack of an encore on this tour, since they are not true encores these days but rather added parts of a planned setlist.

Two legends doing what they do best.

The lights and video backdrops complemented the open stage nicely, and we were treated to some great footage of older Who history, including video clips and stills of much-missed departed members John Entwistle and Keith Moon. There were also visual references to global historical events, particularly during a moving rendition of the beautiful orchestral, instrumental piece, “The Rock”, from Quadrophenia.

On a personal note, we played host to a visiting member of our Who family, and it was a real pleasure for me to have our friend stay with us in Toronto. She was as charming as I knew she would be, having known her online for a decade, and we enjoyed her company over the two days she was here. It was a delight to bring her to the local places some of her grandparents called home for a time in the west end close to my own childhood home, and we got to spend some time in the hospitality lounges before and after the concert meeting other friends and getting reacquainted with people we’ve met through the band. All in all, a great few days of adventures that give me added reason to see The Who as often as I can.

A happy souvenir of Who hospitality.

Overall, for the average and more devoted fan, this is still a band worth catching live on what might well be their last tour. I am never convinced (not since the great deception of 1982!) that I won’t ever see them again, but have never passed up an opportunity in case I am proven wrong. Every time I see them, my love affair gets renewed and I start wondering where and when I can see them play next. If all goes well, I have another date with them in Glasgow in August. Long live rock!

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