Thursday, December 18, 2008

Slip-up Kids

I've just seen The Who 3 times in the last 4 days. Does this make me, to use a word I often hear young people use in a very disparaging manner, 'sad'?

No- it makes me very happy indeed!

When writing about them in a previous posting I mused on what they would have to do for me to say that they'd played badly- well on Monday night I found out. They attempted to play an acoustic version of 'Slip Kid' as part of their encore which was frankly, not very good... well actually it was pretty awful, terrible even. There- I said it! It would have helped if Roger Daltrey had known the words, or even sounded as though he'd heard the song before; then again what on earth was Simon Townshend doing? Standing at the back of the stage clapping along and attempting to provide backing vocals he looked like someone who would rather have been anywhere rather than where he was, and doing anything other than what he was doing. And as for big brother Pete- sitting on a red sparkly Fender stool scowling across the stage as he attempted to remember a chord sequence he'd written 30-something years ago he seemed a long way from being the man who wrote the rulebook for rock guitar performance. As they crucified one of my favourite Who songs I looked around me at my fellow audience members- some were laughing, others looked horrified, most looked bemused. Could this really be the same people who had just delivered such an astonishing performance of some of the greatest rock songs ever written?

Yes, incredibly it could- and indeed it was. In the previous 90-or-so minutes they'd played with enough energy to power half of London, a feat they repeated on the other 2 nights with an almost casual brilliance that most bands strive for but never even get near to achieving. All the classics were there for the casual observer/'C.S.I.' fan, but there were a few twists for the diehards like myself- they don't play 'Naked Eye' too often these days, I last saw them play 'Sister Disco' in 1981 with the much-maligned (unfairly so in my not-so-humble opinion) Kenney Jones on drums, and I'd never seen them play 'Tattoo' before- so everyone went home happy. Pete Townshend is now officially rock's grumpiest old man, ranting and raving about everything from airline ticket prices to the plot of 'Quadrophenia' ('a kid has a bad day- and then it rains') whilst wearing a pair of outsized sunglasses and a black trilby that, as Big Andy put it, made him look like something between a Beastie Boy and a Blues Brother. After Monday night's opening number 'I Can't Explain' (how many other bands can still start their shows with their first single 43 years after it was first released?) he put his guitar down and walked offstage with words to the effect of 'something weird's happened in my inner ear' leaving a bemused band to follow him a few moments later; he returned after a few minutes to play the song again, one of the strangest things I've ever seen happen on a stage. But The Who were never predictable, and maybe that's why I like them so much- it's not just that every show is different, it's that every performance of every song has the potential to be different to the one before. I've just been listening to a recording of them in Amsterdam in 1969; it's the same set that they played 6 months later at Leeds University but parts of it couldn't be more different- not better or worse, just different. The best part of 40 years later and with half of the band sadly passed away the group now called 'The Who' is still as uncontrollable and dangerous on stage as ever, which in these days of X-Factored monotony is a rarity worth celebrating. Now if they could just get 'Slip Kid' right next time... please...

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