The Kids Are Better Than Alright
Royal Albert Hall

The Who

Royal Albert Hall, London - 26th March 2015
It's fifteen years since Roger Daltrey launched the first concert at the Royal Albert Hall in aid of the Teenage Cancer Trust and since that time the annual event has raised over £20 million for the charity, an astonishing total that has made a huge impact on the lives of so many young sufferers. Being an anniversary of sorts, this year's week of shows was graced by the artists who joined The Who on stage back in 2000, with Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller and Stereophonics each headlining one night at the famous old venue. The Who had reserved the Thursday night and their appearance was made all the more special as, not only were they celebrating their fiftieth anniversary together, but they had drafted in Wilko Johnson as support, the man himself only just having made a remarkable recovery from the dreaded disease.

It's the first time we have seen Wilko since his successful operation and the man is certainly looking trimmer, no surprise really given the football sized tumour they cut from his insides. The mood is completely different from the live experiences of the past couple of years; it's more celebratory and less clouded with emotion as the guitar legend plays a short, sharp set that gets the party swinging. His eight tracks include Dr Feelgood classics 'All Through The City', a normal length 'Roxette', 'Back In The Night' and 'She Does It Right', plus solo efforts 'If You Want Me You've Got Me', 'Dr Dupree', the thankfully (now) ironic 'When I'm Gone' and 'Keep On Loving You' which featured on the 2014 Going Back Home album recorded with Roger Daltrey.

The trio are in fine fettle. Drummer Dylan Howe laughs his way through the entire set, while unsurpassed bassist Norman Watt-Roy is, as usual, completely absorbed in the intricacies of his instrument. They really are an astonishing group of musicians. Johnson barely appears to move his hands as he drums out simultaneous lead and rhythm and glides across the stage; his vocals have improved so much over the years that he now exudes confidence, and it is impossible not to feel the vibe with Watt-Roy caressing his instrument and teasing it into submission, and Howe meticulously driving everything on.

The view is simply staggering. If you have never been to the Albert Hall, the acoustics are not only superb, but the seating is arranged so well that wherever you find yourself in its cavernous interior you have a hundred per cent view of the stage, tons of legroom and so much width that you couldn't elbow your neighbour if you tried. There is some standing space, about six storeys up near the roof of the venue, but the ticketing is so well considered that not one person is forced to stand behind another, allowing for perfect views all round.

Wilko takes his leave and, before The Who's set, Daltrey brings out on to the stage a number of the teenage cancer patients the charity is helping and the entire audience rises to its feet. It's a moving moment that affects the Who singer and it is clear the kids are loving being on such a stage before such an audience. It certainly helps remind everybody why these concerts are taking place; there have already been record receipts from this week's events and no doubt donations continue to pour in as the night progresses.

Pete Townshend emphasises his pleasure at being involved with this good cause as The Who finally hit the stage for what turns out to be a two-hour set jam-packed with classic songs. In many ways it feels like a dream; when seven of your opening songs are 'I Can't Explain', 'Substitute', 'Pictures of Lily', 'My Generation', 'I Can See For Miles', 'Magic Bus' and 'The Kids Are Alright' you clearly have a bit of an edge and it is so impossibly good the emotion is a little overwhelming. The sound is superb, Townshend crashes around in his old familiar style, and Daltrey is simply stunning. Having just turned 71, he is in fine shape and his voice hasn't diminished in the slightest. There are six musicians playing behind the pair (including Ringo's son Zak Starkey who was taught to play drums by Keith Moon), but Daltrey's voice crushes everything. On occasion Townshend just looks at him with unhidden admiration; in turn Daltrey turns Townshend's guitar up as he destroys 'My Generation'. It's great to see the pair getting on, as when they are playing together there is really is little that can touch them.

Throw into the mix 'I'm One' and 'Love, Reign O'er Me' from Quadrophenia, 'Behind Blue Eyes' from Who's Next?, 'Who Are You?' and the band's first mini rock-opera 'A Quick One, While He's Away' and you soon run out of superlatives. There's not many gigs where you know every word to every song; most of the audience here do and they are on their feet totally submerged in the proceedings. There's a slight lull when the band play the not particularly gripping 'You Better You Bet' and 'Join Together', but it is indeed the proverbial before the storm as the introduction to 'Pinball Wizard' brings anyone left seated to their feet and the roof is nearly lifted by the overwhelming audience reaction. It's strange that so ludicrous a song can capture the hearts of so many people, but it certainly hits a nerve and the band build on the momentum with a storming version of 'Baba O' Riley' before concluding with 'Won't Get Fooled Again' and the greatest scream in rock music history.

The audience want more, but there's a curfew so The Who wave farewell and head off into the night. It's been emotional, far more so than we would have believed. Perhaps it's the combination of the incedible venue, the good cause, Wilko and The Who that does it, or maybe we had forgotten just how great The Who have been over such a prolonged period of time. Their sixties singles were amongst the most astonishing ever released, so far ahead of their time, and they remain as potent today as ever they were. Their later albums show real touches of genius and those songs again clearly hit all the right places. Despite their age, the band play with astonishing force and vigour, chat happily to the audience, abusing them for not giving them bigger hits, and yet seem such regular, down-to-earth individuals it is impossible not to warm to them. Perhaps they really are that rarest of things, true music legends.



Wilko Johnson
The Who live at the Albert Hall
Words: Adam Hammond
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