The Who's legendary rockers Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend could easily have tumbled into the nostalgia-trap for their The Who Hits 50 tour. Grumble through the hits, throw a windmill strum or two, twirl the mic and harvest cash.
It's almost to be expected from 70-something musicians who have spent more than a half century on stage.
But The Who like to smash expectations and the two remaining members of Great Britain's pioneering band revealed a vibrant intensity in a near-perfect display Tuesday at the Pepsi Center.
Oh, they played the hits, packing 20 tunes into a sonorous 130-minute set. But Townshend, 70, and his longtime cohort Daltrey, who is 72, displayed the vigor of 30-year-olds, but with more gratitude than attitude. Sweating through their shirts, the pair - backed by six band mates - kept a not-young crowd on its feet for the duration, with nearly every tune celebrated with riotous applause.
Despite this being the 13th show of the band's make-up tour after Daltrey fell seriously ill last fall, neither Townshend nor Daltrey sounded ragged, a near miracle for musicians with many decades of wailing under their belts. Townshend called Denver "Lucky 13."
They each nailed their apex notes and frolicked like when they were kids. While they didn't smash their guitars, there was plenty of windmilling by Townshend, who pounded thunder from his Torino Red Fender Stratocaster. From the opening "Who Are You" to the rolling "Won't Be Fooled Again" closer, Townshend amplified why he belongs in the most hallowed hall of rock's innovative virtuosos, reaching screaming peaks and lofting subtle melodies. (He even slid the neck of his strat along his mic stand in "Amazing Journey" for a resounding peal.)
Daltrey, his curly locks just perfect, was on point at nearly every juncture, nailing seven-second high notes and twirling his microphone like a drum major in a fiery "Reign O'er Me."
Keymen Loren Gold and John Corey carried plenty of weight in the vocals department, working with the band's mandolin-plucking music director Frank Simes and Townshend's little brother Simon to elevate Beach Boy-level harmonization. Gold and Corey were pitch-perfect in "Behind Blue Eyes" and their harmonies covered for Daltrey as he paced toward the climactic "best I ever had" howl of "Bargain." Simon floated his brother's emotional growl in the acoustic "I'm One."
Videos played behind the band, guiding the vibe. Townshend's haunting "The Rock" featured historic yet dark clips while mesmerizing wave patterns wove into the ripping "Eminence Front." Sometimes the cameras would capture the Pepsi Center crowd, mixing it with black-and-white footage of the band from 50-plus years ago.
Daltrey and Townshend reminisced a bit too. They talked about their original band, The Detours, and their history playing Denver, which began in 1970 at Mammoth Gardens on Colfax.
"You were great then and you're great now," Daltrey said.