Asked years ago to name the band whose discography I’d take with me if banished to an uninhabited island, I immediately blurted, “The Who,” which was surprising because my favorite band at the time was The Clash. Thinking back, I understand the appeal of The Clash’s street-level view of an unjust universe. But after seeing The Who reign over a sold-out Santa Barbara Bowl on October 6, I know my desert-island soundtrack was the right pick, correctly aligned with a broadened worldview lifted by a loud and tender four-piece rock band born in 1964.
Guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend launched and sustained the evening’s Stratocaster sweep, beginning with their first single, “I Can’t Explain,” to their first proper hit, 1967’s “I Can See for Miles,” through the instrumental anthems of 1973’s Quadrophenia double album, and into the early 1980s, with “You Better You Bet.” That’s when singer Roger Daltrey, his 72-year-old chops supple and formidable, tripped on a mike cable and ended up floored. All 5,000 of us in the crowd then got another lesson in The Who’s uncanny perseverance — and its inevitable human decline — when Daltrey got right back up and joked about it through the prism of age: “Oh, the joys …”
To witness The Who perform at such levels several decades beyond their most prolifically creative years makes the middle-aged and millennial among us feel we truly missed something special. But through their sheer staying power and quality of services rendered, we’re made to feel very much part of it nonetheless. Not bad for a rock band.