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The Who at the Super Bowl: Playing their younger selves


It was an old-fashioned laser light show at Miami's Sun Life Stadium during the Super Bowl halftime show, as vintage rockers the Who energetically went largely without gimmicks and shtick during its brief mini concert. Relying on little more than the sturdiness of its riffs and Roger Daltrey's still arena-piercing yell, the Who tried to pump some life back into its classic rock hits, many of which have since been reclaimed as the soundtrack to a CBS crime show. 

If not a wholly obvious choice -- the Who have not been on the promotional circuit in a couple years -- the Who were a relatively safe one. Chosen, perhaps, by default, as one of the few (only?) giant boomer bands to have not yet received the Super Bowl stamp of approval, the Who weren't heading into the halftime show for Super Bowl XLIV as a band of surprises. Having released only one album of new material in more than 25 years, few have perfected the art of the greatest hits set like the Who. 

Such predictability has been a staple of the halftime show since the infamous Janet Jackson/Justin Timberlake performance of 2004. With the Rolling Stones and Paul McCartney snaring post-nipplegate slots, Pete Townshend had a right to be wondering when the group he stills calls the Who would get the promotional benefit the Sunday stage provides. As he swung his trademark windmills on "Baba O'Riley," he certainly looked the part, playing the role of a man 30 years younger. 

Yet the Who was certainly a more fitting booking than some recent choices. Last year, the NFL tapped Bruce Springsteen -- the populist, not the working-class hero -- and two years ago, Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers presented an efficient, workmanlike halftime show. 

Both were acts with a reputation for shying away from such grandiose corporate celebrations, and as CD sales decline, hardcore fans have become accustomed to writing off such shilling as a necessary evil of selling a new album or hyping a tour. Yet the Who, with its countless greatest hits tours, an inability to be slowed by the loss of two its founding members and an openness to licensing, would seem to be right at home at squeezing in a 12-minute set amid the Super Bowl's advertisements and sponsorships. 

A little more than three years removed from the release of "Endless Wire," a politically infused set of new material that seemed to signal that Townshend and Daltrey were not content to let the Who remain a nostalgia act forever, the Who went largely unadorned in Miami, as much as performances mid-football game can, at least. In a striped jacket, Daltrey looked the part of a rock 'n' roll referee, and Townshend, sporting a flat-topped hat and sunglasses, affirmed that he hasn't wholly embraced the idea of buttons in his old age. 

Aided by Ringo's son Zak Starkey on drums, the Who wasted no time in getting to the chorus in "Pinball Wizard," emphasizing the riff with some celebratory explosions. Ultimately, it felt less a concert than a stripped-down Olympics opening ceremony, with the band on a circular high-tech stage -- a set piece that sort of resembled a giant, modern Simon, to use a reference point dating to a period when the Who's prowess was just starting to wane.

While younger bands such as Green Day have stolen some of the Who's knack for theatricality, Townshend and Daltrey relied more on gusto at halftime. The two couldn't quite sync the harmonies in "Who Are You," but no matter, they were hurdling through their short set as if they were on a treadmill. 

Townshend tossed aside his acoustic for an electric, and he hopped and skipped behind his vocalist, who huffed out a harmonica solo to close "Baba O'Riley." A brief breather arrived for a few snippets of "See Me,  Feel Me," but then it was straight into a pyro-enhanced "Won't Get Fooled Again," which Daltrey ended with an exclamation point -- a blood-curdling shriek. 

After the game, the Who's brief set will be available for purchase on the video game Rock Band, allowing you to play the part of arena rock star. The Who, after all, shouldn't have all the fun pretending. 

-- Todd Martens

Photo: Associated Press

Comments () | Archives (69)

The Who sounded dated to me. The Stones play a fresh contemporary approach to their classics and constantly develop new , young fans. The Who performance made me reminisce about my college days and that was almost 40 years ago!!

the who were so painful to watch. there's old & then there's OLD. the who are way past their prime.

The Who were like watching a bunch of geriatric old geezers going through the last stages of Alzheimers!

What are y'all talking about? The Who was great tonight. Their music rocks, even if they are old.

