The Who have been playing as long as I’ve been around but I’ve never seen them live.
Frankly I don’t get any of their stuff since 1967 when they morphed into the Woodstock friendly stadium band that we know today.
Watching them at the Abu Dhabi arena hours after Lewis Hamilton had lifted the 2014 Drivers Championship confirmed my view that 50 was about 46 year too much. This would have been a good gig if Daltrey , Townsend and co had stuck to “Substitute”, “the Kids are Alright” and ended with “Who are you?”.
That we got bored an hour in and actually left before the encores confirms what I suspected, that the point of the Who was in catching the mood of the sharp-suited mods growing up on Northern Soul and Ska and giving them an English soundtrack to ride their scooters to.
The brilliant visuals that accompanied the first twelve songs of the set referenced all this and with Daltrey’s voice fierce and beautiful, I was transported back to a world I never knew but tried to relive sometime around 1977. Sadly the dream faded and what should have been a climactic moment of the show- a medley of Tommy songs, demonstrated that two hours is too long for Daltrey’s high-octane vocals.
One hour was too long for poor old Pharrell who told us the night before that “my ego can stand me sounding terrible so long as you have a good time”. We were happy and we knew it.
The first 50 minutes of his set were astonishing – he’s arrived with more bling than Hamilton (see above) but threw his neckwear off to give us several great numbers that took the crowd through the wide spectrum of Williams’ emotional and vocal range/
Losing your voice as Williams did half way into his show, is embarrassing;-but the show must go on – and it did. Rather than lip-syncing, Williams played out the remainder of his set, albeit with rather more audience participation than you’d hope for.
Having only a cursory acquaintance with Williams’ oeuvre, I was blown away by the range of his music, the bite of his lyrics and the charm of the man. At one moment I was listening to Michael Jackson, the next to Run DMC and with a vocal range and precision of diction that makes him an outstanding live performer.
It’s too easy to class Pharrell as the future and Roger as the past but I worry for the Who as they embark on an 18 month tour. There is enough in their retrospective to make for a great hour long show but too much to make for a coherent two hour performance, I came away feeling like I’d listened to a greatest hits double album , the second record of which I wouldn’t listen to again.
Pharrell is a phenomenon, it was sad to catch him on a night when his voice let him down, but he and his dance troupe and excellent band are the real deal.