BWW Review: THE WHO: MOVING ON!, Wembley Stadium
Remarkably, it's been 40 years since legendary rock band The Who performed at Wembley Stadium, back then sharing the stage with the likes of The Stranglers and AC/DC. This weekend's return - featuring a line-up of four support acts - felt like something of a homecoming festival for the band, made all the more grandiose an occasion with the addition of an orchestra for the headliners' set.
With the very recent loss of Pete Townshend's guitar technician Alan Rogan, it was also a chance to honour his long-term involvement with the band and to celebrate life.
Fresh from the release of his debut album towards the end of last year, up-and-coming guitarist and band leader Connor Selby kicked off proceedings with a short but impressive set; a great fit for this line-up, his blues guitar influences shone through and got the stadium rocking. Next up was Irish rocker Imelda May, who did her best to get the growing crowd involved in clapping along whilst having a whale of a time herself - by the time the band reached "Mayhem" and a cover of "Teenage Kicks" the party felt like it was getting started.
Following strains of Dire Straits' "Money for Nothing" being pumped around the stadium, Leeds outfit Kaiser Chiefs took to the stage and really got things going with a bit of a 'best of' set, including two numbers from their soon-to-be-released album Duck (cheekily advertised by frontman Ricky Wilson as the band took a quick breather). Wilson could perhaps be seen as Roger Daltrey's natural successor in terms of his onstage antics, quickly launching himself here, there and everywhere, flinging his microphone and tambourine around, and clambering up onto the drum risers and speakers at any given opportunity.
By the time they reached favourites "I Predict a Riot", "Ruby" and "Oh My God", the crowd was united and found their singing voices; the volume in and around Wembley jumped up a notch, whilst retaining a notable clarity - probably the best in the entire show. "We are the Kaiser Chiefs, remember us for your next party!" exclaimed Ricky Wilson to the cheering masses.
The energy gradually ramped up throughout each of the first three support acts' sets, hyping up the crowd for the main event. Though his legendary status earned him top billing of the support, Eddie Vedder's folk rock set did put the brakes on somewhat, with a selection of very similar-sounding songs. His set featured guest appearances from Simon Townshend (brother of Pete) and Glen Hansard (known for Once, he has toured a lot with Vedder).
He did seem to have a very enthusiastic fanbase in, however, and his cover of "Crazy Little Thing Called Love" - Wembley inspiring in him thoughts of Freddie Mercury - was unexpected and truly excellent. For Vedder, being part of this gig and being embraced by The Who is "one of the great thrills of my life", after growing up in thrall of them. He left with a reminder to follow your ambitions: "It's a healthy thing to imagine the possibilities and dream big."
With the sun starting to go down, The Who made their long-anticipated entrance, blasting into "Overture" from Tommy with the orchestra, followed by a selection of songs from the 50-year-old rock opera - including the perennially popular "Pinball Wizard". Later on they returned to another of their epics, Quadrophenia, inviting Eddie Vedder back to the stage for a memorable duet of "The Punk and the Godfather", as well as renditions of "5:15" and live staple "Drowned". A revival of the stage show, with its themes of disaffected youth and dead-end jobs, would surely go down well in the current climate.
As it was a two-and-a-half-hour show, the orchestra needed to take a bit of a break - which gave the band a great opportunity to go it alone for a little while, and allowed the crowd to really rock out with "Substitute" and "The Seeker". Originally written on acoustic guitar as something of a 'protest song' protest song, this stripped back arrangement shone new light on "Won't Get Fooled Again", and led perfectly into a string-accompanied rendition of "Behind Blue Eyes".
The concert also provided an opportunity to share a couple of new songs on top of these new orchestrated versions; bringing the orchestra in was Daltrey's plan, and it worked well in enriching the sound without taking away the rock element - and it certainly didn't stop Townshend's trademark windmills from making several appearances! On first violin, Katie Jacoby also rose to the occasion in the closing sequence to a showstopping performance of "Baba O'Riley".
Whilst there were a few notable absences on the set list - my personal favourite "You Better You Bet" unfortunately didn't make an appearance - it was a pretty well-conceived show, and made effective use of the orchestra. The sound within Wembley did leave a bit to be desired at times, particularly when people tried to speak in between songs, but they definitely turned it up to eleven; the roar of the crowd during the classics was undimmed, in spite of a curiously low capacity of pitch seats (and no official standing section).
People might try to put them d-down, but The Who are still going to get around; they are off to America in the first instance, but announced their intention to return to the UK next year with the orchestra for a reprise. If you missed out this time, make sure you don't get fooled again and join together with the band - there's no substitute.