“Got a feeling ‘21 is going to be a good year,” sang Roger Daltrey two songs into the Who’s set at TD Garden on Wednesday night, and in the context of “Tommy,” it serves as dramatic irony, foreshadowing a family trauma that would shape the life of a deaf, dumb, and blind boy. But in the context of the world, now, outside of the rock opera, it served as just plain old irony — the Who winking at the brutal grind of the last two-plus years.
Or maybe it wasn’t. After all, the song came at the exact same point during the Who’s last Boston concert, at Fenway Park in 2019, part of the same “Tommy” suite during the same eight songs that opened the show. Both shows closed with the same eight songs as well (including a suite from “Quadrophenia”). The Who that showed up two years into the pandemic came to deliver largely the same show as the Who that showed up just before the pandemic.
That made it easy to compare the two shows, which didn’t favor Wednesday’s performance. The sound mix in the Garden was muddy and indistinct, providing neither the volume needed for impact nor the clarity necessary for richness of detail, which worked substantially to the detriment of the small orchestra onstage. There were no songs that predated “Tommy,” swapped out for a handful of mid-period standalone singles, including a propulsive “Relay” where, amid the bleeps, bloops, and keyboard squelches, Pete Townshend played a nearly inaudible guitar solo that seemed only to signify the mere idea of a solo.
But if sound can be tinkered with, voices can’t, and both Daltrey and Townshend — 78 and 77, respectively — were both in impressively good voice not noticeably wracked by age, unlike their once eye-popping, now perfunctory microphone twirls and windmill strums. Daltrey’s chesty bellow was strong in “Love, Reign O’er Me,” which was properly spacious and anthemic and possibly the best song of the night to incorporate both full band and the orchestra, whose strings stood in for the synthesizer. A charged “Who Are You” and a “Won’t Get Fooled Again” with a still-fiery breakdown and band return were close behind.
“Behind Blue Eyes” may have topped them all, with a lovely art-rock melancholy augmented by Katie Jacoby’s violin and Audrey Q. Snyder’s cello, which enriched the song by adding sympathetic new colors instead of simply smothering it with sound. So even at this late stage, there’s still a way for the Who to put different spins on classic material. But for the most part, as they showed at the Garden, they’re not gonna take it.
If the oppressive sound mix engulfed the Who, then opener Amythyst Kiah never had a chance. The moody, rootsy charms of her fine album “Wary + Strange” had their impact muted by sounding like a blanket had been thrown over her band. But with a voice that seemed to come not from her throat but from the pit of her stomach, she nearly overcame the murky Garden acoustics.
With Amythyst Kiah. At TD Garden, Wednesday.
Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @spacecitymarc.