Jake Longhurst reviews The Who's Acoustic Set at the Royal Albert Hall in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust.
As my dad pulled up to pick me up from Lancaster Gate station wearing a Who baseball jersey over another Who t-shirt, there was never any doubt about just how excited he was for me to see his favourite band again. My introduction to live music was The Who with a full fledged electric set at the O2, but a much more intimate acoustic set at the Royal Albert Hall was beckoning us tonight. Taking a small detour via McDonalds for something to eat and then parking all of 100 yards from the door, in Hyde Park, we chatted and caught up and got more and more hyped up to watch one of the greatest live acts of all time hopefully produce another brilliant performance.
As we walked in, my dad's eyes were noticeably diverted by a t-shirt for the concert, so we took another slight detour, albeit via the merch desk, and got him a third Who t-shirt to wear, albeit possibly his 7th or 8th one overall. Going via the bar we walked to our seats, and as my first time ever in the Royal Albert Hall I was stunned at what a beautiful venue it was. I knew this was set up to be a phenomenal concert; the only variable was whether The Who could turn up.
We talked for about forty-five minutes before the lights dimmed, and the host for the evening, radio presenter Emma B, came out to introduce the night and announce the entrance of the support band, The Wild Things. They opened up the night perfectly adequately, with a string of songs that all felt very well written, albeit in my opinion a little too sterile to really dig my teeth into, however the final track of their set Drunk Again had plenty of promise, so this is a band to keep an eye on.
The lights came up again and we talked more, until Emma B returned to the stage to talk briefly about the Teenage Cancer Trust, and the amount of work that Roger Daltrey has put into the charity and to the concerts every year. A short film was shown about the wonderful work done by the charity, and an ex patient of the TCT who was in the audience made a small but very eloquent and emotional speech, before The Who were introduced.
''Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend both looked great, and for a man of 78 Roger Daltrey was on incredible form, with a voice that would sound just as strong in a man of half his age''
The crowd, who until this point had been a little subdued, swelled in volume immediately as the two elder statesmen of British rock walked out onto the stage. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend both looked great, and for a man of 78 Roger Daltrey was on incredible form, with a voice that would sound just as strong in a man of half his age. The band totalled nine members, including Simon Townshend as a main backing vocalist and guitarist, with an accordionist, a violinist, percussionist, keyboardist, bassist and a mandola player. Pete, somewhat sheepishly, announced that the band had had two hours of practice and so ''might be a bit shite,'' however Roger countered by saying it’ll be ''very good shite!''. They couldn't have undersold it more if they tried.
The set started with Substitute, and already the energy in the room was building massively. The moment I noticed an accordionist on stage I mentioned to my dad that I hoped they would play Squeezebox, and as luck would have it the very next song was indeed Squeezebox! They started well, and soon we realised why they had opened by declaring their lack of practice, as Pete stopped the song after the first chorus and said that he was playing the song in entirely the wrong key! They started again, messed it up, then started for a third time and played it through brilliantly. A lesser band may have felt defeated or looked shoddy with all the mistakes made across the evening, but The Who just looked more human and more humble with each mistake, making the evening feel genuinely warm and personal, as well as showing a different side of the rock legends that isn’t seen so often.
They then launched into The Kids Are Alright, which again was brilliant, and afterwards Pete made an absolutely hilarious interjection about the band’s age impacting their songwriting and playing. According to him, ''Roger is getting faster but I’m getting cooler, in the pocket, more laidback, like Charlie Watts but still alive!'' which caught a massive burst of laughter from the audience, shortly before they went into Tattoo and then a beautiful version of Behind Blue Eyes, that definitely caused some tears from many of the people watching on.
The band then carried on into Real Good Looking Boy, which I’d not really listened to before and thoroughly enjoyed! After which they went into three songs off their latest album WHO, going from Break The News into She Rocked My World and finishing the trio with a version of Beads On One String that was dedicated to Ukraine, complete with the colours of the Ukrainian flag behind the band. Other than minimal lights, the staging was scarce, which was a very refreshing change from what you would generally see at a concert for a band the size of The Who.
''The entire crowd was on its feet by the end to mark the finale of what had been an extraordinarily successful evening''
They then started the final push, with an absolutely excellent song by the name of Eminence Front, but done in a very different style to usual, that was particularly groovy, with an extremely funky bass line. There was no gap between that and the phenomenal Pinball Wizard, which had excellent crowd participation for every single chorus, not to mention the iconic intro to the song starting a wave of whoops and cheers. The next song was a Pete Townshend track called Let My Love Open The Door that I was previously unaware of, but I really enjoyed, and thought was an excellent addition to the set.
Then came the moment everyone was waiting for: the final two tracks, Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again. The former was incredible, a truly brilliant acoustic version of the song that more than did justice to the original, with a massive sound that filled the room completely and left everyone cheering, before almost the entire band left the stage and only Pete and Roger remained for a stripped back Won’t Get Fooled Again. The entire crowd was on its feet by the end to mark the finale of what had been an extraordinarily successful evening, consisting of the greatest rock band ever removing their electric guitars and smashing an all acoustic set to sear the memories of the evening firmly on the mind of each and every person in attendance for many years to come.
Edited by: Amrit Virdi