The Who staggered through the '70s with a succession of inconsistent and mostly disappointing albums. Thanks to their live performances, however, their reputation has never really suffered. On stage, Townshend's sometimes overcalculated musical ambitions have always given way to the band's need to deliver on its promise to rock the kids.
Last night at the Capital Centre, they rocked them once more as they have for 15 years. The show was as powerful and exhilirating as anything rock offers in 1979.
With their opening songs, "Substitute" and "Can't Explain," The Who defined exactly what power pop -- the blend of hard-rock dynamics and melody they pioneered -- is all about.
Of course, the maniacal and explosive drumming of the late Keith Moon was conspicuously absent, particularly in songs like "My Generation," where his drums were practically the lead instrument. New drummer Kenny Jones is a rock veteran and, for a mere mortal, he propelled The Who's sound with tremendous energy and nerve.
The other classic Who elements were intact. The stately John Entwhistle laid down thick and sturdy bass lines. A short-haired Roger Daltrey paced the stage, slung his mike like a lariat, at times tossing it 20 feet into the air, and handled his vocals effortlessly.
Leading it all was Townshend, rock's greatest guitar dramatist. He was a galvanic presence all night, continually dancing around the stage, sending his arm into its classic windmill attack, dropping guitar chords on the audience like H-bombs.
Not surprisingly the highlight was the medley from "Tommy" begun with Townshend's furious drumming intro to "Pinball Wizard." Later when Daltrey sang "Listening to you I get the music" and they turned the lights on the crowd, it was a joyous moment.
Like so many times before, The Who offered one of rock's special communions between a band and its audience. With Pete Townshend presiding over the rites, the sacrament of rock "n" roll and its magic was delivered.
The Who will perform again this Monday at the Capital Centre.