rock of ages: the who at the super bowl

roger daltrey and pete townshend of the who performing last night at the super bowl in miami. photo by mark j. terrill/associated press.

roger daltrey and pete townshend of the who performing last night at the super bowl. photo by mark j. terrill/associated press.

And so, for 12 minutes at last night’s Super Bowl halftime show, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey were The Who again. Looking and sounding grizzled, worn, but still up for a decent performance fight, the two re-assembled the better known fragments of a storied rock ‘n’ roll career built on anarchy but now fueled by nostalgia.

It wasn’t a bad performance, just not an especially thrilling one. Daltrey was in surprisingly sharp vocal form and Townshend sounded suitably scrappy on guitar. A harmony band, of course, The Who wasn’t, as it showed in the duo’s wildly disconnected singing on the set-opening Pinball Wizard. But Baba O’Riley still sounded full of tireless fire, sparked by the drumming of Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s son, believe it or not) and the audience’s hail-hearty vocal backup on the song’s “teenage wasteland” refrain.

Of course, one couldn’t help but notice the corporate, co-opted slant of Baba O’Riley, Who Are You and the set closing Won’t Get Fooled Again, all of which were performed in severely abbreviated versions. The songs today serve as the theme songs for the three CSI shows that are programming staples of CBS, which just happened to be the network broadcasting the Super Bowl.

The verse or two Daltrey slipped in of See Me, Feel Me possessed the set’s least frilly and most honestly impassioned drive. Overall, though, this was a cursory outing by The Who – a bite-sized sampler of hits played with appealing but obviously aged gusto. But then, compare the performance to Carrie Underwood’s flat tire delivery of the national anthem at the onset of the game and the sound of some long-in-the-tooth British rockers merrily bashing away didn’t seem so deflating.

For those who remember the band’s glory years, there was an undeniable sweetness last night that came from just knowing Daltrey and Townshend were still around. Anyone under 30, however, likely viewed the pair as living fossils. To them, I say, introduce yourselves to Live at Leeds, The Who’s immortal 1970 live album. It remains one of rock music’s most truly terrifying concert documents.

Nearly 40 years on, it’s unfair to still expect that kind of vitality from The Who. What they presented last night was credible but a little cryptic – a worn snapshot of a band that once proclaimed “Hope I die before I get old” – and then did the latter.

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