BY DANIEL GLUSKOTER
For many seasoned fans of The Who, the iconic British rock band that has produced some of the most recognizable classic rock hits of the past half-century ceased to exist after bassist John Entwistle’s death in 2002, if not drummer Keith Moon’s drug overdose in 1978. But Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have soldiered on, playing countless “Farewell Tours” to masses of fans happy to hear nuggets from their incredible catalog live while only releasing one full album of new material in the past 25 years.
But time marches on. Townshend is now 72, and after a couple dozen performances with The Who last year he’s starting 2018 on the sidelines. Meanwhile Daltrey, 74, now seems invigorated, coursing a path of solo concerts that brought him to the Fox Theater in Oakland Thursday night along with preparing to release his first solo album in 25 years.
The joy of seeing Daltrey alone was the freedom it gave him to explore his deep catalog, both solo and that of The Who’s. While tracks like “Pinball Wizard” and “Who Are You” are recognizable mere seconds into the song, he has also compiled an impressive list of material over the course of eight solo releases.
As classic as The Who’s live performances are, they’ve been maintaining a pretty consistent setlist for well over two decades. The addition of a number of outstanding but near forgotten tracks on this night was a welcome one.
But this night also saw renditions of gems like “After The Fire” from “Under A Raging Moon,” the bouncy “Days of Light” from “Rocks in the Head” and the melodic “Without Your Love” from the McVicar” soundtrack along with 1973’s “Giving It All Away.” Additionally, more obscure, seldom played Who songs such as “Another Tricky Day,”“Athena,” and “How Many Friends” were treats to savor.
While other classic Who songs such as “Behind Blue Eyes” and “I Can See for Miles” have certainly aged well, Daltrey was also liberated to engage the audience with tales of how his hearing difficulties have allowed him to tune out his wife “when she’s going blah, blah blah,” and how terrible a time Pete Townshend went thru dealing with substance abuse during his depression following Moon’s death. He also expressed a very understandable anti-social media perspective as part of his introduction to “How Many Friends.”
Accompanied by Simon Townshend on guitar throughout the evening, Pete’s younger brother was clearly the next best thing to the original. Taking over lead vocals for “Going Mobile,” the song represented another of the evening’s most memorable highlights as the 57 year old was able to showcase an added frenetic energy with his own vocals as Daltrey backed him on harmonica. As the show wound down, Simon’s harmonies sounded very much like his brother’s on “Naked Eye.”
Arguably saving one of the All-Time best for near the end, the Rock ‘N’ Roll Hall of Famer proved his vocals are as strong as ever with a powerful rendition of “Baba O’Riley” as the energy level at The Fox reached another level. Concluding his nearly two hour set with a surprise for most in the crowd by announcing his upcoming new album “As Long as I Have You” for the first time, Daltrey slowed it down considerably closing his set by premiering the soulful ballad “Always Heading Home,” the final song on the impending effort. Scheduled to be released on June 1st, it features Pete Townshend playing guitar on seven of its 11 songs and includes covers by Stevie Wonder and Stephen Stills. Over a half century into his career as a performer, this kid is still quite alright.