Lisa Verrico at Wembley Arena
Forty-eight hours after closing some mudfest in Somerset, The Who were back on stage, but not unscathed. From the moment Roger Daltrey strode on, straight into a crashing I Can’t Explain, he looked shattered. Every move was stiff and stilted and, when he swung his mike by its lead, his face froze, as though the concentration required to catch it might finish him off.
Pete Townshend was a little more lively, his trademark windmilling right arm in regular attendance, but his feet too had conceded defeat and remained fixed to the floor.
Above their heads, however, there was explosive action. A huge video screen showed footage of The Who in their heyday – Keith Moon on the verge of collapse, shrapnel flying from smashed instruments and delirious fans dripping sweat. A glance around Wembley Arena revealed how much had changed, and not just with the band.
Teenage boys were scattered here and there, but the crowd was made up mostly of those who had lived through the scenes on the screen, though not even they could muster much enthusiasm for blasts from the past that retained some of the rawness of the originals, but none of the passion. The Seeker limped where it should have swaggered; Fragments, from last year’s comeback album Endless Wire, was marred by a dreadful Daltrey vocal that all but vanished on high notes; and the only anger apparent was when Townshend unleashed the F-word at critics he felt had misquoted him at Glastonbury – turns out that he didn’t invent the internet after all.
Who Are You fared better, thanks in part to a clever visual that made the stage appear to be careering along a train track. But, just as arms began punching the air, The Who played six songs from their Wire & Glass mini-opera, prompting a rush on refreshments.
By comparison, the second hour of the show was a riot. Daltrey loosened up and let rip on You Better You Bet, My Generation and an overly long but still irresistible Won’t Get Fooled Again. Yet the star of the show wasn’t out front, but behind the drum kit. Zac Starkey, Ringo Starr’s son, packed the show’s real punch and his powerful, effortless playing was a joy.