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Review Glasgow, Sun, 30 November 2014

The Who, SECC Hydro - gig review: Tentative yet utterly emphatic

The Independent, 01-12-2014

Welcoming us to "the first UK show of this long, long tour we’re doing," guitarist Pete Townshend veered off into reminiscence about The Who's recent appearance in Abu Dhabi to coincide with the F1 Grand Prix there. "It was pretty cool," he informed.

"Well, it was hot. But there's a better class of thug in Glasgow." This was the Who the crowd wanted, said the cheers for that last remark. Not the globe-bestriding multi-millionaire rock stars, but the skinny-hipped, lank-haired, bursting-with-energy youth earthquake of their earliest vintage.

That Who is gone now – for fifty percent of their classic line-up, sadly literally – but for these final few marathon months of touring, Townshend, singer Roger Daltrey and a six-piece group including Townshend's brother Simon and Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey on drums will do a great impression. Titled "The Who Hit 50!", this extended jaunt will both celebrate the band’s surviving members reaching five full decades together and say goodbye to the band following Daltrey and Townshend’s decision to bring it to a close.

This first show before 12,000 all-seated fans was a curious beast, tentative yet utterly emphatic all at once. Over the two-and-a-half hour running time, those who packed the hall would have surely heard everything they came for from that extensive catalogue - except there was no "My Generation", its removal perhaps a concession to the dripping irony of its lyrical content being performed by a now-70-year-old and another who will reach that milestone before this tour ends.

Yet there was plenty to remind of their earliest days as the set began, including sprightly run-throughs of "I Can't Explain", "Substitute" and "The Kids Are Alright". From there the show skipped through eras, and it was the signature tracks which the group have been playing for decades which sounded most resolute and noisily pristine: a spine-tingling ‘Behind Blue Eyes’; the gripping, rocky epics ‘Who Are You’ and ‘The Seeker’; ‘Pinball Wizard’s frazzled energy giving way to the staunch ‘See Me, Feel Me’; ‘Baba O’Riley’ whipping the audience up to join in at full blast with its “teenage wasteland” refrain.

There was also the sense that things were being tried out in advance of the long road ahead, with quite a few unexpected choices on the setlist and a couple of songs which appeared to need tweaking (‘Squeeze Box’ required more banjo, for example). The appearance of rock mini-opera ‘A Quick One, While He’s Away’ excited enthusiasts, as did the early ‘80s vintage ‘Eminence Front’, which provided a good case that Townshend’s bluesy bark is a more suitable instrument at this stage of their lives than Daltrey’s still-incisive holler. Witness the pair vocally sparring during ‘Cry If You Want’, Townsend’s barked “you know the fuckers always lie!” upstaging Daltrey’s breathless rap.

Amidst it all, a mini Quadrophenia suite saw their late bandmembers shown onscreen, John Entwistle’s mesmerising bassline bossing the mighty ‘5:15’ and Keith Moon’s madcap laughing spoken word part on ‘Bellboy’ proving very welcome. The show rang to a close with a breathtaking "Won't Get Fooled Again", unnecessary encore of ‘Naked Eye’ notwithstanding, and few would have complained at witnessing a mostly sure-footed first step on what the band call their “long goodbye”.

David Pollock