The Who at the 3Arena, Dublin, on June 23rd 2015
There is something deeply profound rooted in the core of rock n roll music that has allowed it to endure all this time. When icons of its classic period resurface for a series of shows they still manage to summon great masses of young, old and everything in between. So when The Who rolls into town with a 50th anniversary to celebrate a collection of timeless tracks from the zenith of old school rock, this spirit is awakened.
A laid back atmosphere permeates the 3Arena as it very gradually fills up. Fans are treated to a historical slideshow of facts and trivia about The Who, which begins to develop the sense of nostalgia. Included is a brief history of the delicate art of smashing a guitar, as well as some fun facts about the bands history in Ireland. Apparently their first show in Ireland was in the National Boxing Stadium in May 1966. Who knew?
With limited fanfare and only a backdrop encouraging us to “Keep Calm and Listen To The Feckin Who”, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend, the lone survivors, follow the extended band onstage. “Seems like yesterday we were here”, quips Daltrey as they dive right into I Can’t Explain. Naturally lending itself to a quirky call and response, the audience willingly participate in the fun.
Despite both leading men now being in their 70’s it appears as though the music has kept them young. What is perhaps most surprising is how good the show was right from the very beginning. There are no warm up songs, or shaky starts. The Seeker offers more of the same, while Who Are You marks the first of many legendary tracks of the night. As iconic as the song is, it is the second half that really delivers. After the universally recognised hooks at the start, and then the dreamlike interlude in the middle, in an explosion of blood red lighting Townsend blasts out some mighty power chords, even spontaneously bursting into his trademark windmill technique in earnest for the first time of the show. The audience is mesmorized.
From here the hits keep coming. My Generation is extended and sounds as powerful as expected, with Daltrey delivering the song with the stutter, as the crowd struggles to follow. The various textures of Behind Blue Eyes translate well tonight with the riff based finale kicking it up yet another gear. Love, Reign O’er Me is arguably the most inspiring and mighty vocal performance of the night, while elsewhere Townsend demonstrates his virtuosity best during songs like Eminence Front in between vocal phrases.
The only lull comes for a few tracks during and after A Quick One While He’s Away. The momentum is lost during this 10 minute mini opera and for the following two songs but quickly recaptured by the payoff of the chorus in Pinball Wizard where the whole arena sings “That deaf, dumb and blind kid sure plays a mean pinball!”.
The finale of Baba O Reilly and Won’t Get Fooled Again sees Townsend restraining the power of his guitar initially to the frustration of the masses who want the big finish. But when the hammer falls, it falls hard. For example, the seconds leading up to the big vocal scream and power chord eruption in the latter are tense but the results are awesome. Put simply, they nailed it!
Tonight is a fine journey into the heart of rock n’ roll. Anyone who remains at the top of their game for 50 years knows how to perform, but a performance of this calibre deserves special credit. If this is their last tour, the people of Ireland have been lucky to have witnessed such a strong conclusion to the story of The Who.