The Who lives up to legacy of fire-powered rebellion

Sunday | Land's End Stage

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Olivia Jerram/Staff

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In the misty fog engulfing Golden Gate Park on Sunday evening, singer-songwriter and guitarist Pete Townshend walked onto Land’s End stage already beaming. “You’re wet! You’re all fucking wet — and we’re not wet!” he laughed as vocalist-guitarist Roger Daltrey stepped up to the mic and added: “But it won’t be long before we are!” All the while, Zak Starkey — son of Ringo Starr — pattered along on the drums, egging on the pair’s slightly stoned quips.

Rock legends Townshend and Daltrey are the two remaining original members of The Who, formed in 1964 in London, England. The band opened its Outside Lands set with “I Can’t Explain” off its first album, My Generation. While the set started off with a couple nicks and bumps, the band were later as on-point as ever, picking up an electrifying energy — and it had the crowd with it all the way. Even the mugs and cups waiting for them onstage were colored blue, red and white like the Union Jack the band proudly incorporates in its album covers, music videos and merchandise. Townshend wasted no time before jumping right into a mini guitar solo on a golden Fender during the first song of the night.

In a momentary break (so Daltrey could don his guitar), Townshend reminded the crowd of the many times The Who had been to San Francisco. The band was here for the Monterey Pop Festival in 1967 with Jimi Hendrix.

“There were a lot of men home from the Vietnam War, and a lot of them roaming around Haight-Ashbury smacked out on all kinds of shit — it was kind of sad in some ways. We don’t wanna go there again!” Townshend shouted over applause from the crowd, just before the band launched into “Who Are You,” from its 1978 album of the same name. Fans reached for the band even from hundreds of feet away from the stage.

Before “The Kids Are Alright,” also off its first album, it was Daltrey’s turn to share a moment with the crowd. He spoke of how, when the band first got started, he chose to throw himself fully into the music and leave everything else behind. The audience chuckled and cheered as Daltrey continued, “It worked out very well, touch wood it worked out.”

“I was very lucky that I met this bloke,” said Daltrey, gesturing to Townshend. Red and blue balloons bounced around bobbing heads in the crowd throughout the night as clips of the band’s earlier days lit the stage behind them.

“We hope the music has kept you warm — and the other shit you’ve been doing,” Townshend snickered. “This one is to keep you warmer,” he smiled as the band eased into “I Can See for Miles,” tapping into some ‘60s psychedelic vibes from its album The Who Sell Out.

“On the road, when I was 19, I was very, very, very angry,” Townshend stated, before blasting his guitar with the introductory riffs of The Who’s classic anthem, “My Generation” — letting his characteristic windmill arm rip round and round at his guitar again and again throughout the song — and throughout the night.

The band then slowed down a bit for “Naked Eye,” off 1971’s Who’s Next, but that lead into a guitar solo that brought back the impressively high energy the band managed to maintain throughout the night as the sun set far beyond Golden Gate Park.

As Townshend swapped his guitar for yet another Fender, he returned to mic and screamed, “This red guitar kills fascists!” — sparking loud and emphatic support from the crowd.

The band bounced from the slow ballad of “Behind Blue Eyes” — which showcased Daltrey’s continuing ability to sing softly and beautifully — to the rock ‘n’ roll “Bargain,” which the band described as a radio hit, but only after explaining what “radio” was.

Throughout the night, Daltrey tossed his mic into the air like a lasso with the greatest of ease,  wrapping the cord around himself and sending the mic flying around the stage — never once dropping it — even while pointing in time with the audience during “You Better You Bet.”

Neither Daltrey nor Townshend missed a beat throughout the night. Daltrey brought his superior vocals to the fore of the band’s performances again and again, together with Townshend’s top-notch riffs. But ultimately, the most emotional moment of the night was when Daltrey’s masterful howls rained over the crowd with the misty fog of the night during “Love, Reign o’er Me.”

Of course, nothing compares in energy to the legendary “Baba O’Riley” or “Won’t Get Fooled Again” — likely the band’s best known tracks. The stage lights dimmed to black before lighting up the park in red as the crowd sang along to “Baba O’Riley” and the organ-synth tapped into the peaking energy of the night. The crowd clapped in anticipation during the interlude of “Won’t Be Fooled Again,” fully aware of the vocal carnage afoot. Daltrey let out a heroic scream like it was 1971 — at the end of a two-hour-long set — sending the audience into a frenzy of glee and praise, lights shimmering all around them.

The band couldn’t close out the night without thanking each of its touring members, the city and each other. “Thank you for your pop tonight because I’m as high as a fucking kite,” laughed Daltrey, “So if you’ve had a senior moment out of me, I’ve got an excuse.”

The pair left the stage waving to the crowd, who stuck around to see the music legends skirt off with faces glowing in blue and red.

Contact Sophie-Marie Prime at [email protected].