Elvis Costello and The Who

Wall Street Journal: Jon Friedman: 4th March, 2013. Photograph Joe Papeo.

I saw a good old-fashioned battle of the bands recently at The Theater at Madison Square Garden.

First Elvis Costello and the Imposters played a dynamic set for 40 minutes. The Who followed them and performed for a little more than hour, in the final gig of their Quadrophenia tour.

It was a heavyweight matchup of iconic British music acts, both Rock and Roll Hall of Famers. Costello sang and played with a passion that was missing in most of the Who’s technically proficient set. Costello’s long-time band mates, keyboard whiz Steve Nieve, drummer Pete Thomas and bass player Davey Faragher all played with flair and joy.

The so-called “Who Cares” concert was a benefit for the Who’s recently established Teen Cancer America charity and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center. Tickets ranged in price from $125 to $1,000.

Costello is a world-class crowdpleaser. I’ve seen him perform many times since his first U.S. tour in late 1977 and he has always managed to do something memorable. In this show, he turned the clock back to his early glory days of 1977-1979. He and the band played a segue of “Lipstick Vogue” into “Watching the Detectives,” a highlight of their late 1970s concerts. Costello added a jazzy arrangement of “Everyday I Write the Book” and, for old time’s sake, did crunching versions of “High Fidelity,” “Pump It Up” and “(What’s So Funny ‘Bout) Peace, Love, and Understanding.”

To put a punctuation mark on their set, Costello and the Imposters concluded by playing a version of the Who’s classic song “Substitute.”

The Who played their radio-friendly hits — “Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley” and others.

On their last number, “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Townshend danced across the stage, and Daltrey unleashed his signature scream. Until then, the best thing about the Who’s set was the drumming of Zak Starkey.

Townshend also did his patented windmill motion with his guitar and by the end of the show, Daltrey’s shirt was largely unbuttoned.

The bands battled, but nostalgia won the night.

Click here for more information on Teen Cancer America Charity

Click here for more information on the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Center