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The Who put rock-opera songs front and center at Moody Center concert

Though they first left their mark in the 1960s with now-classic hits such as "My Generation" and "I Can See for Miles," The Who arguably cemented its future spot in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame with a dramatic turn toward rock operas. If that's what you've always loved the most about The Who's music, then Tuesday night's concert at the Moody Center was for you.

Backed by a 48-piece orchestra consisting primarily of musicians from Austin's jazz and classical communities, founding members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend marched through a two-hour set that began with a fair chunk from their 1969 opus "Tommy" and concluded with a half-hour of material from 1973's similarly ambitious "Quadrophenia."

The Who performs at the Moody Center in Austin on May 3, 2022.

The orchestra, Townshend explained just before the "Quadrophenia" section, was Daltrey's idea. "I was skeptical" at first, he admitted, wondering exactly how they'd manage to recruit dozens of players from each city on their tour to fill out the expansive crew of strings, horns, woodwinds and percussion. "But it's been such a joy," he concluded, adding that the extra musicians especially helped bring the "Quadrophenia" material to life.

Pete Townshend performs May 3 during The Who's show at the Moody Center.

That was clearly evident in the home stretch. Earlier in the set, the orchestra was often difficult to hear over The Who's core rock-band lineup (which included Pete's brother Simon Townshend on acoustic guitar, drummer Zak Starkey, keyboardist Loren Gold, bassist Jon Button and backing vocalist Billy Nichols). But the strings and horns got their moment on "The Rock," an extended instrumental that filled the arena with precisely the kind of musical grandeur that made The Who's rock-opera era so consequential.

Daltrey's powerhouse-vocal showcase "Love, Reign O'er Me" followed before a finale of the fan-favorite "Baba O'Riley" from "Who's Next," a landmark 1971 album that grew out of another abandoned rock-opera project. Just before the "Quadrophenia" section, they'd played the "Who's Next" staples "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," the latter energizing the audience with Daltrey's signature scream near the end.

Roger Daltrey gives his microphone a signature twirl May 3 during The Who's performance at the Moody Center.

As was the case when The Who last played Austin at the Erwin Center in 2015, the concert fell well short of selling out. After the Beatles and the Rolling Stones, The Who was arguably the next-biggest rock band to emerge from England in the 1960s — but its live draw in the 21st century doesn't compare to that of Paul McCartney or the Stones.

From the archives:Review of The Who's 2015 concert at the Erwin Center

Nevertheless, Daltrey and Townshend seem grateful to still be on the road in their 70s. "It's so great to see so many people come out and see us," Townshend said early in the set, just after they'd wrapped up a half-hour of highlights from "Tommy" that included almost all of the double-album's first side.

He acknowledged the newness of the Moody Center, which recently replaced the Erwin Center, site of the band's only two previous Austin appearances (the first was in 1980). "It sounds pretty good; I'm sure it will get better," he added, correctly assessing that the room's acoustics, while better than the Erwin Center, still could be improved.

More:A comprehensive look at UT's new Moody Center arena

Townshend also acknowledged Austin's reputation as a musical mecca, though he drew a hearty chorus of catcalls from the crowd when he added, "I think you probably could've done without Willie Nelson." He quickly backed up, saying "God bless the man!" (Whether or not Townshend is a fan of Nelson's music, he'd do well to follow Willie's lead in showing how performers can keep touring not just into their 70s, but their 80s.)

Touring violinist Katie Jacoby performs with local string players supporting The Who on May 3 at the Moody Center. The Who has been recruiting local musicians to play with their touring band in each city on the tour.

The orchestra — which featured touring violinist Katie Jacoby and cellist Audrey Q. Snyder, as well as conductors Keith Levenson and Emily Marshall — left the stage for most of a middle section that gathered a grab-bag of hits mostly from the 1970s and '80s, including "Join Together," "You Better You Bet" and "The Seeker." "You might have noticed the orchestra leaving; they're fed up," Townshend joked, but of course they returned a few songs later.

Related:5 Latin music shows to celebrate Cinco de Mayo in Austin

Tennessee singer-songwriter Amythyst Kiah opened the concert with a well-received half-hour set that featured songs from her 2021 album "Wary + Strange." Kiah earned a Grammy nomination for a song she wrote on a 2019 collaborative album with Rhiannon Giddens, Allison Russell and Leyla McCalla.

Amythyst Kiah opens for The Who on May 3 at the Moody Center.

She performed with a three-piece band that provided solid blues-folk-rock support throughout but kept the focus on Kiah's impressive lead vocals. "Thank you for giving the opener a chance, I appreciate it," she said before her last song, and the audience responded in kind with a hearty cheer.