I’ll be honest. I’m not used to writing reviews. In fact, aside from the odd Amazon review or gear review on a technology website that I’ve just bought something from, I’ve never written one in my life. So this review of last nights show at MEN Arena in Manchester is unique for now. It’s even more unique because I write it not as a fan of The Who but as a live music fan that took a chance to see The Who for the first time ever, when the opportunity came along. This gig was certainly an experience!
So, where to start? My knowledge of The Who is largely restricted to a few of their songs that I have personally performed in bands over the years (thanks to Paul for the musical education – he knows who he is). Notably, these were Pinball Wizard, My Generation and The Seeker. I also know the names of the members because each is pretty infamous in their own right and obviously they have a detailed and well documented historical contribution to rock & roll history. I further have a vague recollection that The Who had something to do with Mods, Rockers, Tommy, Quadrophenia and the latter two were films. I haven’t seen either of them.
With all of the above in mind, I’ll start with the obvious. This gig was The Who (basically Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey) with a bunch of cracking musicians performing the whole of the Quadrophenia album from start to finish, with an encore of other notable Who classics. I paid £70.00 for the ticket and because I booked some special seats that meant I had to be a member of The Who fanclub, I ended up paying £90.00 in total. It’s a high price but one that I felt was justified because I figured everyone should see ‘the greatest rock & roll band in the world’ at least once in their life. Apparently, the show started with some kind of instrumental track but I’ve no idea what that was like because we were late due to a number of our party finishing their drinks in the Hard Rock Cafe outside the venue. Oops! From there on though, things rocked!
I’m dividing my time between writing and checking out the Wikipedia article for Quadrophenia, mainly so I get the song titles right. I notice that the article starts with this little ditty:
“The name is a variation on the popular usage of the medical diagnostic term schizophrenia as dissociative identity disorder, to reflect the four distinct personalities of Jimmy, the opera’s protagonist”
So it seems we are well into the world of prog here! I never thought of The Who as a prog band. I thought they were pure rock. Standout tracks for me – Quadrophenia itself. Then I also realised I knew I’m One. I just didn’t know it was a Who song. So really enjoyed that track. Is It In My Head was another most enjoyable track. Sea and Sand was great to watch. The light and shade really came through with a huge PA system and from our vantage point half way up the stand, we could watch the whole venue bounce when the band lit up some of the heavier rock sections of the album. I find the individual tracks difficult to separate from the entire work. In fact, as I don’t own the album I’m sat here now playing the demo sections on iTunes in order to link song titles with the songs I remember on the night.
This brings me to what I would consider the highlight of the entire show. The band descended into a solo piano piece that grew into this great big piece of music. Epic in scale, I did take the time to ask the guy next to me what the song was called. By then, the band were rather loud. I think I tweeted something along the lines of, “I think the FOH engineer just pushed the master fader up!” I couldn’t hear the song title and so I resorted to typing into Notes on my iPhone and showing it to the guy so that he could confirm. That track was Love Reign O’er Me. I would gladly pay a tenner to see just that one track performed again at that gig. Awesome musical power just washing over what must have been 10,000+ genuine live music fans. Genius.
There were two other stand out moments in the gig. One was the video footage which swung through imagery of the day (the 60’s one would assume) and the making of the album (the 70’s I’m assured). There was also live video footage of the band on stage which was somewhat out of sync with the performance by half a second or so. This was a little off putting.
But the real art in the video lay in the shows ability to seemlessly blend archive footage of both Keith Moon and John Entwistle doing their respective solo sections on stage many years ago. Moon appeared to have Daltrey’s mic and was giving it some Phil Daniels style narration. Always entertaining. Entwistle meanwhile got a blinding solo on bass which a little research done just now leads me to believe was taken from their Leeds concert in the 80’s (Don’t nobody quote me on that though!). All in all, I can’t believe just how good a musician Entwistle was. Us drummers are supposed to lock in with them bass players and I don’t understand how Entwistle passed me by in 39 years of musically educating myself. Double oops!
As a side note, one might also mention that there was a certain vibe coming from the stage during those two passages. One of awe and sadness all at the same time. I was watching Roger from side on. He had his back to the audience, looking up at the big screens to watch his friends do their bit from beyond. I could feel his emotion at that moment and I don’t know how or why. It was like he too was in awe at the display, which is saying something considering he was there with them for real when they performed those sections on stage originally. I think what I’m trying to say is I believe that every performance for Roger is a fairly emotional undertaking and I could feel that.
The musicians were all excellent. I cannot comment on individual playing by guitarists, keyboard players and brass players because I’m a drummer. I can say the drumming was excellent. I didn’t catch the name of the drummer when the band members were introduced but I thought he was called Scott. Someone tweeted Scott Bonham in reply to my question so maybe that’s who it was? I’ve heard of a Jason Bonham, but not a Scott Bonham. Anyone know? (EDIT: The drummer was called Scott Devours and I believe he’s from Roger Daltery’s band – thanks Einstein!)
The gig for me though, has to go to Pete Townshend. The guy never stopped moving, always looked like he was enjoying himself and sang like he really meant it. I got the distinct impression than Quadrophenia was very much his baby. I could be wrong, but I doubt it. Before the gig, I thought the classic windmilling and stage attire would probably be a little tacky and old hat (no pun intended) but now I can say I’ve seen him in action with my own eyes, he pulled it off and looked like a true rock God doing it! So maybe rock Gods don’t actually get old? Either way, the guy has got far more energy than I’ll ever have!
What else could I note? The PA, I counted eighteen subs and I think along with sixty mid / high boxes, all arranged in typical arena style line arrays. Why do I mention this? Well, I’m a sound engineer and self confessed geek. I do these things. The sound quality was great but maybe not quite as good as when I saw Roger Waters perform The Wall a couple of years ago in the same venue. The Wall was using a more complex system though and I think it used some surround sound elements. The Who by contrast went for old fashioned quality with volume. Only the first couple of numbers had me wondering if the FOH engineer had problems. After that it was all good.
Lights? Too many to count. Very bright and most moved. I was very surprised at the lack of smoke machines. Most intelligent lighting systems use smoke machines or hazers to fill the air with a thin cloud in order that the movement of the light beams can show more clearly. In essence, it adds movement to the light show in general, yet they chose to not do this. I don’t know why?
All in all, I thought it was a fantastic show and I’m so glad that I made a spot random decision to take up an offer from a friend and go check out The Who. There are many bands that can rock an arena these days but after last night I’m fairly convinced that no band could have rocked an arena or stadium quite like The Who, back in the 70’s. Now I have an album to go and buy….
PS Pictures taken on my iPhone – I’m not claiming they’re great quality! Full size versions can be seen on our Twitter feed. If you’d like to share this article, please do so below using the share buttons. I’d also welcome your comments.