It was was like waiting for the Pope to appear. Heads craned towards the stage and the buzz of conversation flew around the metallic shell of Leicester's Granby Hall - a tin and tacks approximation of Ally Pally.
Leicester's entire population of 17 to 27 year olds seemed to have turned out. It wasn't a concert, of course, but a major event, something that would still be talked about in every pub in Leicester in the weeks ahead.
For The Who, though, it was another matter. The first gig in six months and the start of yet another tour. Time for soulsearching, ditching old ceremonies, and questioning the roles and rituals. Time to pull their wheels out of the rut and refuse to act like fossilised icons from another aeon.
This tour would be different. No »My Generation«, no »Tommy« (apart from »Pinball Wizard«), no guitar smashing, no »Can't Explain« or »Boris The Spider«. Instead, new songs ... lots of them. An experiment, no less, Leicester providing the guinea pigs.
It seemed apposite that the band should start with »Substitute« then - a rousing piece of nostalgia to be ejected as soon possible to the set proper could begin.
And then it was the first of the new songs with heavy overtones of psychedelia ringing from Townshend's guitar as a »Close Enocunters« light show turned on full beam above, cutting through with an astounding reverberating arund the hall.
The Who's sound was unaffected by Rabbit Bundrick's keyboards because they were inaudible for most of the time anyway.
The format of the show zig zagged from then on between new songs (about five or six in all) and Who material rooted in the Seventies, mostly from »Who's Next« and »Quadrophenia«, with the Who's golden Sixties period hardly represented at all. Perhaps not surprisingly, the audience's response was equally schizophrenic, singing along, clapping and waving hands in the air to anything they recognised, quiet and still to the unfamiliar stuff.
The band clearly recognised what was going on, too.
»Here's another new one to bring you down a bit«, said Daltrey, announcing a song called »Just Another Chicken« nearly an hour into the set. It was one of the more immedeatly impressive new pieces, featuring a slick rat-a-tat from Entwhistle, and brought the previously subdued Townshend out of his shell, turning up his amps and throwing his fist into the strings.
But the real turning point of the set came with »Won't Get Fooled Again«, which was the Who at their gut-wrenching peak, Daltrey mike-swinging, Townshend wind-milling, accompanied by the green lasers and floddlights. It was one of the best moments when you felt the band were defining rock, laying down the yardstick by which every other group would have to be judged. They may not have been, but that's what you felt.
You could say, quite justifiable, that »Won't Get Fooled Again« was ritualised and cliched. In the end it didn't matter, because after that the band kept on taking risks.
Like Entwhistle and Jones slapping the beat to the Stray cats' »Runaway Boys« riff as Townshend went rockabilly. Like »The Ox« taking the mike (with word laid out in front of him) to sound surprisingly effective, with Kenny Jones on Moon attack, and Townshend flashing his guitar like an aural flick knife.
And like playing a non stop forty minute encore that included two non-Who songs from the Sixties, »Twist And Shout« and a barely recognisable version of the Martha Reeves and the Vendellas classic »Dancing In The Street«.
The old Isley Brothers/Beatles song was a revelation - Daltrey and Townshend as Harrison/McCartney harmony team to Entwhistle's rough and tough Lenon role, sung with all the old passion of eraly Beatles rock'n roll.
After finishing with »Let's See Action« Townshend was left alone on the stage to thank the audience. It didn't sound phoney. The experience was, on balance, succesful.