Pete Townshend's first windmill of the night last night at the Pepsi Center came during "The Real Me." Seeing the famous windup in person is an entirely different experience from merely listening to Townshend's fretwork on the recordings, which is exciting and energetic in its own right. Live, though, you can see the passion and conviction in his face. This isn't the same band from the '60s and '70s that played with reckless abandon, obviously, but Townshend and company still offered a solid performance of some of the finest rock of the last five decades.
The first section of the show comprised Quadrophenia in its entirety. The album was probably nearly impossible to reproduce live in times past without extensive personnel. But with samples, sequencing and integrating that all with a richly visual multimedia side, this presentation of the album in its live glory made for an impressive affair all around.
The remaining members of the iconic band seemed to embrace their past with a loving tastefulness: Through live footage and photographs of the band over the years, including its deceased original members, John Entwistle and Keith Moon, we were treated to a video collage of the band's own story told not in words, but images. During "Bell Boy," Moon made a bit of an appearance to do his vocals from behind the drum kit -- in film, anyway. No hologram, just an especially well-shot bit of footage of that song being performed shortly after the album's release.
Maybe the guys weren't exactly acrobatic and jumping around like the yobs of old, but Daltrey sang as though he was reconnecting with the emotions that informed the songs so long ago, while Townshend played with a focused intensity that gave his performance a conviction that many bands would do well to bring to their own material. The band was masterful (granted, probably also well practiced and experienced) in layering the sound and turning the dynamics precisely to flow with the music. They made it look easy.
After the set of Quadrophenia songs, Townshend told us they wouldn't be doing a lot of skiing or hiking or smoking dope in the mountains this time around, but he said he remembered back when they did all of that, and he then went on to say that Denver keeps getting better and better and better and pointed our how lucky we are to live here. With that, he introduced the rest of the band, which included Scott Devours, who is filling in for the injured Zak Starkey. Townshend joked that Devours performed perfectly for the first show but that he's been fucking up ever since. For his part, Devours proved to be one of the most impressive performers on stage this night.
The final six songs were some of the band's most beloved numbers, including "Who Are You," a song many of us have heard for a good chunk of our lives, if not our entire lives. Here, though, it seemed like a brand-new song because the band was right there. "Behind Blue Eyes," "Pinball Wizard" and "Baba O'Riley" also got impressive turns from the band. During "Baba O'Riley," as streams of numbers and code appeared on the screens, Townshend came in with his first power chord, and it sounded godlike in its power. Maybe it was the way it sonically contrasts with the synth, but it made for a thrilling moment. At the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again," Daltrey let out the classic, nearly heart-stopping primal shriek as the song came back in from the synth interlude.
The show ended with "Tea & Theatre," a track from the band's 2006 album Endless Wire, with the rest of the band leaving the stage to just Daltrey and Townshend for an affectionate farewell to the crowd. Earlier, when the whole band was bowing after its performance, there was a look of such genuine gratitude in Townshend's face that it moved you. And that sincerity is really what seemed to inform the whole show.
The opening band, Vintage Trouble, was the kind of soul and R&B-inflected rock and roll band that should be opening for the Who, those self-styled exemplars of "Maximum R&B." Ty Taylor cut a charismatic figure who had no trouble coming down into the crowd off the stage at the Pepsi Center -- something very few performers ever seem to do.
Taylor's vocals had a kind of gospel vibe to them, and his range as a singer set him apart from many that try their hand at the kind of blues rock and soul thing, making what was already a solid set of music even more compelling. For its part, Vintage Trouble played like it owned the room, and for its roughly half-hour set, it didn't make you wonder when the heck the Who were coming on.
Personal Bias: I've been a fan of the Who since finding out about them in the '70s and then becoming a more conscious fan by the late '80s.
Random Detail: Ran into former Rasputina drummer Melissa Bell and Sleepers singer/bassist Kathryn Ellinger at the show.
By the Way: I hadn't been to the Pepsi Center for years because of the detached feel of the show and what always seemed like a lackluster live sound. Tonight was pretty much the opposite of that.
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