The Who live at Hove County Cricket Ground – concert review Sun 23 July

Written by Joshua Moores

While the streets of Shepards Bush can claim The Who as their own, it can be argued that the bands spiritual home is Brighton, which is where the bands most recent tour has bought them.

This is thanks to the city’s everlasting connection to Mod Culture (gangs of young people in parka coats fighting leather jacket donning Rockers at English seaside resorts in the early 1960’s). Plus, the role the Mods played in the band’s original image and musical output (The 1973 album Quadrophenia and the subsequent film of the same name are set in the Mod Mecca of Brighton) 

There have been reports of recent gigs being hampered by the biggest shortcoming of the open air venues favoured for this tour, the English summertime drizzle. Fortunately for those attending Sunday’s concert, the sun shone and the atmosphere within the Hove Cricket Ground was that of an apparent homecoming for the band.      

While the elder statesmen of rock were undoubtedly the main stars of the show, the band were supported by a range of performers.

For those lucky enough to arrive at the venue earlier, they would be greeted by the gentle balladry of Isabella Coulstock. Her music is reminiscent of the acoustic more emotionally exposed side of Oasis, perfectly matching the relaxed Sunday afternoon setting. Raising the excitement to a simmer was the main support band for the concert, UB40 featuring Ali Campbell. From what was seen and heard, the band alternated between covers (including Prince classic Purple Rain) and their own material with the favoured reggae sound adding different textures to the concert. 

At around ten past seven the band appeared featuring longtime drummer Zack Starkey whose yellow hoodie looked reminiscent of an over generous fisherman’s jacket. Before the band were able to guide the audience through the world of the deaf, uninformed and blind, Townshend warned the audience that the show was going to be a slow burner due to the orchestral elements incorporated. However, from a personal perspective it appeared as if the band had jumped the gun by including, I Can’t Explain and My Generation at the midpoint of the set. While the former of these was long recognized as the bands favoured gig opener; the latter’s scorching guitar riff and sentiment which places it as one of the greatest rock songs ever, would have been better placed towards the end of the set. A song to really let off the fireworks to.

Minor setlist quibbles aside, The Who’s performance surpassed all expectations and then some.

As if a Rolls Royce had landed with an almighty splash into a hotel swimming pool. One might be forgiven for fearing Daltrey’s voice would have gone same way as Robert Plant and Axl Rose due to the biblical levels of excess exhibited by the band in their youth. However, Daltrey proved that he could still sing with an unmatched power and potency that if you closed your eyes, you could believe you were watching the band at their zenith in the early 1970’s. Pete Townshend also showed no signs of slack. Favouring a Gold Stratocaster for most of the performance, Townshend certainly knew how to make it weep and accompanied the oceans of sound with the appropriate amount of ‘windmilling`.   

Concert highlights are always an area of trepidation. By identifying one particular moment you single out the joy the rest of the concert bought. However, the Quadrophenia section in which the Overture of the album, accompanied by visuals summing up the state of the world, into the album’s finale Love, Reign O’er Me were a truly magnificent spectacle. The power of Daltrey and Townshend followed by the swirling celestial string and brass arrangements crept through your skin and popped like a cannon ball in your mind. Those hoping to hear the CSI soundtrack were not disappointed as the band steam rolled it’s rhetorical question based theme Who Are You?

Overall, The Who’s performance at the Hove Cricket Ground proved and then duly reinforced their legendary status as a live rock band. As some fear that the band may understandably be retiring from touring in the near future. Sunday’s concert showed what has made them so special for nearly 60 years.

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