Review — The Who Hits Back, Proving They’ve Still Got What It Takes to Rock an Arena

“So, we finally found you,” Pete Townshend greeted Denver. “1,000 miles from fucking anywhere. But it was worth looking for you.” And a nearly-sold-out Ball Arena returned the welcome with thunderous applause while the rock legends made themselves comfortable onstage. Taking a moment to praise the night’s explosively energetic opener, Townshend continued with a warning, “We start off slowly before we reach that kind of tempo,” before The Who eased the audience into the set with Tommy’s opener, “Overture.”

The Who Hits Back, 303 Magazine, Ball Arena, Alive Coverage

Boasting more than half a century of experience under their belts, the arena rock icons understand the formula for a good show better than most. Lights danced from the stage to the audience as the commanding sonics of the symphony on stage dominated the speakers. But amidst the orchestral boom, the band’s own instrumentals were lost, leaving only Roger Daltrey’s vocals to lead the rock opera.

With the grandeur of the violins soaring over the audience alongside Daltrey’s lilting accent, the enthusiastic frontman rallied the crowd with the forceful twirling of his microphone, extending its reach by extension of the cord. To combat any would-be critics, Townshend’s expert guitar found its footing and began to lead the charge, driving the rock show onward as the symphony continued to support The Who through several tracks off the 1969 album Tommy, including “1921” and “Sparks.”

The Who Hits Back, 303 Magazine, Ball Arena, Alive Coverage

As the set entered the peak of its first act, The Who was beginning to come into their own, bringing fans to their feet with the opening chords of “Pinball Wizard” — building the excitement of the crowd along with the growing energy of the song. While many took the opportunity of the growing intensity of the evening to get out of their seats and dance, others reluctantly sat at the request of neighboring concert-goers that weren’t willing to sacrifice their view of the stage for a fellow fan’s good time.

READ: The Who Celebrated 50 Years in One Night with Denver

Despite the dancing limitations imposed by their neighbors, many attendees couldn’t contain their joy, bouncing rambunctiously in their seats or migrating to any section that appeared to have an open seat where they could squeeze in. And as the symphony took a backseat to The Who, the legends progressed into “Who Are You,” proving to fans that they still boast the musical prowess and performance ability that launched them to international acclaim in the ’60s.

The Who Hits Back, 303 Magazine, Ball Arena, Alive Coverage

Bidding farewell to the orchestra, The Who transformed the operatic set into the arena rock show that fans had been waiting for — opening with soft introduction of “You Better You Bet,” fans barely had a moment to catch their breath before Daltrey’s explosive vocals tore out of the speakers like a bat out of hell. Taking advantage of the newfound space to breathe on stage and stretching out the pauses between songs with charming banter between bandmates, they commanded the full attention of the arena with the stage presence that only icons like The Who possess.

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Racing through a collection of tracks that live up to the tour’s name, “The Who Hits Back!” the self-proclaimed legacy act delivered on the hopes and expectations of its intergenerational fanbase. And while the Coors’ taps may have been flowing a little too freely, the imbibement only served to enhance the experience, making it easy to overlook onstage mishaps or obnoxious seat neighbors.

Closing out the evening with the support of the orchestra, The Who rocked Ball Arena with the force of a big band sound that only a full symphony can provide. Though the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle may poison some acts like bad apples, others, like The Who, simply age like good whiskey. While some may have found room to criticize, the rock legends know the secret to giving a great show. “The Who Hits Back” gave fans the arena rock show experience they came for — and at the end of the day, that’s what truly makes a show most memorable.

The Who Hits Back, 303 Magazine, Ball Arena, Alive Coverage

All photography by Andrew Rios and Alive Coverage.