A short tram ride across the city to Victoria station and we reach our destination for the evening’s festivities. Punters slowly file into Manchester Arena, queuing up for overpriced beer or browsing one of the seven merch stalls and the reason …The Who, currently embarking on the Tommy tour which sees them throwing in numbers from the 1969 concept album alongside more of their classic fare. Given the scope of some of the material Tommy has to offer, can the veteran rockers still bring their ‘A-game’ 50 plus years into their illustrious career?
Tunbridge Well’s own The Standard Lamps open up the show to a sizeable crowd. If you’ve seen The Who live in the past couple of years, you may have seen these Sussex boys play a riotous warm-up show or two beforehand and tonight is no different ; the Creedence Clearwater Revival vibes of Portland and jangly indie of The Right Train going down a treat with those in attendance. Frontman Mike Wilton engages in some banter with the audience before demonstrating blues guitar par excellence on the chunky classic rock of Cats and Dogs. Wilton pays tribute to critically ill Sounds of the Sixties host Brian Matthew before wrapping up the set with more twangy rock n’ roll goodness on You Don’t Listen To Your Records Anymore proving that The Standard Lamps are well worth turning up that little bit earlier for.
The arena lights dim and The Who hit the stage to thunderous applause, to which guitarist Pete Townshend questions “What are you middle Englander’s doing out on a Wednesday night?”. They burst into a glorious rendition of I Can’t Explain which finds the audience on their feet before ploughing through The Seeker and showcasing five-part harmonies on I Can See for Miles complete with impressively cinematic visuals.
At this stage into their half century long career, The Who sit alongside only a handful of band’s who can still bring such presence and skill to their artform. Frontman Roger Daltrey, 73, still leaps around the stage, signature mic-swinging and all. Drummer Zak Starkey lends a heavyweight thud to the band’s sound too, turning My Generation’s proto-punk clatter into a much fuller sounding anthem and locking in tightly with the guitar grooves on Join Together – the latter track finding the front rows singing every word right back at Daltrey.
With the tour’s main focus being on the Tommy record, the band waste no time in getting to the meat and potatoes of the album. From folky opener It’s a Boy right through to the driving Go To The Mirror! you can tell that regardless of the triple keyboard gloss, Daltrey and Townshend are having fun injecting raw energy into some of the more rarely performed tracks. The dramatic narratives of The Acid Queen and live mainstay Pinball Wizard come into their own as part of the Tommy set, giving the tracks much needed context as well receiving quite the reception from the Manchester crowd.
Pop- rock singalong You Better You Bet is awarded loudest singalong of the evening before Townshend takes the lead vocal on delicate acoustic track I’m One, the first in a trio of Quadrophenia tracks. The audience, young and old, soaks up every moment and are rewarded with a towering Love Reign O’er Me, Daltrey bringing an otherworldly level of emotion to the song and hitting the high notes as only he can.
The show ends in jubilant fashion with the duo of Baba O Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again sending the crowd home happy – but not before Daltrey reminds everyone to “Stay healthy and be lucky”. With energetic and powerful shows like these, we hope the same can be said for The Who for many years to come. (9)