The Who, The Forum, London

Anthems to banish the blues

The Who's first British date since the death of bassist John Entwhistle and Pete Townshend's arrest on child pornography charges (he was later cautioned and was put on the child protection register) was a chance for the group's leader to find succour and support in the communal audience he has tended for so long. On the night the crowd were not found wanting. For the first 20 minutes of the show, even the decibel-challenging output of Townshend, Daltrey and co was challenged by the vociferous crowd.

With long-time side man Rabbit Bundrick on piano, Pino Paladino taking Entwhistle's role on bass, and the redoubtable Zak, son of Ringo Starr, Starkey on drums, The Who 2004 are a ferociously well-drilled outfit.

For his part, Townshend remained mute about his recent difficulties, but, as expected, the music spoke volumes. Looking slim, fit and ready for action, the guitarist fired into the psych-rock chords of "Who Are You". Although the solo was partly fluffed, the song inspired by a drunken Seventies crisis of conscience rang with new contemporary meaning.

On "I Can't Explain", Daltrey swung his mike, Townshend exhibited his windmilling power chords, but both here and in the following "Substitute" - all but drowned out by the barracking choir - a certain nostalgic listlessness was detectable. But as the evening progressed, Daltrey and Townshend's determination to keep the band they have fronted for four decades relevant won through.

Before their recent difficulties, the group were planning to release their first album of original material in more than 20 years. In the light of recent events, that plan now takes on a new sense of moment, and the on-stage chemistry between the pair - who have spenttheir professional lives at war with one another - suggested they were up for the task. The double-act has always been Roger Daltrey as Townshend's alter-ego, with the guitarist's visceral attack churning up monsters from the id. During "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere", Townshend strikes a Messianic pose and lets off aural grenades, explosive runs along the fret that speak of both frustration and determination.

Daltrey admitted that: "It doesn't matter how much you hurt, when you get on stage it all goes out the window.'' But it is the two's ability to pull each other out of difficulties that still gives them meaning and purpose. A moment in "Love Reign o'er Me" illustrates just how. In the middle of a commanding performance, Daltrey forgets his lines, but where in the past Townshend might have been minded to throttle him, tonight he pulls off a majestic ringing sequence that restates the song's theme of deliverance.

Although this week's series of gigs are pitched as a warm-up for the Teenage Cancer Trust benefit performance of Tommy at the Royal Albert Hall, two new songs were premiered. And even surrounded by such war-horses as "My Generation", "Teenage Wasteland" and "Won't Get Fooled Again", "Old Red Wine", inspired by Entwhistle, and "Real Good Looking Boy", did not shame their canon.

What is it they say about when the going gets tough?

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