Ross Raihala, Pop Music Critic
Pete Townshend skittered onto the stage Friday night at the Xcel Energy Center with all the presence of an aging roadie, followed closely by a black-clad Roger Daltrey. No grand entrance music, no falling curtains, no explosions — just the two surviving members of one of the most influential rock bands ever to walk the earth.
Modesty fits the Who these days, as they're out in support of "Endless Wire," the band's first new album in two dozen years. The 2002 death of bassist John Entwistle — not to mention losing drummer Keith Moon back in 1978 — resulted in a disc that tries both to recapture past glories (the thunderous "Mike Post Theme," the "Wire and Glass" mini opera) and explore stripped-down acoustic material (the vehemently anti-religion number "A Man in a Purple Dress"). It's also not that great — it's more admirable than listenable.
But stung by criticism that the Who had become just another nostalgia act, Townshend and Daltrey insisted on making "Endless Wire" the centerpiece of the current tour, meaning the 12,000 or so fans on hand Friday had a fair amount of unfamiliar material to navigate.
That wasn't the only hurdle. Daltrey announced from the stage he was suffering from bronchitis. And it must've been worse than he thought, as the band cut the show short by at least 20 minutes. Daltrey skipped the encore altogether, leaving Townshend alone to lead the confused crowd through a sing-along take on "My Generation."
Even at less than full strength, the Who still managed to impress with the requisite oldies, like "Who Are You," "Eminence Front" and "Baba O'Riley," the latter of which has turned into a showcase for powerhouse drummer Zak Starkey, the son of Ringo Starr who has been playing with the band for a decade now. And the "Endless Wire" stuff grew wings onstage, particularly the "Wire and Glass" mini-opera, which Townshend introduced with an odd little speech praising the Twin Cities' abundance of world-class theaters.
Still, one can't help but wonder if Daltrey should have just taken the night off and rescheduled the show, especially considering some people in the crowd paid $200 (or more, for VIP packages) per seat.
Openers the Pretenders, meanwhile, performed brilliantly, with a radiant and ageless Chrissie Hynde running through a hits-packed set that included terrific versions of "Middle of the Road," Bob Dylan's "Forever Young" and "Back on the Chain Gang," which she dedicated to her late bandmates (James Honeyman-Scott and Pete Farndon) as well as the Who's Moon and Entwistle.