The Who @ Manchester Arena
Words: Anthony Firmin
A rather empty Manchester Arena greets The Standard Lamps as they take to the stage at 7:30 and they launch straight into some rock’n’roll. Guitarist Mike Wilton sarcastically describes this gig as “a nice little intimate venue” even though their sound sadly echoes quite desperately around this monstrously huge building.
The Model World and The Right Train are solid songs too but for me the highlight of their set is The Harmonica Man, probably their most well known song too. It is Dim And Dismal that really shows the strength of the storytelling within their Springsteen style song-writing, being about the town he grew up in, and a grey picture it paints too.
By the end of their set a good crowd has amassed and the is sound warmer as is the appreciation of this fine band as they bow out with You Don’t Listen To Your Records Anymore, some fast paced rock’n’roll.
The intermission is worth mentioning too as we are presented with a slide show of relationship between Manchester and The Who over the decades as well as more generic photos of the band and fashion as well as other subjects. There is also an extended set of slides for us to remember both Keith Moon and John Entwistle. The other side of the coin with these slides are the ads for the Roger Daltrey champagne, I kid you not, and it is probably cheaper than the tickets for tonight’s show!
The Who should need no introduction as they are one of the founding pillars of British rock when it started in the 60’s and tonight they are out to prove they are still capable of rocking with the best of them.
There is no big introduction as the band arrive onstage bang on time for this show which was postponed from late last summer. A few chords struck by various members of this extended outfit to check everything is working and they launch straight into a rousing I Can’t Explain quickly followed by The Seeker.
Roger Daltrey’s vocals are still in fine form after 51+ years but he has been lucky in that it always has been; Pete Townshend’s energy is there too and he is still an exciting player to watch. But gigs by The Who can be funny beasts varying wildly from some of the most exciting I have ever seen to dull uninteresting affairs and even one cancelled after an onstage fight; when this band is on form they are unstoppable and tonight it looks like this is going to be the case!
Onstage The Who now total eight people creating a solid, full sound to back Townsend attacking his guitar with his trademark windmill arm movements and Daltery’s classic rock vocals. The band also includes the powerhouse drumming of Zak Starkey driving the band on stage; Moony was irreplaceable but even he would approve of Zak! The original line-up is particularly noticeable when the band play Who Are You? and the projection shows the original band in various guises.
My Generation starts off exciting enough but turns into a “jam” that doesn’t seem to have much focus although Daltrey seems well into it. However, Bargain from Who’s Next and Join Together With The Band sees the focus restored. Although I am solidly into the suite of songs from Tommy it was clear that not everyone here is as the chattering and trips to the loo start, shame on them because this is tight and is The Who at their best this evening… or is it?
Following a sing-a-long with a belting You Better You Bet we are treated to a selection of songs from Quadrophenia” - I’m One, The Rock and culminating in the masterpiece that is Love Reign O’er Me so perfectly delivered it left me speechless. This is definitely The Who at their best… or is it?
The final pair of songs sees the band revisit their 1971 album Who’s Next once more. Baba O’Reilly has the crowd bouncing along but it is Won’t Get Fooled Again that is their jaw dropping magnum opus; played with absolute gusto Townshend looks happily exhausted at the end of it. This is undoubtedly The Who at their best… it is!
A total of 22 songs played tight over two hours with excellent sound and lights and a video presentation that was wholly pertinent to the evening and not just an afterthought – the constant reflecting back on Moon and Entwistle shows how much they are missed. All of this made this one of the best arena gigs I have been to and one of the most memorable shows by The Who I have ever seen.