Iain Gray Freelance Writer

The Who eclipse the rest at Glastonbury

Perhaps it was the thought of home, this performance being the final act in an epic meteorological tragedy, that caused the almost delirious level of expectation at the Pyramid Stage on Sunday night. The suffering was about to end - please, let it all have been worth it.

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It absolutely was. Headlining their first Glastonbury, The Who gave a masterclass in how to hold a vast, tired, wet crowd in the palm of the hand.

Over 40 years after their inception, they still have the energy of their young selves, images and films of the band from the 60s and 70s playing on the massive screens behind them. Everything was oversized, from the crowd, to the spotlights penetrating the dense rain, to Pete Townshend’s iconic windmilling guitar style.

Where The Arctic Monkeys had seemed overawed by the stage, or if one was feeling kind, over-respectful of their hallowed position, The Who grabbed it with both hands and shook it over and over until nothing remained.

Mixing iconic early tunes and songs from their latest album they blasted off with the first single they ever released, I Can’t Explain, and concluded with the delicate Tea & Theatre, a recent song played acoustically with just Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey on stage, perhaps a haunting reminder of the hole left in the band by the deaths of drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle.

In between these two breathtaking moments was an hour-and-a-half selection from their prestigious back-catalogue. Who Are You, now made famous to a whole new generation by the CSI television show, brought the crowd to a frenzy before being released gently by the subtle introduction of Behind Blue Eyes.

Much humour had been expressed at the fact that a couple of sixty-somethings were going to sing “I hope I die before I get old”. However, after the failure of young pretenders to grasp the festival’s crown, The Who’s thunderous rendition of My Generation contained not even a trace of irony.

Their final song before the interval (or obligatory encore pause, depending how cynical you are feeling) was a version of yet another CSI theme, the anti-authoritarian Won’t Get Fooled Again, a smart choice for the left-oriented Glastonbury.

And unlike the Arctic Monkeys, The Killers, even Lily Allen, no-one seemed too eager to leave during this short recess, to head back to the warmth of the bar or the tent (perhaps because everything was now under a foot of water).

When the band returned, they had a surprise – a five-song medley from their classic Tommy album, starting off with Pinball Wizard. The variations from driving power riffs to soft introspection created the musical rollercoaster I had been denied on the main stage all weekend. It was a suitably epic conclusion for one of the great gigs of my lifetime.

The BBC repeatedly boasted about their coverage of “new” music, as though anything not released in the past six months was somehow irrelevant. For the masses huddled under umbrellas watching these two “old f**ks” (Townshend’s words) steal the show from under the noses of the bright young things, nothing could have been further from the truth.


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