If only every legendary act from the 60s and 70s – I’m speaking about you Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin – appeased their fans in the same way The Who are doing with their Hits 50! tour. Imagine Roger Waters, David Gilmour and Nick Mason letting bygones be bygones and heading out for one last global Floyd trek? Or Plant and Page ringing up John Paul Jones to see if he’s on board for one last extended hurrah for old times’ sake? It’s not too much to ask, is it? So The Who – albeit now down to frontman Roger Daltrey and sardonic guitar genius Pete Townshend, along with a host of session musicians – deserve enormous credit for doing just that. Townshend described this tour as all about the “hits, picks, mixes and misses” but in truth it’s an unashamed (mostly) greatest hits show with all the bells and whistles.
The first six songs of the night – ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘The Seeker’, ‘Who Are You’, ‘The Kids Are Alright’, ‘I Can See For Miles’ and the blistering proto-punk of ‘My Generation’ – are confirmatory of the huge impact the band have had on popular culture. They sound tight, lean and note-perfect. Although now 71 and 70 respectively, Daltrey and Townshend show no signs of slowing down despite Daltrey’s claims that this tour is the “long goodbye.” The frontman’s howl is still firmly intact and Townshend’s signature windmill slamming of his guitar strings is present and correct. Both men are in remarkably fine fettle. Momentum is lost somewhat in the mid section of the show, which may be down to what Townshend referred to as the “misses”, especially during the rock-opera precursor ‘A Quick One, While He’s Away’ but at least we have the slick hi-def big-screen visuals to keep us entertained – all psychedelic collages, ghostly close-ups of deceased members John Entwistle and Keith Moon and shots of the band in their clean-cut heyday.
It’s interesting to watch the interplay between Daltrey and Townshend too; the likeable Daltrey convivial and chatty throughout, his yin to Townshend’s tortured-intellectual yang but Townshend grows more talkative as the night draws to a close, with lengthy introductions to the craft behind his songs and a final proclamation that Dublin is the “best city in the best country with the best people in the world.” Saying this after the celebratory home run of ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ leaves the punters suitably satiated as they file out into a humid night on Dublin’s north wall quay. For a band that ironically once stated they hoped to die before they got old, tonight they played with such youthful zeal that this farewell tour might prove somewhat premature. Let’s hope so.