The Who’s first major world tour in 20 years has been billed as "Uncut. Uncensored. Unrepentant."
And while singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend didn’t quite live up to that supercharged billing last night at the Air Canada Centre, the seminal ’60s British rock group’s two surviving original members definitely had their moments over the course of two hours.
Let’s not forget that Daltrey is now 62 years old and Townshend is 61 as the band moves past its fourth decade, farewell tours of the past notwithstanding.
So much for My Generation's anti-establishment refrain of "Hope I die before I get old!"
Still, both men remain powerful and passionate performers, delivering their trademark moves, whether it was Daltrey swinging his microphone around — even if his voice wasn't always there — or Townshend’s signature windmill guitar playing and scissor kicks in the air.
"As you can probably hear I've got a bit of a cold tonight," said Daltrey, by way of explaining his weakened vocals. "Between you and me, we'll get by and we'll have a great night."
Remarkably, Daltrey summoned up a mighty scream for the set-ending Won't Get Fooled Again, which came right before a Tommy-filled encore that included Pinball Wizard and See Me, Feel Me.
Ostensibly hitting the road again in support of The Who’s first studio album in 24 years — Endless Wire — Daltrey and Townshend have been around long enough to know it's the hits the fans come for.
Thus the lauded trio of I Can't Explain, The Seeker and Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere launched the sold-out evening while archive footage of the group, when it still included bassist JohnEntwistle, who died in 2002, and drummer Keith Moon, who passed away in 1978, played on a video screen.
And even though the band last played Toronto in 2002 as part of a mini-North American tour, shortly after Entwistle's death, there was more of a sense this time of looking back - Baba O’Riley was the night's thrilling standout — as much as looking forward.
Endless Wire's mini-opera was played along with other new songs like A Man In A Purple Dress, Black Widow's Eyes, Mike Post Theme and Tea & Theatre, which ended the entire show with just Daltrey and Townshend on stage playing acoustic guitar on stage.
Of the current Who backing line-up, it was Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey on drums who stood out, particularly during some monster playing on Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere, Baba O'Riley, Black Widow’s Eyes and Won't Get Fooled Again.
"Well, here we are again," said Townshend, who also demonstrated some exquisite guitar work on Who Are You, Eminence Front, My Generation, Cry If You Want To, Won't Get Fooled Again and Pinball Wizard.
"This is the probably the favourite city of mine in Canada. Partly because I love Toronto so much, partly because when I used to drink, I used to have such a good time here."
Meanwhile, enduring '80s act The Pretenders delivered a no-frills but polished opening 50-minute set with formidable frontwoman Chrissie Hynde still in top vocal form at age 55.
Decked out in a black top hat, white blazer with tails, jeans and boots, Hynde didn't let the small crowd gathered for the openers dampen her sharp performing style.
"It’s a great pleasure to be back in Toronto," said Hynde, the only remaining original band member along with drummer Martin Chambers. "I've always had a soft spot for this city."
Song highlights included Night In My Veins, Message Of Love, Don’t Get Me Wrong, Precious, My City Was Gone, Bob Dylan"s Forever Young, and Back On The Chain Gang — the last three tunes boasting nice guitar work from Adam Seymour, who's been in the band since 1994.