"Can you imagine a football team playing two games in a row?" asked Roger Daltrey as the Who began the second of a two-night, 50th anniversary stand at London's O2 Arena. "That's what they expect from us! But we deliver…"
And deliver they did. Last night's the Who Hits 50! show was part of what's been billed as the Who's last tour, as well as a slightly-belated acknowledgement of five decades in music – originally scheduled for December 2014, the gigs were postponed due to the singer's throat infection. But there was no air of sadness or finality hanging over the night's proceedings. Instead, Daltrey and Pete Townshend bantered and bickered their way through an expansive and occasionally explosive set that brought together almost all the hits, as well as a few less familiar songs, from the last 50 years.
It began with "I Can't Explain," Townshend shaking his guitar vigorously and describing the song as being "written and recorded pretty much before anyone in the building was born." The roar of recognition suggested otherwise, and "Substitute" kept up the pace, even if Townshend subsequently moaned that a musical misstep meant that he'd "lost all my energy now." "You are such a tart," responded Daltrey.
Such good-natured internal squabbling was as close as the show got to a special effect, bar a psychedelic projections and photos of the band members as much younger men. Townshend and Daltrey, backed by a six-piece band, stuck to the basics in order to play as many songs as possible.
There was time, however, to reminisce about Who comrades who sadly didn't make it to the 50th anniversary party. Before a full-blooded rendition of "My Generation," Townshend remembered late bassist John Entwistle's withering expression whenever anyone "made a joke that went too far." And before "So Sad About Us," originally written for the Merseys, Daltrey recalled that late drummer Keith Moon "was a Beach Boys fanatic – he'd have left the Who for the Beach Boys."
There were other memories too, including one of filming the Rolling Stones' Rock and Roll Circus. "We had a laugh doing it," said Townshend, "The Stones didn't go on until 3 a.m., so we got rat-arsed." But most of the recollections were musical: From Quadrophenia's "I'm One" and "Love Reign O'er Me" to It's Hard's "Eminence Front" to Tommy's "Amazing Journey," "Sparks" and "Pinball Wizard," the band played every song with minimum fuss and maximum volume, Townshend's windmilling power chords and Daltrey's roar still intact.
Finally, after a high-powered finale of "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," a little sentiment crept in. "Thanks for sticking with us over the years," said Daltrey, casting a last, lingering look over the crowd.
Even if last night focused on the past, the Who aren't history just yet. The first leg of their North American tour begins in Tampa, Florida's Amalie Arena on April 15th, while London gets another chance to say goodbye with a huge show in Hyde Park on June 26.
"I Can't Explain"
"Who Are You"
"The Kids Are Alright"
"I Can See for Miles"
"Pictures of Lily"
"Behind Blue Eyes"
"You Better You Bet"
"Love Reign O'er Me"
"So Sad About Us"
"A Quick One, While He's Away"
"See Me, Feel Me"
"Won't Get Fooled Again"