The Who made their reputation as the loudest band in rock but it was hard to really hear them at Wembley stadium on July 6, 2019.
Instead, high up in the third level of the monstrous stadium, we heard a mushy blend of trumpets and violins drowning out the cutting edges of Pete Townshend, a god of the guitar. Amid the cacophony of echoes, we had to struggle to discern two of the most iconic voices in rock — Roger Daltrey and before him, Eddie Vedder.
It’s too bad, because The Who are still great. They deserved better than a half-empty football stadium for their historic “return” to London.
As Pete said, they really should have played Glastonbury. Their music, which was ahead of their times and still sounds timeless, deserves relevance for all generations, not just nostalgia for an audience mainly over 50.
Even if they no longer play “My Generation”, they really should talk about it.
These guys in their mid-70s still rock big time, and they have an important role teaching us how to rock and what to rock against. Daltrey can still hit notes that challenge many vocalists, even if he worries he’ll lose his voice over the next five years. His performance of Love Reign O’er Me really did make it rain near the end of the show. Pete’s singing is better than back in the day. He sounds like the old bluesmen he idolized in the 1950s and 60s.
Pete and Roger deserve credit for hiring underpaid classical musicians to fill out their operatic sound, especially in the opening Tommy section and the closing tunes from Quadrophenia. But this enlarged version of The Who deserved a week-long residence at the Royal Albert Hall, or maybe 2 shows at 02 Arena or at least a smaller football stadium.
How bad was the mix of sound, bouncing around the oversized stadium and off low, threatening clouds on a cold damp London summer night? I walked around the upper deck and couldn’t find Pete’s guitar. The full range of instruments never cut through the air to my vantage points across the stadium. Half the show I was left wondering if Pete was actually playing, or if he hadn’t found a guitar technician to replace his beloved Alan Rogan, who passed away days before the show.
The sound came through best when it was just Pete and Roger playing a refreshened acoustic version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. We could finally hear Pete’s guitar when the scaled down outfit played Substitute, The Seeker and Pinball Wizard.
Their amazing performance — or what I could hear of it — made me think that I would pay double to see Pete and Roger as a small folk act called “Pete and Roger”. Like the ballads of Neil Young or Bob Dylan, their songs would have enough innate force to carry that show without all the orchestration.
And they really should be touring with bands such as Kasabian, Arctic Monkeys, Kendrick Lamar or whoever the hottest, latest thing is. It’s ridiculous to think that a younger generation doesn’t know about the guys who wrote the soundtrack for generational conflict and inspired bands such as Eddie Vedder’s Pearl Jam.
Pete and Roger don’t need the money anymore. They can afford to play for less at smaller venues to reach new audiences who should really wanna know Who are You.
As Roger said at the end of the show: our glamour is gone, our youth is gone, but the music is still great. It really is great. And they are still great performers. What they needed was a better venue.
(words and images copyright Christopher Johnson Globalite Media all rights reserved).