Although often criticized for its sound quality, Hyde Park remains one of the most iconic British venues to showcase music. And what a better showcase act than mod legends The Who, supported by the Modfather Paul Weller, alongside not so young indie kids The Kaiser Chiefs and seminal indie guitarist Johnny Marr. Perfectly groomed haircuts a plenty, the age spanning crowd didn’t let the scorching sun stop them donning their treasured fishtail parkas and Levi jeans.
The crowds began to gather around 4pm awaiting the arrival of Manchester’s own Johnny Marr. Kicking off with new track ‘The Right Thing Right’, it wasn’t long before The Smiths’ fans got their fix with ‘Stop Me If You Think That You’ve Heard This One Before’, Marr doing a fantastic job of the vocal arrangements. The followed a series of recent solo tracks, including catchy fan favorite ‘Easy Money’, before an epic rendition of The Clash’s version of The Crickets’ ‘I Fought the Law’. A strong, satisfying finish to the set that included Electronic’s debut hit ‘Getting Away with It’ and two final Smiths classics, ‘There is a Light That Never Goes Out’ and ‘How Soon is Now’. Hard to believe a guitarist and song writer of such stature could be 4th on any bill.
Next came one of the most successful bands to come out of the post-Libertine indie era of the 2000’s. Ricky Wilson’s Kaiser Chiefs opened with 2005 single ‘Every Day I Love You Less And Less’, with the intensity level of the band being no less than maximum throughout. New songs ‘Falling Awake’ and ‘Ruffians on Parade’ slotted in with classics such as ‘Modern Way’ and ‘Never Miss a Beat’, before two of the biggest hits of the 21st century were blasted out back to back, ‘Ruby’ and ‘I Predict a Riot’. This set up a finale of new anthem ‘Coming Home’, before closing, as always, on ‘Oh My God’, another from debut album ‘Employment’, resulting in a mass-crowd sing along of ‘I can’t believe it I’ve never been this far away from home!‘ Whilst Wilson, energetic as always, ran from each side of the stage to another, finishing in an old-fashioned knee slide on the last beat. A top class front man backed by a fantastic band.
The penultimate act of the day took to the stage just before 7pm. What better way to warm up for The Who than the prodigal son of the mod movement, Paul Weller. Dressed sharply in a black crew neck, trousers and a pair of black and white brogues, the opening riff to 1995 hit ‘The Changingman’ immediately captured the crowd, as they stood in awe of a man with almost 40 years’ worth of work, and judging by the next track ‘White Sky’, the most recent single of new album ‘Saturn’s Pattern’, he is an artist really on top of his game. Next came a top ten hit from 2005 in the shape of ‘From the Floorboards Up’, with the guitar work an obvious nod to the early influences of Wilko Johnson and Dr. Feelgood. Two new tracks followed, ‘I’m Where I Should Be’ and Ramones style rocker ‘Long Time’, before special guest Miles Kane came to the stage for an electric version of Jam hit ‘That’s Entertainment’. Despite a lyrical hiccup towards the end, the crowd were on side for the ‘la la la la la’s required, the evening was building up perfectly.
A man for constant change and always looking for a new direction, Weller followed his 1980 track with a further two new records, the title track from the album and soon to be new single ‘Going My Way’, described in recent weeks by himself as one of only three perfect songs he has comprised in his career, and on listening, who could argue? A selection of hits from 90’s albums ‘Stanley Road’ and ‘Heavy Soul’ followed, including love song ‘You Do Something to Me’, and highest charting solo hit ‘Peacock Suit’. ‘Let’s play an old one’ said Weller, ‘If i can remember the words’, before smiling at long time side kick and lead guitarist Steve Cradock, of Ocean Colour Scene descendancy, and playing the opening bars to another 90’s gem, ‘Broken Stones’, which warranted many people on shoulders swaying to a song for lost souls everywhere.
There were, however no lost souls anywhere once Weller picked up his Gibson SP and launched into 1980 chart topper ‘Start!’ bellowing out the chorus and shredding his guitar like he was back in The Jam. As if that wasn’t enough, the final song by a man clearly enjoying himself, as were his band of talented musicians in their own right, sent the crowd into raptures, the opening bass line was struck by Andy Lewis to ‘A Town Called Malice’. Nobody here was dreaming of the quiet life, as the next band would show, however, Paul Weller’s part in this triumphant day for British music should not go under played, a phenomenal show by an ever changing man. Always one for not looking band and quick to dismiss his past work, it seemed like nostalgia and a nod to his past was evident throughout his most famous 1982 hit.
