By John Aizlewood, Evening Standard
"The last time I played at the Roundhouse, it was dirty," muttered Who leader Pete Townshend. "Now, it's clean and I'm dirty."
Typically, it was difficult to gauge exactly what Townshend meant. He may have been referring to his police caution for downloading child pornography which resurfaced last week when he fled an interview he was foolish enough to agree to with American shock-jock Howard Stern.
Or he might have meant recent castigations of his peers Bob Dylan and David Crosby. Or his admission that he would not pay to see The Who.
Or he might have been speaking of his tendency to open mouth before engaging brain. Luckily for Townshend-The Who are unsinkable. Today they release Endless Wire, their first new album since 1982's disastrous It's Hard.
Its centrepiece is a "mini-opera", Wire And Glass. Last night should have marked its premiere. Like its predecessors Quadrophenia, Psychoderelict and Tommy, his tale of elderly, jaded pop star Ray High (oh dear, oh dear, oh dear) inspiring a young, multicultural (oh dear, oh dear, oh dear) band, eschews such artistic conventions as a coherent narrative structure in favour of Townshend's infatuation with flibbertigibbet Seventies psychobabble.
Someone dies in the end. Probably. The rub is that Wine And Glass shares something else with its forebears: on a musical level, it's really rather good and We Got A Hit is very good indeed. This being The Who, they did things differently, slotting in the "mini-opera" unannounced.
Even then, as if terrified that the new material would alienate the more conservative sections of their audience, they compromised further by not actually performing it all. Then they undermined the new opera by playing a fabulous slab of their finest old opera, Tommy. And yet, despite Townshend's sunglasses and his Rupert The Bear scarf almost garroting him when he windmilled through My Generation, The Who are still a thrilling spectacle.
With the Roundhouse genuflecting en masse, Townshend, singer Roger Daltrey and band climaxed the BBC's terrifically successful Electric Proms series with a set (broadcast on Radio 2 on Saturday at 9pm, on television at a later date and on line at www.bbc.co.uk/electricproms until Saturday) which not so much rolled back the years as ignored the passing of time entirely, even when they stopped paddling in testosterone and went acoustic on the unsettlingly vitriolic A Man In A Purple Dress.
The strength, though, lay in their sheer power.
Daltrey might not be the finest singer of his generation, but even on the faintly ludicrous but majestically extended My Generation, he was convincing; he sang like he had some notion of what Wire And Glass might possibly mean and on Who Are You he reminded us that swearing can be a) big and b) clever.
After the closing Tea And Theatre (plucked from the Wire And Glass section and therefore delivered out of context), there was no encore, much to the crowd's dismay. They'll get over it. Being a Who fan was never meant to be easy.