The Who at Wembley Stadium: A rock opera of epic proportions
Multi-generational rock legends The Who put on a show of epic proportions, with a full orchestra and plenty of great support acts in the lineup.
First to take the stage is 20-year-old Connor Selby. The stadium contains some early attendees at this point, pinpricks in the huge ground, and the young songwriter captivates with his mature vocals and exceptional guitar playing. Selby’s debut album, Made Up My Mind, is heavily influenced by an array of artists spanning genres such as folk, soul, gospel and R ’n’ B, all of which shape his techniques – evident in the set today. The vocalist shows off his skills with long licks and riffs in This Old World, backed by a strong bass line. The highlight of the brief billing comes from Tired of Wasting My Time, a sombre and lyrically honest track imbued with the classic rock melodies that so inspired Selby, while the stunning blues-tinged You Hurt me is another example of his gifted musicianship.
A strings-only rendition by Red Limo Quartet introduces Pearl Jam’s grunge-rocker Eddie Vedder on stage with Alive, followed by Wishlist, the singer on electric guitar, visible through a sepia screen visual shaped like an old Macintosh computer; the two large screens are off initially, making it difficult for far-seated patrons to see the concert, though this issue is finally fixed. The multi-instrumentalist’s set is mainly comprised of Pearl Jam tracks such as I Am Mine, Elderly Woman Behind the Counter in a Small Town and Corduroy, with an accompanying speech on how much The Who means to him. Vedder is joined by his friend, Pete Townshend’s brother Simon, for a cover of his 1983 track I’m the Answer. Glen Hansard, Irish songwriter and star of popular musical Once, later joins Vedder for Society, originally a Jerry Hannan cover used in the 2007’s critically acclaimed Into the Wild film soundtrack – a sure highlight. Vedder and Hansard also participate in rapid strumming, evocative of Spanish flamenco guitar playing. A slowed down rendition of Black supported by the orchestra is beautiful and haunting, Vedder’s iconic voice echoing in the vast football stadium, while Queen’s Crazy Little Thing Called Love is an audience favourite, contrasting earlier grunge tracks. Vedder completes his set with Porch and a cover of Canadian singer-songwriter Indio’s Hard Sun, also part of the Into the Wild soundtrack, and a perfect end.
And then it’s time for one of the seminal British groups in the world, ready to grace the stage with cuts from their expansive and influential back catalogue. Backed up by a full orchestra, The Who’s performance is thunderous and extravagant, the rock’n’roll veterans giving it everything they got. Overture (Tommy, 1969) sets the mood for a monumental show, and at over two-and-a-half hours long, it does admittedly test the limits of some concertgoers, who leave early, disappointed with the acoustics. 1921, Amazing Journey and Sparks follow from the same album, the guitarists performing with vigour as in their younger years. The band take a mellower approach with We’re Not Gonna Take It, Townshend acknowledging the expensive ticket prices, thanking the crowd for working so hard to afford them. They play the more popular Who Are You, with the crowd singing along, but it’s Eminence Front that stands heads above a lot of the songs tonight, less rock opera and more unique in musical style. The back screen shows a variety of images throughout, from the members in their formative years to The Who’s iconic symbol in blue, white and red concentric circles and England’s current women’s football team. With two live debuts tonight, Hero Ground Zero and Townshend’s song Guantanamo, there is plenty of new material still to show. A kazoo introduces an Aboriginal musical element to Join Again, and finishing off the first half of their set, Townshend pays tribute to his friend and guitar technician Alan Rogan, who passed away only two days previously.
The Who return to earlier work again with Substitute, The Seeker from Meaty, Beaty, Big and Bouncy (1970), Townshend and Daltrey then treating us to an acoustic rendition of Won’t Get Fooled Again, followed by a strings version of Behind Blue Eyes, the crowd swaying with phone torches. Vedder is a friend of Townshend, and admired by Daltrey, joining them for The Punk and the Godfather. However, it’s Love Reign O’er Me that is one of the final highlights of a grand show, with its glistening visuals, Daltrey’s arms raised, singing passionately –powerful and incredibly moving. Uplifting classic Baba O’Riley lights up the dark summer evening with colourful flashing pops of luminous green and blue, Daltrey stating how “the youth is gone, but the f**cking music is better than ever.”
Photos: Virginie Viche
For further information and future events visit The Who’s website here.
Watch the video for Baba O’Riley here: