The Who have always been acutely aware of their own legend - just.look at » The Kids Are Alright«. Each landmark is carefully stage-managed and duly recorded, which rather diminishes the supposed spontaneity and secrecy of their return to Brighton.
Naturally, fans heard about it early enough to form long queues days before tickets went on sale. The media were there, the legend thus fuelled. Brighton, a sentimental journey, for the band and fans alike: a veterans' run rejuvenated by an influx of new Mods. »Quadrophenia« was showing further on up the road, supplying the script to this particular movie.
The Who in Brighton sounds better in retrospect than it did on the night. But it didn't have to be that way, and for half of the concert it was more than that. The return of mod means that the Who no longer have to strain to justify their presence, like they did with the less easily-pleased punks who preceded them. The first half was relaxed and stately and fine by me. The Who gently caressed the strings marked 'audience response', rather than tugging at them as they were to do later on.
»Substitute« and »I Can't Explain« are great pop songs by any standards, and the band played them with lively respect. »Baba O'Riley«, possibly the best of all Who numbers, with easily the most recognisable intro, was astonishingly moving, fusing Townshend's joyful gigs with his on own plaintively sung chorus.
The first newish song, »Sister Disco«, was solid, lightened by Rabbit's airy synthesizer, »Who Are You« had all the classic Who hallmarks: stuttering intro, reticent Townshend chorus and impassioned Daltrey voice. »Music Must Change« sensibly introduced a three-man horn section, leanly used to bolster the song's chorus. Like the Stones, the Who are adept at assimilating newer songs into their set, so with each subsequent hearing they seem more and more like they belong.
The Who were happy together, joking between themselves without forcing the friendship on the audience. Once Daltrey and Townshend began a chorus of »We were the mods, We were the mods«, and later Townshend qualified his relationship to the movement thus: »Naturally we don't have much to do with the mods today, and we didn't have much to do with them 15 years ago.« The irony was probably lost on the audience, but they both seemed pretty pleased with each other's presence.
»Quadrophenia« was represented by a forceful »Punk And The Godfather« and perhaps the set's highlight »Drowned«, beginning with rumbling piano and hefty drum rolls. Their other opera representation, »Pinball Wizard/See Me Feel Me«, combined with heavy floodlighting to prompt the biggest reaction of the night.
But then everything went downhill. The disguised intro of »My Generation« was - swiftly recognised, the song turning into a seeming endless rock'n'roll style medley. »Won't Get Fooled Again« was similarly spoilt. Townshend is just incapable of jamming interestingly, so that Who jams stumble over a crashing, falling rhythm and their leader's aimlessly frenetic riffing, based more on a boredom and relief gamble than tension and release.
The end and the encores: the band's lasers have been replaced with a lighting rig that spells out their name, to much applause. They returned with »Young Man Blues« - an unfortunate choice, as the father figure of the chorus now resembles Townshend too closely: »How did you learn how to fight/spit/shit« etc. Later there's a half-hearted attempt to smash a guitar, and it's all over.
Whether they like it or not, the Who have become an institution - one that would benefit from nationalising and rationalising, if it wants to function efficiently in the Eighties.