The Who played their first concert since the pandemic began at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Friday evening. It was an all-acoustic charity gig to benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust that featured a unique lineup of backing musicians, an oddball setlist, more than few stops and starts, and minimal preparation. “We’ve only had two hours rehearsal,” Pete Townshend told the crowd early on, “so it’s going to be shit.”
Backed by guitarist Simon Townshend, percussionist Jody Linscott, bassist Phil Spalding, and backing vocalist Billy Nicholls, they opened up with “Substitute” and then attempted to follow it up with “Squeeze Box.” The only problem was some members of the band were playing in the key of G and others were in D. It took them three attempts to figure it out, and even Townshend admitted he didn’t know how it should go.
The set included four songs from their 2020 LP Who, including the live debut of “Beads on One String.” “Break Tthe News” was played in full twice since Daltrey was unhappy with the first attempt. They also broke out their 2004 deep cut “Real Good Looking Boy” for the first time since 2008, and an extremely rare “Eminence Front” with Roger Daltrey on lead vocals instead of Townshend.
Perhaps the most surprising moment came near the end of the set when Townshend said they were going to play one of his solo songs. “Last week, a film was really big on Netflix called The Adam Project,” he said. “It got 60 million views in 14 days, and this song was in the movie. On Shazam I think it had 600,000 Shazams of people going, ‘Hey man, what’s that song? I’ll Shazam it.’ And it went to #3 on the Shazam chart.”
He was talking about his 1980 solo hit “Let My Love Open the Door.” The song is a staple of Townshend solo gigs, but it hasn’t been played at a Who concert since their 1989 reunion tour. As you can see from the above video, they got through it without any interruptions or arguments about what key to play it in. The show ended with Townshend and Daltrey playing “Won’t Get Fooled Again” without any of the other musicians.
The Who return to the road on April when the The Who hits Back! tour begins in Hollywood, Florida, at Hard Rock Live. They’ll be joined by local symphonies at every stop of the run. These will be well-rehearsed shows where they’re unlikely to argue onstage over how to play their songs, but they probably won’t be quite as fun.