“We didn't think we'd last the week, and here we are 50 years on” singer Roger Daltrey tells the mod army that have congregated at Hyde Park for what Pete Townshend has intimated will be The Who’s last ever hometown show.
The guitarist has declared similar before, but even still, for mods of a certain vintage it’s an unmissable event.
Paul Weller, anointed heir to The Who’s mod crown, is therefore the only choice of support. His faithful renditions of The Jam’s A Town Called Malice and That’s Entertainment (with added help from Miles Kane) are the obvious crowd-pleasing moments, and You Do Something To Me even moves a man in front of me to propose to his girlfriend (she said yes). But by peppering his set with cuts from new album Saturns Pattern, Weller proves his aversion to looking back - he bloody-mindedly refuses to cash in and reform his former band - is doing his late-career creative purple patch no harm whatsoever.
Nostalgia is all The Who have to offer on this elongated 50th anniversary victory lap, but it’s a notion they unashamedly embrace. Unlike previous tours, the hits are advertised, and delivered in a psychedelic spectacle that pays tribute to former members Keith Moon and John Entwistle.
But it is the Who’s living heart and soul that command your attention. Daltrey’s voice has retained its bellowing growl but with the microphone twirling more wearily than it used to, it is Townshend that injects the fury, windmilling the guitar so ferociously you suspect he’s powering Hyde Park by himself.
He’s in typically bullish mood, too, variously claiming to have foreseen the advent of the internet and barking at those who feels weren’t sufficiently engaged. And as ever, tensions are never far from the fore: the guitarist gives Daltrey a public dressing down for daring to suggest that The Kids are Alright was written for him.
The friction between the pair over five decades is legend, but that is precisely what made The Who such a thrilling band at their best, their alchemy of working class rage and adolescent ambition powering their fantastic rock songs.
Playing songs that sink or swim by their energy when you’ve qualified for a bus pass, though, is fraught with danger. Yet at 70 and 71, the pair do all they can to recapture that youthful exuberance. The hits keep coming: I Can’t Explain, Who Are You, Pictures of Lily (dedicated to Weller) and My Generation, which morphs into a sprawling hallucinogenic, all make up a blistering barrage that opens the show.
It’s an unsustainable pace, and a lull two thirds in is to be expected. But The Who rouse for a sprint finish and the emotion, not least from Daltrey, after an epic Won’t Get Fooled Again concludes is genuinely moving.
If this finally is goodbye, it was a fitting send-off.Reuse content