Since I first discovered 60s rock, my taste in music, or the music that I listen to on a regular basis, has drastically changed. It’s not that the music of bands like The Who doesn’t mean a lot to me. On the contrary, albums like My Generation and Who’s Next were instrumental to the musical education of my teenage years, and The Who still hold a very important place for me. It’s just that, compared to many other art forms, music seems to have evolved much more rapidly over the last 50 years, and there is so much interesting new music that it is easy to neglect the brilliance of the past. The Who were genuinely revolutionary when they appeared in their flowery suits, playing as loud as they possibly could and smashing up their instruments, but popular music has gone through such a radical transformation since then, and my attention has been distracted by the genres that have emerged in the wake of the rock-dominated era of the 60s and 70s.
So I came to see The Who at Liverpool’s Echo Arena enthusiastic, but with the trepidation of a man who feels uneasy when thinking of My Generation being played by 70-year-old men. This may seem like an unfair reservation, but having seen the Sex Pistols play the same venue some years ago, and being greatly disappointed, and frankly quite embarrassed by the worse-than-lacklustre performance, I have some apprehension when it comes to hearing music that seems so much of a certain time being inappropriately recontextualised. Considering the gig was billed as The Who play ‘Tommy and More’, I wondered exactly what songs I would get to hear. I listened to Tommy in preparation for the show, and I was struck by just how bizarre and obscure it felt when separated from the visuals of the film that has come to define it. There are still some fantastic moments though, and as far as perfect rock songs go, Pinball Wizard will always stand tall.
Despite my petty cynicism, the Echo Arena seemed filled with excitement, and The Who took the stage to a fitting ovation, kicking off with I Can’t Explain, the first single they ever released. From this point on, the crowd were gifted with hit after hit, including The Seeker, I Can See For Miles, and My Generation, all within the first five songs. Roger Daltrey’s vocals, though changed with age, were just as powerful as ever, but he let the audience sing their fair share of My Generation, adding in some extra stutters.
I was wondering when they were going to segue into Tommy when Pete Townsend announced, ‘We were going to play Tommy, but we’ve got so many songs that we thought we’d just play them instead. It’s still going to be shit though.’ They did end up playing a miniature version of Tommy, starting off with It’s A Boy, and moving through some of the highlights. It was great to hear Amazing Journey, for instance, which on the album serves as a lovely psychedelic ditty, and a wonderful showcase of the genius of Keith Moon. Zack Starkey had the daunting task of filling in for the greatest drummer of all time, and all things considered, he did a good job. Though the spectre of Moon loomed heavily over so many of the songs it was hard not to miss him.
This section of the show came to an end with a brilliant performances of See Me, Feel Me, before they moved on to some material from Quadrophenia, the highlight of which being Daltrey’s performance of Love Reign o’er Me. Then it was time for the song that I was most excited to hear, Baba O’Reilly. The intro is so recognisable, though it hits with a newness when considering how pioneering the use of synthesisers was at the time, especially when contrasted with the current overarching domination of electronic music.
The more I think about The Who, the more I come to realise the extent of the influence they have had. Whether it is the incorporation of electronic sounds, or the influence of Townsend’s guitar style on the punk and garage rock that came to symbolise the following generations, there is no denying the importance of The Who. They can still play a pretty good rock show as well, though it seems they are unlikely to care what anyone thinks.