“This is harder than coal mining — but a lot more fun,” spurted frontman Roger Daltrey as he sweated through the midpoint of the first of two nights of concerts by The Who at storied Tokyo martial arts hall the Budokan Monday night.
He could have also added that singing for one of the most successful British rock bands of all time pays a sight better than coal mining, but that would be quibbling about what was by any standard a triumphant debut at a venue the Beatles played in 1966, one year after The Who debuted.
Surviving members Daltrey and chief songwriter Pete Townshend along with a supporting cast including Ringo Starr’s son Zak Starkey on drums performed before a sellout crowd that spanned from middle-aged folks on nostalgia trips to teenagers who probably discovered The Who through their influence on current UK rock acts.
The simple, unadorned stage and the band’s no nonsense approach to its music was in sharp contrast to the Rolling Stones’ gigantic stage and flamboyant attire at Tokyo Dome in 2006. But as they kicked in with the ‘60s teen anthem “Can’t Explain” and powered through a two-and-a half-hour set, it was clear that, as for Jagger and Richards, Daltrey and Townshend aren’t in it for the money. At 64 and 63 respectively, they wouldn’t be dragging themselves across continents and time zones if it weren’t fun — and this rubbed off on the adoring audience.
The 21-song set The Who brought to Japan in their first-ever tour of the country traced the arc of the mercurial Townshend’s rapid evolution from author of terse, proto-punk anthems like “My Generation” to creator of ambitious art rock suites such as “Pinball Wizard” and “Amazing Journey/Sparks” from the 1969 triple-album rock opera Tommy.
Midway through, a pair of songs from the 1979 concept film "Quadrophenia" reminded listeners of The Who’s early identity as musical spokesmen for the ‘60s British Mod movement. As Townshend led his band through “5:15” and “Love Reign O’er Me,” footage of the riots that pitted the fashion-conscious Mods against their leather-clad enemies the Rockers flashed on screen. This was followed by images of subsequent flower power hippies and skate punks, universalizing The Who’s message of adolescent rebellion.
The edgy energy of long-since departed drummer Keith Moon and more recently deceased bulldozer bassist John Entwistle was sorely missed. But Starkey and bassist Pino Paladino did a solid if unremarkable job of backing the bespectacled, mic-swinging grandfather Daltrey, whose voice gradually improved through the evening, and Townshend, whose wind milling guitar work was in fine form even if the explosive youthful anger was gone.
If any of the bitterness from Townshend’s 2003 arrest for accessing a child pornography website remained, it was unapparent on this night. Townshend had claimed that his own experience of childhood sexual abuse was the reason for his research into the subject, a topic made more explicit in the musical version of "Tommy" that recently toured Japan.
As Daltrey and Townshend ended their show arm in arm after the support band left the stage and the two of them performed the acoustic song “Tea and Theatre” from their latest album "Endless Wire," there was also little evidence of the acrimonious and sometimes violent character of their 46-year partnership.
Daltrey and Townshend seemed sincerely amazed and grateful for the effusive welcome their tour is being accorded. The Who arrived in Tokyo on Monday after a swing that began in Osaka last Thursday and winds up with an extra show at the Budokan on Wednesday.© Japan Today