Sunday, December 27, 2015


Recorded this past June, this was The Who's big present back to London, a huge outdoor show in the iconic park, crammed on this occasion with 65,000 people. Although it was billed as a 50th birthday show, it was really 51, and like everything else on this show, it felt a bit off. That was Roger and Pete up there, but the rest of the band was a dull bunch, including three keyboard players when one would do. Only Zak Starkey offered any kind of personality and flair.

It seems the group has been talked into the kind of show The Stones and McCartney have been doing the last few years, a tribute to themselves, with a greatest hits set and projection screens showing pictures of past moments and tributes to fallen bandmates. But the whole time you can watch the DVD and see how awkward the principals are doing such a show. When John Entwistle's mug appears on the big screen behind him during an instrumental break, Daltry gamely raises his arm in salute, then does it again a few seconds later, not sure what else to do. In the commentary in between some of the songs, Townshend repeats his usual complaints about not wanting to be playing live, ambivalence about the group, training to be gracious to the fans but seeming more above this kind of hero worship.

McCartney is fine with this kind of show, a narcissist. Jagger has that as well, and Richards wants to grow old ungracefully. Townshend and Daltry probably want to do all this for the fans, and The Who legacy, but they just can't be phony. It never was an act for them, and when it does become that, the edge is gone.

There are great moments; when the Quadrophenia songs come up, I'm One and Love Reign On Me, you do get taken away for a bit, a taste of the epic in those songs. That goes double for good ol' Tommy, five songs from it and sounding as good as the day it was made. Townshend and Daltry still do a credible job, even if the keys have been dropped to accommodate aging voices, and there aren't many leaps and windmills. It's wall-to-wall hits, except for the dire Eminence Front, the youngest cut here, from 1982, but the rest is of course wonderful material. The Who remain, of all the giants, the ones least able to reconcile their present with the past.

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