The Who, fronted by lead singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend, rocks the Santa Barbara Bowl stage on Thursday. (Steve Kennedy / Noozhawk photo)

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The Who stands tall in the pantheon of the great rock-and-roll bands of all time. They are placed on that alter with other British greats such as The Beatles, The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin.

The Who played one of the most anticipated rock shows in Santa Barbara history last Thursday. The band has played for 50 years and sold more than 100 million albums, and was slotted to play a “warm-up” show before their appearance at the Desert Trip in Indio.

When the show was first announced, it was almost unbelievable that a band of the caliber of The Who would play in such an intimate venue as the 4,600-seat Santa Barbara Bowl. Of course, the tickets sold out immediately even with top prices selling for as much as $340 with fees per seat. This was one show not to be missed.

A huge tip of the cap has to be given to Goldenvoice, Moss Jacobs and the Santa Barbara Bowl staff for pulling off this major musical event. When the Santa Barbara Bowl switched to Goldenvoice promotions this year, it gave them the opportunity to access major acts through the AEG Live worldwide promotional networks. We are seeing this come to the forefront with bands playing the Bowl around events like Coachella and the Desert Trip, which features six of the most iconic acts in rock-and-roll history. Landing The Who was a huge gold star moment for the Santa Barbara Bowl and Goldenvoice.

With all the hype that had built up to this evening, you could sense the anticipation in the air. There was a buzz, an energy of something exciting about to go off. It was time to rock! As lead singer Roger Daltrey put it, “We are not a rock-‘n’-roll band, we are a rock band!”

Roger Daltrey’s voice, even through all of the years, sounded great.

Roger Daltrey’s voice, even through all of the years, sounded great. (Steve Kennedy / Noozhawk photo)

The British rockers opened up the night with “Can’t Explain” and really got the show rolling with “Seeker” and “Who Are You.” It was one of those nights when it seemed the crowd knew the words to every song, after song, after song. Even the security staff were singing along.

The set list was a relentless barrage of rock music’s most hallowed tunes, classics spanning several decades. The band delivered hit after hit like a heavyweight boxer going for the knockout punch. They sounded loud, clean and tight as they played with delight and a youthful enthusiasm.

Pete Townshend played Fender Stratocasters and donned a Gison acoustic for “I’m One.” Daltrey played a Gibson acoustic, harmonica and tambourines. His voice, even through all of the years, sounded great. He shrilled when he needed to and brought it low at times. He didn’t miss a beat, except for one hilarious moment when he tripped on some microphone chords and fell flat on the stage. After the song was over, Townshend was examining what happened and exclaimed, “You tripped over a bit of rubber that was put there to keep you from tripping.” Everyone had a good laugh. The singer was fine, and it provided a light moment that really seemed to loosen the vibe.

The legendary Townshend talked often between songs, telling stories about previous visits to Santa Barbara, including hanging out and doing drugs with Joe Walsh, the great Eagles guitarist. He reminisced about playing golf on an oceanside course and shooting a score of 186. He dedicated a song to past rockers who have died of drugs, including their late bandmate, bassist John Entwistle. He died in Las Vegas on the eve of an American Who tour in 2002.

The musical genius of Townshend was on display the entire show, from straight rock classics that defined the ’60s mod culture to his more intricate rock operas. He is renowned for his composition of rock opera music. He performed it like a conductor of a symphony, using the sounds and emotions while conveying the angst of an edgy young rocker. Let’s not forget his famous windmill strumming, which he incorporated many times during the course of the show.

Pete Townshend incorporated his famous windmill strumming during the show.

Pete Townshend incorporated his famous windmill strumming during the show. (Steve Kennedy / Noozhawk photo)

Normally in a concert there are solid songs, even great classics with some nice highlights mixed in, but this night and this band, it was highlight after highlight — an incredible examination of The Who’s iconic history.

At the twilight of their illustrious careers, Townshend at age 71 and Daltrey at age 72, rocked the socks off the Santa Barbara Bowl. The show may have been seen by some as a warm-up to the much ballyhooed Desert Trip, but they let it rip, giving the fans their money’s worth. The 2 1/2-hour show accompanied by a killer 23-song set list showed the historic nature of this event. This show won’t soon be forgotten in the archives of the Santa Barbara Bowl.

Set list*

» Can’t Explain

» Seeker

» Who Are You

» The Kids Are Alright

» I Can See for Miles

» My Generation

» Behind Blue Eyes

» Bargain

» Join Together

» You Better You Bet

» 5.15 Short Ending

» I’m One

» The Rock

» Love Reign Over Me

» Eminence Front

» Amazing Journey

» Sparks

» Acid Queen

» Pinball Wizard

» See Me Feel Me

» Listening to You

» Baba O’Riley

» Won’t Get Fooled Again

(*set list from Daltrey’s on-stage copy)

Steve Kennedy is a Noozhawk contributor. The opinions expressed are his own.

The British rockers gave the audience their money’s worth with a 23-song set list.

The British rockers gave the audience their money’s worth with a 23-song set list. (Steve Kennedy / Noozhawk photo)