"You're a long way away, but we’ll fucking reach you" shouts Roger Daltrey to the general admission throng stranded far away from the stage. This may be a 50th anniversary farewell tour for The Who, but both he and guitarist Pete Townshend, now in their 70s, show little sign of mellowing.
Fire cracker ‘I Can’t Explain’ sparks the show into life. Four decades on from its release, there are still few others riffs that can instil such bohemian, mod fuelled, life affirming urgency. Tonight’s crowd, visibly grey but surrounded by sprinklings of youth, go wild.
‘Who Are You’ quickly follows – Daltrey’s voice defying age. He then introduces ‘Kids Are Alright’, but incorrectly dedicates it to Paul Weller. Townshend swiftly pulls him up, “Weller’s is the next song”; “sorry”, laughs Daltrey, “these days I do the list every night and then forget it - we’re getting to that stage”, tongue firmly much in cheek. Never a chart-topper, ‘Kids…’ remained an anthem for Mod subculture and Townshend ultimately dedicates it to his bandmates, both alive and dead.
When Weller’s request, ‘Pictures of Lily’, is finally played, Townshend takes a moment to explain the importance of The Jam in maintaining the culture The Who fought for. “I know some of you weren’t even conceived when these songs were released, but don’t let anyone ever tell you you’re too young to enjoy this stuff!”. The comments reinforce the sense that this tour, including a headline set at Glastonbury this weekend, is being done for the love of the songs, and keeping the sound alive, as much as any monetary motivation.
Townshend seems to particularly revel in the moment, the famous windmill guitar move spinning into overdrive on a sumptuously rock and ready amalgamation of ‘Amazing Journey/Sparks’. For a band with such a vast back catalogue, including two rock operas, medleys become the only option when faced with a two hour curfew. This sees Quadrophenia given a particularly select outing, with only two songs played, but Daltrey comes into his own on ‘Love Reign O’er Me’. The vocals still outstanding.
Of course ‘My Generation’ gets an outing, but the night ends with ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, a perfect antithesis to this latest Thatcher inspired government. Daltrey and Townshend, always of the extreme left, give hip snapping gusto, and even the occasional jump.
“50 years is a bloody long time” Daltrey remarks. And yet that bloody rock and roll just won’t lie down. Age is nothing for these guys, who tonight taught a few a lesson about how to grow old, both gracefully and disgracefully.