Townshend proves his generation can still rock

The Who | London Arena
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The Independent Culture

Image beats substance every time just as much in the world of rock as pop, and the very fact that 35 years after their first hit The Who are still revered and adored proves the point.

Image beats substance every time just as much in the world of rock as pop, and the very fact that 35 years after their first hit The Who are still revered and adored proves the point.

Their long history reads like a set text of rock and roll extremes, from their early, wired years, always searching for something they could never put their finger on, through the country house millionaires period, until achieving their present position as figureheads for an entire genre, a genre they have hardly added to in two decades. The Who's effective creative years came to a halt in the early Eighties, yet anyone who saw last year's incendiary performances could be in no doubt that they can still symbolise everything great about live music.

Having finally found a fitting replacement for the always missed Keith Moon in Ringo Starr's son Zak Starkey, they were so rapturously received that they have gone out on a full tour unashamedly billed as "Greatest Hits Live". They always were great on stage, of course, far more than the sum of their parts.

Last night's first London show kicked off with the mod triple whammy of an awesome "I Can't Explain" (as sampled by Fatboy Slim), "Substitute" and "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" - the latter remaining the template for all experiments in controlled chaos which followed, until mainstream rock rejected innovation for dull old blues structures.

Seventies stompers like "My Wife," "Relay" and "Baba O'Riley" can't boast the same sort of place in the collective folk memory though The Who performed them with surprising grace. Thousands of fortysomethings yelling "It's only teenage wasteland" to their seniors on stage is a curiously touching sight.

It's the band which keep one's attention. As ever, the unbelievably dextrous John Entwhistle looks like the lord of the manor overseeing the gardening staff and Roger Daltrey is the keen gym instructor. But Pete Townshend was the one you couldn't help but watch.

Grumpily complaining about a review describing this show as "hollow", windmilling at will, rummaging through the book of rock poses he invented - as ever he was absolutely his own man. You would pay money just to watch this man change his guitar strings.

The show was not as playful or gobsmacking as last year's. This is stadium business again but sterling versions of "Who Are You" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" delighted. During an extended encore of "The Kids Are All Right" Townshend assured the crowd their children were growing up fine.

Of course, the tragedy is that it's the younger people who go and form horrible bands like Toploader but it's a price worth paying.

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