All in all I thought they were pretty good, but we couldn't help but come up with some new lyrics to "My Generation"

The tubes they put in are awful cold
Talkin' bought my situation
Thought I would've died before I got this old
Talkin' bought my situation

My situation baby
My geriatric situation

There's more, but I've had enough fun for tonight...

The halftime performance was awful, dull, and icky to see those old men trying so hard and being so bad at it. Can we invite Janet's nipple back next year, please?


Who dat? True dat!

I don't know what half time performance you were watching. The Who sounded great, and if you didn't notice through all of your sneering the crowd was singing along and you could hear them!

Go soak your head, you're obviously upset that your pretty boy didn't win.

Arena tingling? It's The Who, not the Who.

Ageism is just as bad as its other "ism" cousins.

THE WHO - still the greatest live rock and roll band of all time.

The Who rocks!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

They were lame. This is 2010. Who will it be next year playing the Superbowl? Dean Martin and the rest of the Rat Pack?

I have always thought The Who were really great, and still do. But I agree that the half-time show had a more than a few painful moments, when the guys onstage today couldn't come close to matching the guys on stage 40 years ago. More power to them if they want to keep making music, but I suggest they shift to studio work, and leave the heaving lifting on stage -- at least the vocal work -- to performers who can hit their notes.

I saw Roger Daltrey on his solo tour in October and it was awesome. He put on a great show. I felt a little bad for him tonight because unlike Springsteen who was coming off of extensive tours into the Super bowl, the Who sounded unrehearsed (actually not so much the band but their sound guy, Rogers Mic was drowning out the rest of the band, I could not hear Pete's or Simons guitar or Zac's drums) I am sure the summer tour will be much better.

The Who were good. Listening to thier recordings is still good. Seeing them live is awful. Whoever thinks that what they did was good is either their age or on serious drugs.

It was crap. I thought Pete was having a heart attack about 15 seconds into the second song...

Sorry guys - that performance s#cked - big time. It was embarrassing. Couldn't they afford a violin playerfor the Baba O'Reiley finale.

I am currently available if anyone needs a date for breakfast, lunch or dinner on v-day. Also looking for long walks profile @ http://bit.ly/cqd0a2

Wrong. They were good.

The Who sounded good once the sound guy got the mix right!
Pete's mic was up too much at first. Then after Baba, Pete had a small amp glitch or pedal glitch and his guitar seemed to lose volume for a few seconds. You could clearly see him putzing with the guitar and pedals to get it going again, maybe a pedal got hit or bumped out his signal.
The songs had great live feel and we're played very well!
Glad they picked a worthy band...

Everyone in the stadium knew the words to those songs. You could hear the whole audience shout "Won't get fooled again!"

That's power. Green Day can't do that. And Nirvana will never be doing a Superbowl. Oh well.

That performance was boring at best. There was no spark whatsoever. They were just paying the CSI themes to please the brass at CBS.

Please, go over to YouTube at watch the performances at Monterey Pop and Woodstock. That's The Who that earned legendary status that the band is now living off of.

Roger and Pete still have some life in 'em. Good choice with Zack Starr, he's quite a talented sweetie pie. Roger's got a big heart,
plus they are drumming up sponsorship for relief efforts to Hati

The Who were brutal. Unanimous thumbs down from me and everyone who watched with me. You had to be wearing serious Who-colored glasses to not see how old and pathetic they looked. They sounded terrible. Daltrey's voice is nothing but a croak, and every time he and Townshend tried to harmonize, it was a disaster.

Yeah, some of youse who said The Who's look dated up there were prolly right - shoulda had some rap dude / dudette instead going through the same motions and fake gangsta moves all rappers do that you all seem to get excited about.
However, as an aging rocker myself, maybe The Who weren't the best choice, although I thought they performed very well and were tight for playing live and not using a computer track (back-line musicians not included) like many of the current "rockers" do. Are there even any current "rockers" as innovative and progressive as The Who were in their day? Prolly not, but those who pose have The Who, Beatles, Stones, Yardbirds, etc to thank for setting the foundation that hasn't been duplicated yet. So give The Who a break - they were as good as the game was.

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