THE WHO with THE PRETENDERS at Air Canada Centre, December 4. Tickets: $60.75-$205.75. Attendance: sold out. Rating: NNNN Rating: NNNN
When Roger Daltrey stepped out on the Air Canada Centre stage carrying a steaming-hot mug of tea, you might have wondered if perhaps the Who are getting a little old.
But after sharp-cutting opener I Can't Explain, the pint-sized singer, dressed all in black, explained he was a bit under the weather and that his voice could be a tad shaky. "I'm owning up to the critics," as he put it, and then quickly added the caveat that he has "nothing to prove anyway."
Peter Townshend played as though he did, launching his first windmill of the night during the classic Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere. Townshend's windmills are absolutely electric. He's like a power station for the band, generating kinetic energy and igniting the crowd with every revolution of those crushingly gifted arms.
And for a 61-year-old man, he's impressively nimble. During the stadium-revving Who Are You and a few cuts from their unexpectedly decent new album, Endless Wire, Townshend ran around the stage, abusing his guitar, doing scissor-kick jumps. Daltrey, 62, was no slouch either, spryly contorting his body to the music and lassoing the mic, with mixed results.
Unlike the barely mobile Chrissie Hynde , whose Pretenders delivered a dozy opening set, the Two (as they've recently been nicknamed) looked like graduates of Mick Jagger's Institute for the Ageless.
After they played six quick ones from the Wire & Glass mini-opera, lime-green neon began flashing during the indelible opening synth arpeggio of Baba O'Riley, causing me and the grey and wizened community surrounding me to really lose it. As did drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo), who competently channelled Moon's drink-holding ghost, while studio ace Pino Palladino covered bottom end for the late great "Ox." Pete's brother Simon Townshend added some rhythm and vox.
They closed their set with monolithically large Won't Get Fooled Again, then quickly returned for a Tommy-dominated encore. As Townshend and Daltrey bowed to the standing masses, the jumbotron showed the pair looking genuinely touched by the torrential applause.
In Townshend's face you could see restrained emotions, as if this goodbye might be permanent. If so, it certainly was a joyous farewell.