TAMPA — The Who have had farewell tours before, but lead singer Roger Daltrey recently told Rolling Stone he and his mates “have to be realistic” and they want to go out “at the top of our game.”
If Wednesday night’s packed show at Amalie Arena indeed was the last time their fans will see the iconic British rockers perform their magic on a live stage, they certainly give them something to treasure.
“The Who Hits 50” opened the spring run of its North American swing to a wildly appreciative — and older — crowd, treating 11,894 concertgoers to a wide-ranging tour of their vast catalog and showing that although Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend may be on the other side of 70, the years haven’t dulled their enthusiasm and ability to fire up an arena.
They also showed some of the younger folks that their repertoire goes far beyond TV commercial jingles and intros for their favorite crime dramas.
The band — some new faces, but with the familiar Daltrey and Townshend firmly anchored as the front men — took their fans on a fun ride that spanned the band’s six-decade career, from those heel-tapping ‘60s ditties to their introspective story-telling rock operas, and finally those hard-driving power chords that have become a staple for a new generation of Who followers.
The band dug way back early on, opening with “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute,” a couple of their earliest hits. The songs featured Daltrey’s slightly weaker but still effective vocals, and Townshend’s signature windmill guitar licks.
“I (expletive) love Florida,” Townshend exclaimed before breaking into a spirited “The Kids Are All Right” that kept the crowd on its feet.
If this is indeed a farewell tour, the band helped establish a nostalgic feel. Daltrey and Townshend shared some fun interaction on stage as if they were truly enjoying the moment and engaged their fans throughout.
The band teased the nostalgia theme before the show with pictures on a large screen featuring old candid photos, concert posters and album covers, and tidbits on the band’s history.
The Who brought their catalog of hits, from “My Generation, “Magic Bus” (a showcase for some killer Daltrey harmonica work) and a soulful “Behind Blue Eyes.”
Each song that followed helped raise the energy level and cement the show as a fitting tribute to one of rock’s most influential acts.
Daltrey, especially, seemed most in his element during a few songs that may not come top-of-mind to casual fans but represent a hallmark in the band’s career.
After some soulful, inspired Daltrey vocals on “Love, Reign O’er Me” — including that signature scream that drew arguably the loudest ovation of the night — the band launched into the familiar synthesizer sounds of “Eminence Front” before capturing more of their their rock-opera chapter in a precise block that had their fans swaying, smiling and cheering wildly.
The long, somewhat quirky “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” launched the long mini-set that transitioned into a tribute to their two rock operas, “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia.”
Daltrey danced, spun his microphone in delight, and later rocked the tambourines during the instrumental-driven “Amazing Journey” and “Sparks” — highlighted by Townshend’s stellar guitar work.
That led to an emotional Daltrey bringing the story full-circle with “Pinball Wizard,” building to a crescendo ahead of “See Me, Feel Me,” off their second rock opera, “Quadrophenia” in 1973, and “Listening to You.”
But while their older hits may provide a bit of feel-good comfort, and their “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia” era was thought-provoking, the band recognizes the popularity of their hard-driving vocals and Townshend’s powerful riffs in the two songs that still resonate so strongly.
The crowd clapped with anticipation, and Daltrey again took to the harmonica for “Baba O’Riley” before he and Townshend reveled in the moment, performing dueling windmills and sharing a spirited sing-along — arm-in-arm — for “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and eventually waving good-bye to their adoring fans.
And after the band gathered for its final bow, Daltrey provided what may be the most apparent indication this indeed is the band’s swan song.
“Safe travels,” he said, waving, before walking off-stage. “It’s a long, long, road.”
It certainly is, and one that the band’s fans were so thankful to share for all these years.
Joan Jett and the Blackhearts, 2015 inductees into the Rock Hall of Fame, set the tone for the night by opening with a raucous 40-minute set featuring some of their best-known 1980s hits, including “Bad Reputation,” “I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll,” “Crimson and Clover” and “I Hate Myself For Loving You.”