LIVE REVIEW: The Who @ Metro Radio Arena, Newcastle (9.12.14) | NARC. | Reliably Informed | Music and Creative Arts News for Newcastle and the North East

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“In the beginning we didn’t think it would last a week,” Roger Daltrey quipped a short way through The Who’s two-and-a-half-hour set. “And yet here we are. Two weeks later and we’re still together. That’s what it feels like, anyway.” There was a distinct sense in the air that despite everything The Who have been through since forming – in-fighting, two deaths, drugs – they’re a band united. On the strength of their set on their 50th Anniversary Hits tour, it’s also difficult to see them ever stopping.

Before the veteran rockers came on to the stage, the Arena was blessed by the presence of modern Geordie heroes Maximo Park. Paul Smith and co. only had 45 minutes to impress their audience and were well aware of the fact that everyone was there for The Who. Nevertheless, they put in an incredibly energetic performance that covered all four of their albums, from A Certain Trigger (rapidly approaching its own tenth anniversary) to their most recent, Too Much Information.

Paul Smith explained some of the reasoning behind the songs; personally, the story about The National Health being inspired by passengers on a train playing rubbish music too loud (something everyone has had to put up with) was the most illuminating. They dedicated Apply Some Pressure – still one of their most rousing songs – to Nick Talbot of Gravenhurst, who sadly passed away last week, a touching and genuine gesture. As ever, Smith bounced around the stage kicking the air and strutting confidently like a Geordie Jagger.

As Smith pointed out though, the majority of the crowd were eagerly anticipating the main attraction. Daltrey and Pete Townshend were joined on stage by Zak Starkey (son of Ringo) on drums, Pino Palladino on bass and a wealth of other talented musicians and as soon as Townshend launched into the opening riff of I Can’t Explain, it was obvious it was going to be a glorious night. Across the span of the two and a half hours, The Who covered a wealth of material and proved that they’re worthy of the title of one of the country’s most iconic bands thanks to renditions of I Can See For Miles, Substitute, Behind Blue Eyes and Pictures of Lily.

The banter between Daltrey and Townshend added a great deal of colour to the night; the pair take the audience by the hand as they travel through their hits, adding slivers of info on how the songs came about. In Townshend’s case, many of these stories were delivered with a dose of acidic venom and a dose of wit. He’s well aware that he’s getting on and mocks himself as much as the audience. After picking up on fans’ cries of “come on Pete,” he wonders why the fans are so desperate to see him in particular: “why not come on Roger? Or come on Zak? All I can do is this,” he says, performing his signature windmill move. “Oh, and this. Play a tune Zak,” he remembers, before doing a quick shuffling dance to Starkey’s drumming. It’s not the scissor kicks of yore but it was difficult not to think that he himself realises this and was taking the mick somewhat.

roger daltrey

The Who covered a wealth of material and proved that they’re worthy of the title of one of the country’s most iconic bands

Bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon weren’t forgotten during the gig. A great effort was made to try and include the band members by using archive footage that was almost seamlessly integrated into the performance using the arena’s big screen. Both pieces of footage were used in relatively quick succession but neither seemed like a flimsy tribute; both pieces of footage were extended and showcased what both musicians were capable of beautifully. Indeed, both Entwistle and Moon appeared regularly throughout the gig via photographs and visuals that were screened during a variety of songs. Clearly, both members were gone but not forgotten and their spiritual presence through the performance was a touching tribute.

Alongside the major hits (aside from My Generation, which was conspicuous by its absence), the band also wheeled out some more obscure tracks and a mini suite from Quadrophenia. While Quadrophenia’s tracks are indeed majestic and sounded full-blooded even in the cavernous environment of the arena, the audience are rather subdue during this section. Things quieten down even more when they perform the entirety of mini-opera A Quick One, While He’s Away. For me, A Quick One has positive – if slightly odd – connotations, thanks to it being used on the soundtrack to Wes Anderson’s Rushmore (perhaps my first encounter with the weirder side of The Who). Most of the audience seemed a little baffled by its inclusion in the set, though. The recent, Daft Punk-riffing Be Lucky, which dabbles much more heavily in the use of synthesisers, also gained a lukewarm reception, despite the fact that it proves the band are still capable of writing a corking tune.

The crowd are roused once more though by the final flourishes, which included Teenage Wasteland, Won’t Get Fooled Again and Magic Bus. Teenage Wasteland’s opening electronic salvo sounded wonderfully nostalgic thanks to its retro programming but its iconic loops and beeps instantly got people back on their feet. Magic Bus is, apparently, a complete mystery to Tonwshend, who suggests that if anyone knows what it’s about to send him an email (the address is [email protected] if anyone is interested – according to Townshend, it will work its way to him eventually). I suspect it’s about drugs.

Won’t Get Fooled Again is the tune that gains the most raucous reception, quite possibly because of Townshend’s epic riff and the famous Roger Daltrey scream. The scream alone was a magnificent example of how Daltrey has managed to keep his voice in exceptional condition over the years. Even though he’s never claimed to be the best singer, it’s undeniable that his vocals are still almost pristine. If you sold them on eBay, you could definitely market them as near-mint condition, and that’s no mean feat after half a century of screaming and growling.

It’s hard to believe that The Who have been together for more than double the time I’ve been on this planet. Certainly time has taken its toll on certain areas of their performance but Daltrey and Townshend, alongside their crew of talented musicians, are still able to put in a belting performance. Fifty years down the line, the vast majority of The Who’s songs still feel fresh and exciting, which explains their enduring appeal and timeless quality, a quality that truly shines through in a live environment.

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