MIAMI GARDENS — Much like a sly ol' football coach playing up a star's "injury," only to unleash him healthy and hellbent come game time, the Who's Pete Townshend has been groaning lately that he's too old to pull off his classic "windmill" maneuver.
But during his band's 12-minute Super Bowl gig on Sunday at Sun Life Stadium — a set that started static but grew louder, looser — the 64-year-old gunslinger busted out that guitar swipe so many times, I thought his arm would sail into the stands.
At the end of Who Are You, one of five songs referenced and riffed, Townshend was windmilling so hard (and putting raw tone into his licks), he could have powered small nations.
Not to be outdone, singer Roger Daltrey, 65, famously whip-cracked his microphone like a lion tamer.
The Brits didn't move much, but they weren't dead, either.
When the Who was announced as this year's intermission entertainment, there wasn't a whole lot of buzz about the pick. Heck, I interviewed Daltrey about it, and even he wasn't all that stoked. "If it were a soccer game, I'd be more honored," he said with a laugh.
But although they didn't come close to topping classic halftime shows by Prince and U2, the Who made for a chummy sing-along. Playing on a strobing sunburst, and with pyro smoking up the joint, the band (featuring Ringo's kid on drums) opened with a rather tepid Pinball Wizard. Baba O'Riley was an old folks wasteland at first, but Daltrey saved the finale with boozy harmonica.
Then it picked up: Who Are You was gritty, cool, the stadium sounding like a sea of owls as it hooted the chorus. And a snippet of See Me, Feel Me was the perfect slow-tempo setup for the closing thunder of Won't Get Fooled Again.
Did Daltrey pull off that guttural shriek? Yes he did. Did Townshend windmill until the very last note? And how. Not too bad for a broken old man.