The Who concluded its 2022 North American tour on Nov. 5 in Las Vegas with the second of two dates in the city, delivering a worthy denouement for what may be the band’s last shows on these shores.
The three-part setlist was intact for most of ‘The Who Hits Back!’ Tour, with the first and third sections featuring an orchestra to buttress selections from Tommy and Quadrophenia, respectively. “Overture,” one of six tracks from the former album, opened the evening with a flourish. The steady build up to the crescendo of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” was particularly satisfying.
The orchestral arrangements surged, a solid foundation for the already robust arrangements. There was a definite emphasis on French horns, John Entwistle’s brass of choice, but the only time the late bassist was mentioned was during a largely acoustic rendition of “Behind Blue Eyes.” The song was performed with violin, cello, and a five-string bass, of which Roger Daltrey said, “Good thing John Entwistle did not discover that instrument” (not noted but perhaps recognized by the audience was that Entwistle died in Las Vegas on the eve of the band’s 2002 tour).
Now 78, Daltrey still can belt out the lyrics, although some of the high register portions were subtly pushed down. A year younger than Daltrey, Townshend was in relatively good form. My physician friend noted that Townshend’s rotator cuff was still in fine shape, with the guitarist’s trademark windmills and consequent slashing chords were sprinkled often throughout the show. Townshend was dapper in his chalk stripe jacket, but ever since he began looking more sartorial onstage, his jacket flap always gets in the way of his windmills.
Fans had to be pleased that Townshend’s acerbic wit has not dimmed with age. He said that the venue, Dolby Live at Park MGM, sounded like “a shit hole from up here.” Continuing, Townshend shared that he often saw famed sound engineer Ray Dolby on the Thames, when the two of them were each tooling along in their motorboats. Townshend clearly found it ironic that the progenitor of great sound would find his name on such a venue. Nonetheless, there were no complaints about the venue’s audio prowess.
“Ball and Chain,” from the Who’s most recent album, 2019’s Who, was serviceable, but it served as a bathroom break and beer run for many. The orchestra took its break for a slab of simpler Who tracks, Townshend observed, “just to see if we can do it without them, but it’s still, what, six or seven of us?” “You Better You Bet” kicked off the middle portion of the show, followed by “The Seeker,” which Townshend shared was written while he was drunk out of his mind in a Florida swamp.
Daltrey and Townshend brought out the orchestra for the final third of the show, beginning with “The Real Me,” followed by several other Quadrophenia gems. Instrumental “The Rock” worked especially well with the orchestra, reprising all four elements Townshend wove together in the band’s second rock opera.
There wasn’t an encore, so the evening closed with “Love Reign O’er Me” and “Baba O’Riley,” both songs building to near-mythic endings. Fans were left contemplating why hits from the Who’s heyday as a singles band were left off of the setlist.
The Who is a band that has released more compilation and live collections than proper studio albums. Each time I saw them live over the last several decades, I worried they’d be like the boxer who didn’t know when to hang up the gloves. Yet, the band consistently met the mark.
Townshend has long acknowledged Daltrey prefers touring more than he does, and the guitarist reiterated at one point that he’s “not too keen on touring, but the band has done a great job bringing the songs to the stage.”
If I were a betting man, I’d wager the Las Vegas gigs were the last chance to see the Who on a proper tour. I expect they will be seen onstage again for various one-off events.