The Who

Edinburgh Castle esplanade


AS the rain-spattered queue of fans inched its way towards Edinburgh Castle on Saturday night, a middle-aged man could be seen holding a handwritten note saying that he was looking for a ticket, and that he was from the USA. It's not known whether he actually secured a ticket, but his determination to get in reflects the affection with which The Who are regarded by their hardcore fans.

The concert, the first of two that the band performed over the weekend, was a constant joy to behold. On the very night that Elton John, 76, brought the curtain down on his farewell tour in Stockholm, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, both of a similar vintage, showed yet again that they remain one of the most compelling live acts in rock music.

"You know", Townshend remarked at one point, "as we get older, the fans get older, but still I think I'm probably the oldest person in the building. All you guys who think you're old because you're bald and fat - you're just ------- boys!" Later, he acknowledged the passing of drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle: "Quite a lot of people say The Who should be renamed Who's Left", he said. "But we replaced two people with fifty, which isn't bad". With a sweep of his hand he indicated the full orchestra behind him.

The band has in its time performed with orchestras in various projects. Here, the Heart of England Philharmonic - not, as Townshend mischievously remarked at the beginning, the Edinburgh Philharmonic - added depth and lustre to many of his best-known songs. Daltrey himself has quipped that the orchestra brings some "old-age dignity" to The Who.

With a backing group that included drummer Zak Starkey, son of Ringo Starr, who displayed much of Moon's manic energy, Townshend and Daltrey delivered a high-powered set that ranged across the years.

A quite spellbinding highlight was Behind Blue Eyes, Daltrey's favourite Who song: Daltrey singing, Townshend seated with acoustic guitar, Katie Jacoby on violin and Audrey Q Synder on cello.

The Who at Celtic Park, 1976: lasers and high-energy rock'n'roll

The audience was on its feet for an exuberant Pinball Wizard and My Generation. We're Not Gonna Take It/See Me Feel Me, early on in the set, had the driving intensity of an encore. Who Are You was as compelling and as urgent as ever. Once the orchestra took a break the band plunged into classic after classic: The Kids Are Alright, You Better You Bet, a quite thrilling Substitute, My Generation, Won't Get Fooled Again.

High up in the stands, amidst the intermittent rain, strangers exchanged high-fives as they revelled in the joy of it all. Two fans near the front of the stage could be spotted in collars, ties and outsize Who parkas.

Not everyone in the crowd, though, was entirely happy. "No disrespect to The Who, who were great tonight," the novelist Ian Rankin tweeted later, "but can we agree that fans who’ve paid £100 to be at a gig deserve - hear me out - a comfy seat and a view of the stage. No?"

After a spell it was time for the orchestra to return, for a selection of songs from Quadrophenia: The Real Me, a raucous 5.15, I'm One. The Rock was accompanied by footage of key news events from recent decades, from the Vietnam war to 9/11 and Obama (the crowd booed the inclusion of Thatcher). Love, Reign O'er Me remains one of Townshend's finest moments, Daltrey's voice as imperious as ever. 

Finally, after Baba O'Riley, with Jacoby centre-stage on violin, it was just Townshend and Daltrey for the final number, the poignant Tea & Theatre. It wasn't written about Townshend and Daltrey, the former explains in the concert programme - they had been left behind by Moon and Entwistle - but that is what it has come to represent. As the final chord rang out Daltrey placed an affectionate hand on Townshend's shoulder. It was the end of a remarkable concert. The Who: still rocking after all these years. Accept no substitute.