"God, this is boring," sighs Pete Townshend, before embarking upon a version of 5.15 that ends in a 10-minute instrumental free-for-all of such dreariness that The Who's leader is not the only one to feel downhearted. Townshend's mean-spirited capriciousness is all part of the Who's volatile marriage, but, like a boorish uncle at a family christening, he can't help but overdo it. The show is singer Roger Daltrey's fundraiser for the Teenage Cancer Trust, whose banners lurk guiltily stage left and right. Daltrey, all oafish charm and hairless chest, does an impassioned charity awareness speech before the encore. Townshend returns to the stage muttering, "I don't know what he said, but it's all lies. Who gives a shit?" The toes of the Royal Albert Hall's crowd collectively curl.
The Who's creative flame may be long extinguished but, as proved by an impressively loud trawl through their former glories, the band can still pack a punch. Teenage Wasteland, propelled by John "Rabbit" Bundrick's booming keyboards, retains its operatic grace; Won't Get Fooled Again is as articulate as protest song ever gets; I'm Free remains a beguiling anti-authority manifesto.
There's even an airing for some post-1977 material. Who Are You? is as fine a song as Townshend ever composed. On record, it was Keith Moon's last great moment; live, Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey isn't offered the chance to emulate him. You Better You Better, however, is Daltrey's showcase, his hollering ("You bettahhh!") contrasting sublimely with Townshend's harmonies. Beside the pair stands John Entwistle, in blow-dried hair, zebra-print shirt and leather waistcoat. He looks ridiculous and his vocal turn on My Wife is disastrous .
They end with a dreadful version of Mose Allison's Young Man Blues, Eddie Cochran's Summertime Blues and My Generation, during which, contrary old cuss that he is, Townshend finally gets a twinkle in his eyes. A nostalgia trip, then, but at least they omitted Magic Bus and didn't smash their instruments.