When Pete Townshend walked onstage, he thanked the crowd while mentioning he wasn’t sure The Who would ever play Madison Square Garden again. There was a palpable sense of joy in the air of the World’s Most Famous Arena on Thursday, May 26th as the band, augmented by a full orchestra, dove into “Overture”, and began a half hour journey through Tommy.
With Roger Daltrey shaking a tambourine the group swelled with orchestral heavy metal for “Amazing Journey” before a nimble version of “Sparks”. The first full-on singalong started during “Pinball Wizard” as the arena bounced, leading seamlessly into “We’re Not Gonna Take It” which expertly deployed brass hits and a cathartic crescendo. The musicians exhaled for the first time, but the energy did not lapse as they dropped into “Who Are You” with Zak Starkey banging out the famous drum parts.
With the orchestra augmenting the funk of NYC favorite “Eminence Front” Townshend ran up and down the fretboard, before the new “Ball and Chain” and crowd aided “Join Together” echoed through The Mecca. The orchestra exited after, allowing the core group to deliver an acoustic version of “The Seeker” which Townshend mentioned was written in the 60’s down in the swamps of Florida. “You Better You Bet” saw the best guitar solo from Townshend on the night as the Garden erupted for the mega “Won’t Get Fooled Again” as Daltrey was in soaring form. “Relay” and a subdued offering of “Behind Blue Eyes” turned contemplative as the smaller core group wrapped up their mini mid-show set.
After a nod to fallen comrade John Entwistle, the orchestra returned for a five-song run through the peak operatic moments of Quadrophenia. Bassist Jon Button nimbly delivered the fills on the smoking “Real Me” before the sweeping grandeur of “I’m One” and the balls out rocking of “5:15” which was one of the few songs on the night which featured a mini jam, deviating from the albums tight tension. “Love, Reign O’re Me” ended the main set with images of the Ukrainian war, September 11th terrorist attacks, and various chaos screaming from the video screens as the outfit got seriously heavy to close the proceedings.
The night ended with one of the greatest all-time arena rockers “Baba O’Riley” as Katie Jacoby danced with gypsy flair around the stage delivering a fiddle solo that ricocheted throughout the venue. Daltrey took an extra moment to blame Pete, stating this was all his fault, as the man who wrote so many timeless songs that were delivered with grace and power on this night in New York City.