Tuesday, 10 February 2015

Live Review: The Who – Birmingham by Matt McCrory

When asked to name some of the most influential bands in rock and roll history, you’ll be hard-pressed to come up with a list that doesn’t contain The Who. One of the seminal bands of the twentieth century, they helped popularise the power chords, synthesizers and distortion found throughout today’s Rock Music. Revolutionary albums like Tommy, Quadrophenia and Who’s Next accompanied the destruction of guitars, hotel rooms and, to an extent, themselves, on the road to rock and roll stardom. A panoply of genres, ranging from punk to Britpop, owe their values directly to them. Very few bands as prominent as The Who are still touring today, and even fewer are touring as convincingly and confidently. 

Daltrey, Townshend and the rest of the band take to the stage. No music plays in the background, their entrance is simply sound-tracked by the applause of the audience. The band take a moment to look out over the packed arena. “For the last ever time” Townshend says softly to the others, before launching into ‘I Can’t Explain’, the first single ever released by The Who, and one that they’ve been playing since 1964. With a career spanning half a century, the audience crosses multiple generations and it’s great to be part of such a diverse and unified crowd of people. ‘I look pretty young but I’m just backdated’, Daltrey sings with a knowing smile on the second song of the set, ‘Substitute’. 

They start the night with a number of older hits. ‘The Seeker’, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ and ‘I Can See For Miles’ all make appearances. The last of these songs is introduced by guitarist Pete Townshend as ‘probably the best song that I’ve ever written’. A show from a 50-year-old band is bound to be retrospective, and at this early point in the night, The Who perform in front of a backdrop showing visuals of the band in the 60s and 70s. Images of a younger Daltrey and Townshend, as well as of deceased members, Keith Moon and John Entwistle, contrast with the figures on stage. (PHK: It was also great to hear them play 'So Sad About Us' and mini-opera, 'A Quick One'.)

This string of early numbers makes it clear that The Who not only plan to pay homage to their early career, but also show that they’re still hitting as hard as they did in the 60s. This is exemplified by Daltrey, ‘well who the fuck are you?’ he sneers atop a wall of distorted guitar chords and bass riffs on The Who’s seminal rock anthem ‘Who Are You’. 

A diverge into Quadrophenia provides such hits as ‘I’m One’ and ‘Love, Reign O’er Me’. During ‘5:15’, a song that harks back to the mod-culture of the 1960s, the band steps back to allow for footage taken from a show at the Royal Albert Hall of late bassist John Entwistle back in 2000. Daltrey and Townshend pay a similar tribute to ex-drummer Keith Moon on the following track, ‘Bell Boy’, with Moon’s original recorded vocals backed by the live band. This is a well-polished portion of The Who’s set, perhaps due to their recent tour of Quadrophenia in 2013. 

Next the band transition into their other rock opera, Tommy. Some rousing highlights of the night are the fantastic guitar-work from Townshend on ‘Pinball Wizard’ and the emotive performance of ‘See Me, Feel Me’ from Daltrey. The Who manage to compress two full length rock operas into the brevity of just four songs each, allowing for fan favourites to appear alongside story-driven tracks like ‘Amazing Journey’ and ‘Sparks’. 

To finish their two-hour, 20+ song set, The Who play a trio of classics to a crowd in standing ovation. During ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ the band is drowned out by stage lighting, giving a divine, powerful feel to the songs. Townshend’s distorted guitar and Daltrey’s exemplary vocal performance on ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ are nothing short of inspiring. Roger introduces the final song, as ‘probably our most requested track’, which Townshend jokes as being 1966 B-side ‘Boris the Spider’. In actuality the band break into ‘Magic Bus’, providing an up-beat end to the night. After the slightly sour note of Townshend’s off-mic confrontation with a front row heckler (PHK: I was in the front row directly in front of Townshend and this was just light-hearted banter with someone shouting "Pete - I'm your biggest fan", which he took in good spirit and shouted back a few lines saying he loved him too"), the band leave the stage. 

Playing at the Barclaycard Arena, The Who show that 50 years into their career they can still impress each member of a 12,000 strong crowd. It proves a nostalgic night that looks back at the legacy of the band, providing classic anthems, but leaves space for some lesser known album tracks. Put simply, this was a gig that covered both the quality and depth of one of the most inspiring careers in rock and roll history.

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