As if that wasn’t enough, the days final band was still to come, a band 50 years into a career that’s had everything, and as Pete Townshend stated ‘it is hard to believe The Who are still going, i didn’t think we’d last a week!’ The Who took to the stage at 8.30pm, after a series of video footage and narrative, detailing a history of the band was shown on the main screens. This warmed the crowed up nicely, and a no thrills, low key entry to the stage and a simple greeting of ‘good evening’ suggested a mellow atmosphere. The alcohol and substance has been replaced with a cup of tea and bottles of water, the raw setup of the band replaced by a backing of 8 members, the crowd ageing, everything pointed towards a band ready to retire and trudging through their final tour.
How wrong that feeling was, Pete struck the E major chord to begin the concert with ‘I Can’t Explain’, and Roger Daltrey bounded into action, swinging his mic round like it was 1965 all over again, the wind milling arms of Townshend also appeared, thrashing around with his guitar, this was defintely not a no thrills tour, this was The Who hits 50! And they were hitting it hard. ‘The Seeker’ came second, before 1978’s ‘Who Are You’, which gave the crowd a chance to get their voices going once more, with ‘whoo, whoo, whoo, whoo’ echoing around the park. An introduction then came in the form of ‘Paul Weller has requested this song, and we would do anything for Paul Weller, well, almost anything!’, although Daltrey had in fact introduced the wrong song, so before they could play Weller’s favorite track ‘Pictures of Lily’, ‘The Kids Are Alright’ was thrown in, a real crowd favorite, and the aforementioned ageing crowd began to dance. The backdrop showed famous scenes from cult film ‘Quadrophenia’, the lyrics ‘sometimes, i feel i got to get away’ were sung in tandem with Jimmy riding his beloved Lambretta along the cliffs edge at Brighton.
Further songs from the 60’s era were played, ‘I Can See for Miles’ followed by the raucous mod anthem, ‘My Generation’, introduced by Townshend as ‘a song for everyone’. Lighters and phones came out for ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, sung with terrific passion by Daltrey, the ripe old age of 72 seemingly being just a number for the front man, sounding just as the original recordings. The next set of 4 songs included 3 lesser known songs, ‘Bargain’, from 1974’s ‘Who’s Next’, ‘I’m One’ from ‘Quadrophenia’ and ‘Join Together’ a non-album single from 1972. These were met with the same reaction from the knowledgeable Hyde Park crowd, the true size and stature of a band is obvious when album tracks are sung word for word alongside such as songs such as the next track, 1981 single ‘You Better You Bet’.. Born out of Paul Weller’s almost single handed Mod Revival of the late 1970’s, something which Townshend thanked him for before the song was played, ‘without Paul Weller, we may have never been this successful’ stated Pete, ‘so thank you’.
What followed next was truly astounding, a series of guitar work by Pete, coupled with a band that had kept incredibly tight throughout. ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, ‘Amazing Journey’ and ‘Sparks’ showed a different side to The Who, after the string of 60’s singles, came the almost operatic era which spawned the above records. Another of ‘Tommy’s’ finest was then played, to the delight of the fantastic crowd, ‘Pinball Wizard’ recorded at Morgan Studios, London, one of Pete’s favorite recording venues, it most definitely shows in the brilliance of a song that will forever stand the test of time. You’d have thought that just like that deaf, dumb and blind kid, The Who must have played them all, but with 11 studio albums and countless singles, it would be impossible. The omissions of hits such as ‘Magic Bus’ and ‘Substitute’ can be forgiven when a final two songs consisting of ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ were performed. Whatever energy the band had left was poured into the finale, and cries of ‘we’re all wasted’ is perhaps not as relevant now as at the time of writing, but still sung with as much passion from all in the park.
Emotions ran high throughout the fans and the band, Pete reiterating how amazing it was that ‘so many people can still come out to see us after all these years’, and ‘so many of you may not have been born before the first record came out, but that doesn’t mean you can’t appreciate it’ and after a series of thank you’s and applause, a band introduction and a wave goodbye, they were gone. It is hard to say whether The Who will be back again, so many bands have bid farewell so many times, and who’d have thought after Glastonbury 2007 that they would be playing Glastonbury 2015 two days after this showcase event. If that was the last time those people would see one of the most phenomenal acts on the planet, they could not have been disappointed. There were no signs of slowing down, however there was no guitar smashing, maybe they have grew up a little, but who is to say what they have lined up for the future. One more time? You better you bet.