The Who Live Review: Despite an uncharacteristic meekness, Townshend and Daltrey prove unsinkable

MOJO bears witness as the The Who take to the stage for what might be one of their last Teenage Cancer Trust shows.

The Who live on stage, Royal Albert Hall, March 18 2024

by Mat Snow |
Updated on

The Who

The Royal Albert Hall, London, March 18, 2024

A fortnight ago, Roger Daltrey turned 80, with Pete Townshend to follow in May next year. The Who have been on the brink of knocking it on the head on many occasions since the early days of 1965 when band founder Daltrey lost his rag with drummer Keith Moon — who could test the patience of a saint — and fists flew. But what the band’s combustible chemistry could never quite manage despite several near misses, time itself will inevitably bring about. Tonight, however, it felt like the mainspring might finally be winding down.

Daltrey himself is calling time on his active involvement curating regular shows for the Teenage Cancer Trust, the cause that brings us all here this evening and for which The Who have been turning out for over 20 years. However one may judge the show tonight, that it happens at all and raises so much money and awareness justifies it all, the lows as well as the highs.

Following an orchestra some 30 strong, the band sidle onto rather than hit the stage. Almost 50 years ago to the month from the first time your MOJO correspondent saw The Who among 80,000 other people at the old Charlton football ground, I Can’t Explain got the joint jumping. Tonight, though, sound problems mean that Townshend’s guitar and Zak Starkey’s drums are less immediately powerful.

Inspired in his style far more by his manic ‘Uncle’ Keith than his dad Ringo, Starkey more than anyone restored something of the classic band’s energy after years of miscast occupants of the drum stool. Tonight, however, he sounds as if he’s playing his kit at the far end of a corridor.

As for Townshend — despite endless swapping back and forth between red and gold Strats plus a third guitar which, he explained, he’d had modified to simulate the old Rickenbacker’s sound effect when toggling between pick-ups — that jet-roar yaggadang, those colossally fraught and portentous power chords which dramatise the music to an adrenalising degree no other classic rock band can manage, is hinted at only sporadically.

And yet… The songs, including selections from their three most ambitious works, Tommy, Who’s Next and Quadrophenia, are unsinkable. As ever a trouper, Daltrey sings his heart out, sweating bullets, investing his all in Behind Blue Eyes especially, a song he’s always felt deeply. As for Substitute — if Cole Porter had been a rocker, this is the kind of thing he would have written — Daltrey hardly need bother as the audience sing every brilliant word. Even Eminence Front and You Better You Bet are sturdy constructions, though to have included them at the expense of anything from The Who Sell Out seems another instance of their idiosyncratic decision-making.

The last time your correspondent saw The Who, nine years ago at the London O2, Rog and Pete had delightfully spoofed their mutually abusive co-dependency into a double act of banter to rival George and Mildred. Despite his views as a bootstrap Brexiteer, Daltrey was the affable old cove whose eyesight and knees were going, though could still manage a modest mike swing or two, while liberal intellectual (and almost Alastair Sim lookalike) Townshend was the cantankerous curmudgeon whose grudging windmills and dyspeptic asides to and about Daltrey, the audience, the songs, the lot, was tempered by a sweetness that appeared through the cracks. Nine years on, that between-song funny business has entertainingly progressed.

An intimate evening with Rog and Pete: stories, banter, songs we can all join in… MOJO would be there in a Shepherd’s Bush minute, and so, one would guess, would many of the faithful.

But if it never happens, if this is it, then the final flourish was no bad way to leave the stage. Though a fully orchestra was no compensation for the underexplosiveness of drums and power chord guitar in show closer Baba O'Riley, principal violin Katie Jacoby sashays, cheeses and grins with glee as she reanimates Dave Arbus’s original part from 1971. That The Who used unchained female energy to re-energise them is something, in their hard-won wisdom, they might ruefully relish.


I Can't Explain


Amazing Journey


Pinball Wizard

We're Not Gonna Take It

Who Are You

Eminence Front

The Kids Are Alright

You Better You Bet


My Generation

Cry If You Want

Won't Get Fooled Again

Behind Blue Eyes

The Real Me

I'm One


The Rock

Love, Reign O'er Me

Baba O'Riley

Pictures: John Stead / Teenage Cancer Trust

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