Gig review: The Who at Sewell Group Craven Park

The veteran British rockers kick off a first British tour in six years with a neat twist on legacy act shows

A rippling squall of sound echoes forth from the stage as Roger Daltrey whirls his microphone with the fervour of a man half his age. Besides him, Pete Townsend lobs the occasional windmill arm in the air, detonating beefy chords from his fretboard with the impact of a bomb crater. The Who have come to Humberside, and they want everyone to know they're in town.

The home of Hull Kingston Rovers is an odd place to kick off a first British tour in six years, a higgledy-piggledy three-stand structure with an open-ended exposure braced against a caravan showground. It's a far cry from the mega-gig stardom of their Wembley Stadium and Hyde Park performances over the past decade, never mind their turn as Glastonbury headliners in 2015.

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Uncharitable japes regarding the perceived synergy of both band and team fortunes have already been made, but much as Hull KR have found resurgence, so too have Daltrey and Townsend. In addition to their long-time touring crew, they are bolstered here by the presence of a full orchestra, filling out their sprawling psycho-opera compositions with dramatic flair and aplomb.

The Who's Pete Townshend and Roger DaltreyThe Who's Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey
The Who's Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey

Symphonic guitar music is not exactly a new conceit, but The Who's oeuvre is ripe for augmentation. Trooping onto the stage en-masse with the sun hung midway across the distant horizon, they rumble through a two-hour-plus performance with sedately lush suites from the meridian dramas of Tommy and Quadrophenia, bookending a slate of pugilistic pop hooks sans accompaniment in-between; a neat twist on legacy act shows.

At seventy-nine, Daltrey is still outpacing the ravages of time with a glint of golden-air mischief, even as his voice continues to fade with age. Like a Cockney wink-wink-nudge pastiche of Peter Pan, he stands in contrast to Townsend, craggier at a year younger, uncharacteristically grandfatherly beneath his beanie and sunglasses.

They natter like old friends down the social club and take pains to highlight their fellow players; Pinball Wizard and Eminence Front are wonderfully illuminated with baroque flourishes.

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An all-electric midsection riffs primarily off the band's vintage radio staples, capped with a dynamically chaotic Won't Get Fooled Again that threatens to level Craven Park, while the home stretch of Quadrophenia-era material, topped by Love, Reign O'er Me and an amuse-bouche of Baba O'Riley forms a natural peak to this marriage of minds and matter. "Just wonderful," Daltrey murmurs late on as darkness blankets them.

It certainly is.

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