BACK for one last hurrah, The Who are the band that simply won't lie down and die.
Naturally it helps to have a good excuse to come out of retirement - again - and this week's series of fundraising shows at the Albert Hall, organised by the singer Roger Daltrey and the promoter Harvey Goldsmith on behalf of the Teenage Cancer Trust, was better than most. The key to the group's on/off rejuvenation, however, has been a gradual softening in the attitude of the guitarist Pete Townshend, who has always been the member of the band with the least enthusiasm for staging these reunion shows.
But boy, was Townshend in a strange zone on Thursday night. When not performing his windmill-action guitar parts with real physical venom during numbers such as Amazing Journey and Pinball Wizard, he played the role of the bolshie old rocker to the hilt, cheerfully insulting members of the audience, and complaining about his flimsy American guitar as he bashed it sharply against his hip.
At one point someone yelled a warning to the bass player, Jon Entwistle, that his amp was on fire (it was that sort of gig). "Who gives a f***?" Townshend growled acidly. "We used to set the things on fire ourselves once upon a time." The craggy, grey-haired Entwistle, looking more than ever like a character from Mervyn Peake's Gormenghast, stood by impassively while the situation was investigated.
The perennial problem with rock reunion shows, and especially charity rock reunion shows, is that the original edgy spirit and adrenaline-fuelled aggression of a band such as The Who tends to get buried in an all-pervading aura of nice. But that wasn't the case here.
True, there was a hint of a touchy-feely moment towards the end when Townshend broke cover and started gabbling on about how truly grateful he was to be alive at his advanced age, despite all his best efforts in the past to make sure that he would not be. But by then we had already seen Daltrey and Entwistle have a little spat during an unbelievably ropy version of My Wife and, more to the point, we had heard the band wallop through a sequence of favourites - I Can't Explain, Substitute and Anyway Anyhow Anywhere - with such genuinely pugnacious glee that it was difficult not to believe that this time they really did mean business.
It was as if they had finally got past the idea of being embarrassed or apologetic about playing these anthems of youthful protest now that they are all - with the exception of the drummer Zak Starkey - in their late fifties, and have reached a point where they once again feel comfortable inhabiting them instead. And while it was too nostalgic, and occasionally too scrappy, to rank as a great performance, it was certainly something special. My Generation, indeed.
Docked a star, even so, for Entwistle's terrible vocals in My Wife, and for the excruciating bass solo in 5.15.