The Who Sell Out at 50

The Who is a band that’s almost as agile as it’s always been, even if there are teleprompters here and there and the guitarist no longer does spectacular leaps in the air.
The Who
Eagle Rock

What do you get out of the band that’s done virtually everything? Depends on what you’re looking for. In this case, it’s a (delightfully) mixed bag.

Record on 26 June 2015 this is the Who at 50, and they’re as loud, sweaty and brash as you’d expect after all these years. The show offers little in the way of surprise or disappointment for the songs played. We get “The Seeker”, “I Can’t Explain” and a nice dash of works from Tommy, of course. Oh, sure, there’s a shout out to Paul Weller, who requested “Pictures Of Lily” via email and a ragged but right reading of that tune, but for the most part this is everything you’d want the Who to play if you were plunking down serious cash for a show.

In addition to the show itself we have testimonials from Iggy Pop, Johnny Marr and Weller interspersed with interview footage from Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, each reminding us that they’re finally on friendly terms (they’ve been saying that for the last couple of years), and Townshend reminds us how he’s a somewhat reluctant participant in the band at this point. Maybe this is the Who on ice, a show that offers no surprise, just faithful renditions of our shared past. Some rock bands have done worse than these elder statesmen do here.

Daltrey’s voice is in better shape than it has the right to be (as is Townshend’s) and the band, now augmented by three keyboardists (John Corey, Loren Gold, Frank Simes), a guitarist (Simon Townshend, Pete’s brother who has been along for the ride for a while now), and a rhythm section (Zak Starkey on drums, the almighty Pino Palladino on bass) that plays the material faithfully and with fire, does what it can to offer new spaces to old songs. Maybe there’s the surprise. We tend to think of the Who as a masculine band, dripping with the macho, battering out brashness and bombast for bros, but the band has always been smarter, subtler and softer than that. We tend to think of it as music made by young men who wanted to die before old age set in but that was just a line in a song and anyone who can play with fire and aggression can certainly get behind this music.

No, Live at Leeds II it ain’t, and in many ways we can be thankful for that, but it’s also not entirely something that’s been relegated to spectacle and good vibes. The band isn’t playing before a reduced audience, the band isn’t lying about who’s in the band, and the band clearly isn’t lying about its age. They don’t have to. The Who is a band that’s almost as agile as it’s always been, even if there are teleprompters here and there and the guitarist no longer does spectacular leaps in the air.

There aren’t really any standout tracks here, these are standard issue versions of “Join Together”, “You Better You Bet” and “The Kids Are Alright”, with nothing to distinguish them from what you’ve heard on the radio 20 times this afternoon alone. (Right?) But being there, watching it unfold in front of your very own eye sockets? Well, that’s a different story, innit? The video provided here gives us just a glimpse of what that must’ve been like.

Does it excite? Well, maybe. Certainly after watching this one might think that packing up for the weekend and taking off to see the Who live is a good idea. Maybe it is. However, it only excites as much as a touring company of a show might the first time it comes around in a season. Without a new show, new material or the promise of something else, what’s the point of going out when you can stay at home and watch the same thing?

Daltrey suggests that the end may be close — but not as close as we may think. Townshend is weary of a future that finds him and his friends doing acoustic sets and over explaining material that’s been explained to death. Maybe this should be the end. Half a century is a good run, isn’t it? On the other hand, there’s all of us who’ve still never felt the thrill of “Baba O’Riley” moving through the air and giving us gooseflesh.

This edition of Live In Hyde Park comes with a Blu-ray and two CDs, which offer some variation in running order, but little else. The Blu-ray features four “bonus” performances, including “The Seeker”, “Squeeze Box”, “You Better You Bet” and “The Kids Are Alright”. Disappointingly there’s no “Summertime Blues”, which may have been appropriate for the occasion if a bit too much on the nose. The accompanying booklet doesn’t say much that hasn’t already been said, but that probably shouldn’t come as a surprise.

RATING 6 / 10
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