I’ve loved The Who for nearly thirty years now, having first been exposed to them by my sister’s vinyl copy of the “Meaty Beaty Big And Bouncy” compilation – fourteen moments of genius (yes, even “Boris The Spider”. Just). To me, they’ve always been one of the classic 60’s singles bands like The Kinks, with their albums being patchy in the 60’s and then a little too overblown for my tastes at times in the 70’s.
Due to My Beloved Wife’s absence with work, I had a fairly tight schedule, so after leaving the Boy Wonder in the capable hands of Nana and Grandad, I drove off into town. Driving to a gig is a real rarity for me, but as I didn’t have much time to spare either pre- or post-gig, and because of the lack of anything worth drinking at the Arena anyway, I decided on the car.
I got into the venue in time to catch most of the support act’s set, Slydigs. A gang of childhood friends from Warrington, they are a self-proclaimed “rock n roll band”, who played a highly competent batch of modern rock music with some American intonation in the vocals, all of which got a large portion of the crowd on side, but unfortunately failed to move me. I came in during “Get On It” off their “Down With The Mockery” ep, which was followed by “The Bitter End” and then “Bang Bang And My Bullet Was Gone”, which I suspect may not be about an actual gun. If you know wharrimean… They then did “Stiff Upper Lip”, the new single introduced as having garnered some Radio 2 airplay – not the station’s usual type of music. Their set ended with the slow burner “The Love That Keeps On Giving” that turned into a real guitar workout. I’m sure they’ll go on to do well, but they were just a bit too straight-down-the-line for me.
The Who were out on their “The Who Hits 50!” tour that promised ‘hits, picks, mixes and misses”, according to Pete Townshend, and they kicked things off by going all the way back to their very first single (excluding one release as The High Numbers), “I Can’t Explain” from December 1964, with Townshend starting as he meant to go on with some wind-milling action, with Roger Daltrey soon joining in with the mike swinging.
The big hits kept on coming – “Substitute”, “The Seeker”, an extended “Who Are You?” with its farty synths, “The Kids Are Alright” (with some great “Quadrophenia” footage on the big screen), and then “I Can See For Miles” with Zak ‘son-of-Ringo’ Starkey in fine form on drums, who has been working with the band for nigh on two decades now. Before “The Seeker”, Townshend played to the gallery by describing the city as the “centre of the known universe” and proclaiming it to be the only one with an airport with a “proper name”.
They confessed to having worked on their backing vocals since previous tours. Unfortunately, I think they’d worked on them too much, as they came across as a bit over the top at times to me. Roger was in fine vocal form throughout, perhaps over-extending himself as they’ve since had to cancel some later dates on the tour to rest his voice.
“Pictures Of Lily” and the immortal “My Generation” (with bassist Pino Palladino getting a rare outing on the big screen, along with some great black and white footage of the band from way back when) preceded the rarely-played but much beloved by me “So Sad About Us”. This was the first song of the night not to have been released as a single by the band (with all bar one having hit the Top 20). It was originally written for The Merseys, but I first came across it through The Jam’s cover version.
The band then moved firmly out of the 60’s into the 70’s and 80’s with “Behind Blue Eyes”, “You Better You Bet” and “Join Together”, with its jew’s harp and harmonica intro. It was then time to stray from the big hits, with Pete gamely singing “I’m One” off “Quadrophenia” despite his sore throat.
During “5:15”, another number off “Quadrophenia”, Townshend theatrically threw his guitar to the floor and stormed to the side of the stage – presumably just an affectation to recall his guitar-smashing antics of yore. A John Entwistle solo was mixed into the set from beyond the grave at this point, with the late bassist up on the big screen. Keith Moon then featured prominently during another track off the 1973 concept album, singing his parts to “Bell Boy”. The quad from “Quadrophenia” was completed by its closing track, “Love Reign O’er Me”.
Pete’s younger brother Simon was up on the big screen when singing the high parts to rarity “Naked Eye”, a very unusual moment when someone other than Pete, Roger or Zak was featured there.
The oddball mini-rock opera “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” proved that this is a song that rather over-reaches itself, but it was followed by a foursome from “Tommy”. “Amazing Journey” came before “Sparks” and “Pinball Wizard”, with its slightly changed lyrics of “that deaf, dumb and blind boy” (rather than “kid”). Pete managed to show his age by falling over during this number! The last from “Tommy” was “See Me, Feel Me”.
The show climaxed with “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from the classic 1971 album “Who’s Next”. As the band apparently don’t do encores (probably the only thing they really have in common with The Wedding Present, other than the instruments…), the final number was an extended bluesy psych version of one of my favourite tracks of theirs, “Magic Bus”. Despite only being two of the original foursome, The Who have still ‘got it’ as much as you can hope for from a pair aged 69 and 70.
I decided to honour The Who’s mod past by going for my yellow Stax Records t-shirt tonight. I didn’t get the chance to spot many other t-shirts, but I did spy several Who ones, most of which looked like they’d been around for a while, rather than just bought on the night.