A Concert for Killing Cancer, HMV Apollo, London

Rock gods are better than all right

This charity gig to raise money and awareness for an alternative cancer treatmen, photodynamic therapy, had an all-star line up with The Who, Debbie Harry, Jeff Beck, Bryan Adams and Richard Ashcroft.

It also had a piquant resonance as on the day of the gig The Who’s Roger Daltrey revealed that he had had surgery on a pre-cancerous growth in his throat. Fortunately, all seems to be well and he has rarely sounded in better voice as The Who, still an astonishing force with the two leading lights Daltrey and Pete Townshend, well into their sixties had the whole auditorium on their feet for a short set of “Baba O Riley”, “Who Are You” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Townshend’s windmill action went into overdrive for a high-energy performance that rolled back the years.

The evening had started with a considerably lower-key acoustic performance from Richard Ashcroft, eschewing the well known hits of his former band The Verve for less familiar material. Also going acoustic, a clean-cut-looking Bryan Adams made much more of a stir with a rousing set. Jeff Beck conjured extraordinary sounds from his white guitar, including a compelling version of The Beatles’ “A Day in the Life”, which made one forget the lack of vocals . It was an interesting evening up to this point and then, boy, did it change. It seemed like Beck was going to go into another number. But the familiar drum intro to “Heart of Glass” started and on came Debbie Harry. Or to be more accurate, on came Debbie Harry in white blouse, tight black micro-skirt, long black high-heeled boots, dark glasses and blonde hair once more. The evening suddenly turned white hot.

Being backed not just by Jeff Beck but by The Who’s band must have been a bit of a shock to the system for her. This was not the soft rock of Blondie, it was driving and aggressive, and it suited her down to the ground. “Heart of Glass”, “Call Me” and “One Way or Another” made far too short a set from a sexagenarian looking almost as sexy and sounding every bit as good as in her heyday.

It was a case of follow that for The Who, but the synthesiser intro of “Baba O’Riley” was all it took to get the audience on their feet for the first time and they stayed there. Daltrey, for whom working with one of Britain’s greatest guitarists doesn’t seem to be enough, then performed blues classic “I’m a Man” with Jeff Beck, and everyone reassembled for a jolly encore of “Join Together”, an old Who single, and frankly not one of their best. But who’s counting? As charity gigs go, this was classy stuff.