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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)

Pretending? The only one pretending is the writer of this review. Cmon, did you even tune in? Todd Martens needs to get an appointment with his eye and ear doctor quick! The Who sounded great and looked great. Consider that these guys are older and have been through a lot. Unlike the current "musical artists", these guys can actually play their instruments and sing (in tune). Just because you may not like The Who doesn't mean they didn't rock the house...because they did.

What made the halftime show watchable at bestwas the lasers, lights, and all the other special effects stuff, especially if you have a huge widescreen LCD/LED tv. Prince's halftime performance was still the best of the post "waldrobe malfunction" era. All the others were so vanilla.

The trend seems to be pointing to Bob Dylan next year, Rod Stewart following him, and then on to reanimated corpses.

The Who were awesome. And their defiant music was perfectly fitting for the Saints' underdog victory. They were a tad rusty, but it was certainly better than most halftime shows.

And as for their music sounding dated or them coming across as old, what do some of you actually expect? Their music is of an era. And they're old! That doesn't mean they didn't rock. They have some of the best tunes of any band.

In the context of rock music, The Who outshines most of the junk that comes out nowadays, with the consistent exception of Radiohead.

The performance? was lip synced, a fact apparently escaping the reviewer... the Who should never be seen in public again, ever... disraceful...

I'm from the Who Generation and I thought they were awful. Embarrassing, really.

The new Who drummer is no Keith Moon!

I can't believe I'm reading these comments. The Who rocked the stadium - one of the greatest rock bands EVER!! Yeah, they're older, but so what!? You guys are so unforgiving. They blew other half time shows away.

The Who was great, and all you morons who are calling them old never even did anything nearly as great as them in your youth. You will all be sitting in diapers when you're in your 60s, but the Who remains great. Shut the hell up, you losers.

Great half-time show. Who else then? The Beatles? Some newbies jammin rockband2? Oh, their playin football too? Ok, I guess I'll watch even if the ball is wierd-shapped.

The Who were pathetic. Embarrassing. Missing notes both guitar and vocal. What were they thinking?

Diehard fans of the Who of course went crazy the performance, as is seen in the comments here and at other blogs. And I'm sure it was great seeing your rock idols in such a high-profile high-budget setting.

But taking a step back, this was a mediocre performance. It wasn't entirely The Who's fault; ESPN reports that Daltrey was having difficulty hearing his vocals (which explains the botched harmonies on Who Are You) and was blinded by the lights (which explains the uneven stage presence and weird looks the band members occasionally gave each other). It also doesn't help that, apparently, Daltrey's voice hasn't aged well. And finally, a 12-minute medley is not really the right format for The Who.

It's no great shame... I had very high hopes for Tom Petty's performance a couple of years ago, but he ended up just going through the motions, giving a solid low-key performance that was enjoyable, but ultimately a little yawn-inducing. Given the constraints of the format, it's hard to put on a great halftime show. It takes some real innovation (see also, Prince's amazing performance) and The Who apparently didn't really care that much (Daltrey has made no secret of his contempt for American football). It's no comment on them as musicians; it was just one blah show.

Hey evrybody in the group do me a favor,If you were payed for what happened last night (GIVE IT BACK) And never let that happen again OK That was ugly at best and sounded like OLE PETE and ROGER were just a little to winded Damn there went 20 minutes of my life I wished I had back

Roger Daltery dressed in Bolongaro Trevor striped jacket.. check out www.bolongarotrevor.com for more info!

the people who could afford tickets are the ones who know The Who.

what did you haters want, the Jonas Brothers?

The Who gets a 7 out of 10 in vocals, 8.5 out of 10 for music and 10 out of 10 for stage and lighting

boy I forgot how short Roger was

The Who should now have a question mark behind their band name. It's sad, really, when old guys like Daltry and Townshend won't give up the mike. They are way past their prime and, unfortunately, the just cannot sing like they used to. I would have much rather remembered The Who the way they were. The one bright spot is at least Pete can still play the guitar, even if he can't tuck in his shirt. I know The Who are rock legends, but maybe next year the Superbowl producers can actually hold an audition if they insist on bringing back old acts.

the who needs a big wild crazy lunatic drummer to make it work. zak seems like a nice competent drummer but he's not loud enough. they should have at least amped up the drums more.

As much a I love The Who they sounded dated to me. The lighting was more entertaining than The Who. That being said they stayed true to who they were, but I still would have liked to see them go a bit bigger for the Super Bowl.

I love The Who but this was bloody awful....

The Who are a Class Act. Their performance was flawless. A Classic Rock Band....THEY STILL ROCK!!! So much more talent than most modern bands and rappers.

Let's be real here. We all knew the WHO consisting of Pete and Roger would look older on stage. But, let's be honest, the band performed very very well. The show's choreography, the play of Zac on the drums, and the play of other band members performing with them far exceeded that of the Stones some years ago. Give the band its due! They rocked the place and deserve the credit of being "the halftime show band of Super Bowl 44". It was a great game and people will remember that the WHO rocked the Super Bowl while the Saints won the game....
Thanks Pete, Thanks Roger, and thanks to those now playing with the WHO for a great show........."We Won't Get Fooled Again" is now the song of the US and has been for years.....don't anyone forget its a WHO song!

You see why there are so many terrible artists selling millions of albums these days? Look at the people who are saying The Who sounded great. They must be tone deaf. Nothing against these guys, they are certainly very talented, but they were way off in the halftime show. Daltrey and Townshend's vocals were so off key that it hurt. I'm not criticizing them, just saying something was terribly wrong. Either they are just so out of practice, that they can't hit those notes anymore, or (more probable) they couldn't hear themselves. It's very possible that their monitors either weren't working or were unable to be heard over the crowd and pyro. Great band, good to see them still rocking, just a little painful last night.

The comments from Tim and Joe and their ilk make me laugh. Yes, everyone over the age of ... what? Your own? Should just crawl away and die, right? No place in this world for anyone who's not young, right? Because only young people live, love, laugh, create, make music - oh, wait, except that they do.

God help you if/when you reach, oh, 40 - since you consider old people worthless and not fit to be seen, you'll have to kill yourselves.

It's not the 'who', it's the why? Ageism has nothing to do with the lackluster choice, it's the fact that some marketing genius at CBS saw a potential two-fer by plugging a band they own stock in, due to their tired CSI franchise. Smart? For them maybe, but I doubt the millions of fans and viewers felt as overjoyed about the choice and performance as did the media who also have their hands in CBS's pocket. I would suggest that many felt robbed. The half-time show is supposed to be so much more than a marketing opportunity. Note to CBS: try to make it less obvious next time...at least for the fans. Note to journalists: Get your lips off CBS's back end, it's pathetic .

There were a couple times when Daltrey's voice wasn't synced-up with the video.

Must be the HD . . .

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