The Who wore black at the Tweeter Center on Saturday, and their humor matched their attire.
"John Entwistle, wherever you are, get well soon," Pete Townshend said during a galvanic performance before a sold-out crowd, to the bassist who died last month at 57 of a cocaine-triggered heart attack just as the band was about to head out on tour.
Townshend acknowledged that Entwistle's last-minute replacement, Pino Palladino, had "saved our bacon." And he introduced drummer Zak Starkey as the replacement for "another Who corpse," Keith Moon, who died in 1978.
The British guitarist, 57, referred to himself and singer Roger Daltrey, 58, as "two ripe [guys] who refuse to quit." And Daltrey wondered: "Who will be the last one standing?"
But neither Daltrey nor Townshend is ready for the reaper yet. The buff vocalist still struts like a cock of the walk and bellows like nobody's business. He may be a dinosaur, but his vein-popping roars in "Love Reign O'er Me" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" would scare the bejesus out of a tyrannosaurus.
Daltrey is a working-class trouper who never fails to put in an honest night's labor. The quality of a Who experience turns on the diffident Townshend, the rock intellectual who has spent a career tying himself in knots over being a grown man whose great subject is male adolescent sexual confusion and rage.
I've been going to Who shows for 20 years, and I've never seen Townshend as wholly engaged as he was Saturday. When the band regrouped in 1996 - after first "retiring" in 1983 - Townshend played acoustic guitar behind a plastic partition, letting his brother Simon handle the heavy stuff. In Camden, Simon was again on board, as was longtime keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick.
But Pete was on fire. Maybe he was determined to flip off naysayers, sick of hearing "Bargain" on Nissan ads, who figured another greatest-hits tour, begun days after Entwistle's death, was a crass money grab.
In any case, he came out windmilling through a trio of '60s singles - "I Can't Explain," "Substitute," "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere." And he didn't let up, ripping into each tune like your crazy uncle with a new reason to live.
With plenty of fans not half his age singing along, the set covered the catalog, with Who's Next epics, a Quadrophenia suite, obscure '70s gems ("Relay"), and a soaring, climactic Tommy medley encore.
Was Entwistle missed? Hardly. Palladino's fingers may not be as thunderous, but he's monstrously proficient. And his fills on an unabashed "My Generation" filled the Ox's shoes. To rephrase an unplayed Townshend song: "John Entwistle is dead. Long live rock!"
Robert Plant, 54, mixed reworked Led Zeppelin warhorses with selections from the new Dreamland such as a gorgeous rendition of Tim Buckley's "Song to the Siren." It was a graceful performance but paled in comparison to what was to follow.