“You will remember this all your life”, promises Roger Daltrey, but not necessarily for the right reasons. The Who, as guitarist Pete Townshend explains, making their way onto a stage that usually requires the most rigorous preparation, rehearsed their stripped-down acoustic show for Daltrey’s annual Teenage Cancer Trust charity shows for “about two hours “, with a “thrown together” group of fiddlers, squeezeboxers and tub-thumpers. “It’s absolutely shit,” he admits.
He’s not kidding either. An early imitator of Taj Mahal and Keb Mo’s country blues cover of “Squeeze Box” repeatedly collapses amid resounding disagreements over what key it should be in. The announced “new ending” for “Pinball Wizard” doesn’t happen at all and Daltrey is musically knocked out by faulty in-ear monitors on several occasions, even insisting on playing 2019’s “Break the News” twice to do the right thing. things.
For the first half hour, the concert functions as both a quasi-rehearsal and a comedic spectacle, as Townshend makes jokes about the actress and the bishop, throws shade at Rod Stewart and jokes about the how he and Daltrey now make music “at different speeds”. He gets faster and I get colder. During one of many false starts for a rooted ‘The Kids Are Alright’, he calls for Daltrey’s chivalry – under fire lately for his I’m-alright-Jack attitude to touring issues post-Brexit of new bands, but undoubtedly the hardworking hero of the TCT. “If I want to be something, I’d rather be a count,” replies Daltrey, “It’s more bluesy.”
Initially, such repartee alone provides the intimacy that acoustic shows typically crave, as a crush through “Substitute” suggests The Who couldn’t stop rocking if they tried. There is, after all, little poetic seriousness to be drawn from lines such as “the north side of my town faced east and the east faced south”. But as “The Kids Are Alright” gives way to a wistful autobiographical coda, Daltrey recalling the band’s beginnings as a microphone lasso minstrel, they begin to exhibit emotion in their music as much as its folk, skiffle, country sound. and the foundations of the blues.
Their big ballad “Behind Blue Eyes” is an obvious acoustic fit, turned tonight into a swampy country lament, and 1967’s “Tattoo,” a tale of rite of passage of young brothers exploring manhood through the art of the needle, makes the transition to a comforting hymn easy. More intriguing are the elements of dub, gospel and reggae that come to the fore on “Eminence Front” and 2004’s “Real Good Looking Boy,” a track that blatantly steals from “Can’t Help Falling in Love.” of Elvis Presley and more subtly of Bob Marley’s “No Woman, No Cry”. As they indulge in a touch of flamenco sweetness on “She Rocked My World” and transform the first live of “Beads on One String” into a soulful anthem of folk unity, the stage adorned with digital Ukrainian flags, they have hit the right balance of weight and restraint. “Who Are You,” delivered like a Mississippi porch party, is exactly what Albert Hall signed up for.
The real revelations are saved for last. A superb “Baba O’Riley” led by an accordion gains in brilliance without losing any of its shivering power. And as the band leave the stage for Daltrey and Townshend to perform “Won’t Get Fooled Again” with a single acoustic guitar between them, the real Who of 2022, the passion at the heart of their music is beautifully laid bare. As the man said: unforgettable.