The Who : New York Madison Square Garden

Cover your ears everybody, mod's gone prog...

While the current crop of Britrock bands struggle to break America, The Who‘s return to the States sees them touting their well-worn wares in arenaville. You can’t really see Travis or Oasis doing that in 35 years’ time, can you?

The veteran Anglophiles are out in force to pay homage to their heroes, back playing the hits for no discernible reason other than they enjoy being with each other (there is talk of a new album, but we hear no sneak previews from it tonight). “It’s not about the money,” says an emotional Pete Townshend from the stage, “it’s about love.”

The group, with Ringo‘s boy Zak Starkey filling in admirably for the towering (but ultimately tragic) tubthumping legend Keith Moon, hit the ground running, and the opening straight-outta-Shepherd’s Bush salvo of ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Substitute’ and ‘Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere’ is enough to humble the hardest of cynics. But the extended coda at the end of the latter signifies the beginning of a journey into – gulp – prog rock hell.

Doesn’t stop the whooping and hollering from the Yank ‘mod’ massive, mind. The Who‘s major success on this side of the pond came in the ’70s, and the majority of the remaining two hours or so is spent revisiting the bombast and excess of the most self-indulgent of rock’s golden years of yore. We also have to put up with Townshend‘s rambling pontifications on a number of topics, such as the Internet (“I thought it would be a coming together of spirits, not chat lines and pornography”) and his kids. God, he LOVES his kids. So much so that he sings a new section tagged onto the end of ‘The Kids Are Alright’ that basically repeats over and over again how much he loves his kids. You got that, everyone?

So we get a huge chunk of 1971’s ‘Who’s Next’ and a smattering of ‘Quadrophenia’ tracks, which is when things start to get really hairy. John Entwhistle tags on a rubbish bass solo at the end of ‘5:15’ which would surely have made the movie’s principal character Jimmy throw himself off a cliff had he heard such bastardising of the movie’s sharp, sussed spirit. Oh, and ‘Pinball Wizard’ is good, but they stop it abruptly after about two minutes. How weird. If only more of the set was this succinct.

They close, of course, with ‘My Generation’, which is just plain funny. And it goes on and on, which is just plain ironic, although not to this crowd’s ears. The rather portly gentleman who fell asleep halfway through is by now quite invigorated.

Cover your ears everybody, mod’s gone prog.

Alan Woodhouse