Mark Brown, Rocky Mountain News
It doesn't matter what name you put on it. It doesn't matter how much dazzling video and multimedia surrounds it all.
In the end, fans of The Who simply want to be there when the spark happens - when Roger Daltrey sings Pete Townshend's song while Pete blasts through his singularly amazing guitar work that helped define the face of rock 'n' roll.
But each time The Who comes around, you have to wonder: Can they still pull it off? And invariably they do.
They have in the past, with the last two Denver shows being among the most high-energy performances of recent years. But at the Pepsi Center on Tuesday night they broke away from being any sort of nostalgia act, bringing a slate of songs from their new album Endless Wire that were warmly received by the crowd.
"Keep your teeth in," Townshend warned the crowd when introducing new material. "You'll need them later."
Combining new songs with jaw-dropping versions of Who classics, the band gave the crowd two solid hours of peak after peak.
Perhaps it's the new music that -fueled the spark this time; Town-shend (windmilling early and often) and Daltrey delivered the new stuff with as much passion as anything else in the evening.
But that seemed to spill over into the classics. Who Are You? is a song I could happily never hear again in my life because of radio overkill, but Tuesday night's version was an essential, over-the-top version that sent the crowd soaring.
Even the tired Behind Blue Eyes came off with more energy than expected (still, it's a song that could easily be retired for a few tours).
After a mini-opera mash-up of songs from the new album, The Who paid the crowd off with a spine-tingling version of Baba O'Riley (or Teenage Wasteland, as the large number of teens in the crowd call it). Baba O'Riley has always been a signature song for the band, but as the years go on it gets more dear, to the point where it has replaced Substitute or even Won't Get Fooled Again as the band's crowning achievement.
Then again, much of the catalog has aged well. Eminence Front's guitar fury was largely unnoticed on the It's Hard album, garnering limited FM play. You Better You Bet was looked at as a sellout when it appeared on Face Dances. Both were more highlights in Tuesday's show.
Bassist Pino Palladino is a far more than adequate replacement for the late John Entwistle, but drummer Zak Starkey is, again, a wonder. He channels the late Keith Moon's manic drumming style, without being an imitator or a parody, and adapts it to the new material as well. It's not Moon, but easily the next best thing.
Also on the bill were The Pretenders, another great purveyor of classic British pop and rock (yes, I know Chrissie Hynde is from Ohio). Starting nearly 20 years after The Who, the band still taps into the sensibilities that informs both bands' best work.
Hynde was in particularly good voice, and the band was lively. After a somewhat slow start, the set took off after guitarist Adam Seymour took several ripping solos in My City Was Gone, prompting even Hynde to good-naturedly comment on his ferocity.
The band played long into the night, with a reworked version of My Generation before finishing off the main set with a blistering take of Won't Get Fooled Again, yet another Who song that has taken on new cultural resonance in recent years. The crowd clapped along in giddy anticipation for the signature drum roll and Daltrey's scream. They weren't disappointed, with Daltrey nailing it. Townshend and Daltrey left the stage after wrapping their arms around each other, a moment that drew the biggest cheers of the night. Townshend also gave a shout-out to the band's road crew, which managed to get to Denver despite weather that closed I-70 and threatened to cancel the show.
That left the crowd frenzied for the encore — a mini-set of songs that are the heart and soul of Tommy, which many still consider The Who's most defining and groundbreaking album. Pinball Wizard was a delight, but there's nothing quite like hearing the band doing the See Me Feel Me/Listening to You climax with the crowd singing along.