The Who, Odyssey Arena – Belfast, 10th June 2013

The once ‘Oorible ‘Oo might now be the bromantic twosome of Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, both of whom are now pushing 70, rather than the brash, in-fighting four piece of their 1960s and 70s prime but no-one told the crowd given the volume and number of fights that occur and the veterans’ experience comes through in the end, like a late goal from Ryan Giggs, underlining how much arena rock has become an old man’s game.

Visiting Belfast for the first time in 46 years (with my Uncle attendant both then in the Ulster Hall for a matinee show and tonight at the Odyssey) the Who stage a multi-media run through of 1973 existentialist rock opera and arguably last artistic triumph, Quadrophenia, supplemented with a hits laden finale.

The Who have resurrected Quadrophenia before but Roger Daltrey has taken the musical director’s helm on this tour and rounded out the already expanded ten man band with a brass section avoiding the tape based sounds of yore and embellishes the album with a collection of cold war new clips, newsreel of riots, youth culture iconography and 21st century disharmony which gives the old tale of teenage paranoia, isolation and social change a chance to stay relevant beyond the baby boomers that constitute the majority of tonight’s audience.

Both fallen members of the band make appearances in that strange way that old rockers have been reappearing (see Freddie Mercury at the Olympics ceremony) via video. Moon takes his gap-toothed vocal on Bellboy while current drummer, Zak Starkey jams with the Ox in an extended solo break as the climax to 5:15. Somehow it works, avoiding the cringing crassness of that Tupac hologram as the crowd ladle the videos with affection.

As for Quadrophenia itself the 90 minute record stretches to 110 minutes tonight with Townshend stretching out on Drowned – the only real moment of self-indulgence in an otherwise typically energetic show. The horn section of J. Greg Miller and Reggie Grisham really adds punch and Simon Townshend’s lead playing allows Pete (his elder brother) to let loose on the windmilling and pick flinging theatrics. Highlights include the aforementioned 5:15, one of the few standalone tracks from the record and The Real Me, I’m One and the Punk and the Godfather. Vocally, where Pete croaks in some sort of ill-advised Shepherd’s Bush bluesman style, Roger roars delivering Love Reign O’er Me with the gusto of a much younger man.

As the night wears on Roger’s shirt buttons magically come undone ‘til we end the hits section facing a tanned, open shirted old boy – give that man a fringed suede jacket, someone – delivering the unimpeachable classics of Who Are You, Behind Blue Eyes, Pinball Wizard and Won’t Get Fooled Again.

The show comes to a conclusion not without riotous feedback and whitened knuckles but with the heart warming ode to the Two’s modern friendship; Tea and Theatre, the quiet acoustic strum from 2006’s Endless Wire. That ending reminds you that you’re in 2013; however, the sheer amount of drink taken by the aging Mods of Belfast would have you believe otherwise as they roar back their approval like they never aged a day. 1963 to 2013 is one a hell of a wait but The Who prove that they are worth it even 46 years on.

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