Returning to Liverpool for a show billed as Tommy and More, Getintothis’ Shaun Ponsonby finds The Who playing very little Tommy and more love for Quadrophenia.
It seems that show has stayed with them. Roger Daltrey even mentioned it from the stage tonight. “Liverpool are the best singers in the country. I mean that. I remember when you had a tent. You were louder than we were!”
This writer can vouch for that. I was there. It was one of those special nights that you hear about but are rarely present for. Something else was happening, and I have been searching for it ever since.
As I was reminiscing about that night an astonishing 11 years ago, Pete Townshend piped up; “It wasn’t on a fucking Monday though, was it? Who goes out on a Monday night?”
That singular exchange sums up the difference between the two men at this point in time. Daltrey is still enthusiastic. He loves the roar of the crowd and loves to sing these songs.
Townshend is comically cynical and seems more resigned than Daltrey.
Throughout the show, Townshend made several cracks about age. “I wrote this song was I was 19 years old. I never thought I would still be playing it at 73.” He also told a story about a friend of his bringing some young “dance music types” to one of their shows last week, only to leave after ten minutes.
The tour is billed as Tommy and More, although a more accurate description would be Loads of Other stuff and a Bit of Tommy. Daltrey explained they initially intended to play Tommy in its entirety, as they did at the Royal Albert Hall last week.
He then said they changed their minds as there were other songs they wanted to play.
Truth be told, we were glad they dropped the idea. Tommy hasn’t aged quite as well as most monster albums of its nature. There are a lot of awkward moments that no longer gel as they might have done in 1969.
Townshend himself surpassed Tommy with Quadrophenia in 1973.
That much was apparent tonight. The band did perform a Tommy section in the show, more than they ordinarily would. Rarely played gems such as The Acid Queen and It’s a Boy were refreshing to hear.
But following the truncated Tommy, they performed a series of songs from Quadrophenia. Pinball Wizard aside, the songs received a much stronger reaction, and all-out screams of passion from the crowd.
Perhaps it is the deep, dark reality of teenage life that Quadrophenia represents. It is an album that, realistically, each and every person who has ever been a teenager can relate to.
In contrast, Tommy is a much more spiritual and surreal story, and one that is more difficult to follow than Quadrophenia.
The show felt a little ramshackle at times and there didn’t seem to be any structure of note. But this weirdly works in their favour.
Part of the brilliance of The Who is that feeling you don’t quite know what is going to happen next. They may not be the genuinely dangerous band they were in the early days, but shaky ground definitely works for them and makes them work harder.
Throughout the show there were several technical problems. Halfway through My Generation, Daltrey shouted “I can’t hear the key” and ceased singing for a while. During Love Reign O’Er Me he was clutching his ear unnaturally hard as if attempting to hear himself properly.
Likewise, Townshend seemed to have problems with his guitars, and at one point switched instruments a few bars into The Acid Queen.
Perhaps dropping Tommy late in the day did a little harm. When they hit a groove, it became apparent they still have it in them, and by the time they reached the end with Baba O’ Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again – two of the greatest anthems in rock history – they hit the peak of the night.
There was no encore, which is fair enough seeing as it’s a stupid convention anyway.
But it’s just as well. They couldn’t have topped that ending couplet anyway.
Support came from The Standard Lamps, a band from Tunbridge Wells who were exactly the kind of band you would expect to support The Who. They were proficient, but a little stock and it felt like the crowd were totally ambivalent to them.
They seemed to enjoy themselves though. And to be fair, I’ve never supported The Who on an arena tour, so they have the last laugh, don’t they?