"That the refined and regal Albert Hall feels like a home fixture for The Who, the least house-trained band of their generation, is not without irony": The Who thrill the hoi polloi at their second Teenage Cancer Trust show of 2024

The Who and the Heart of England orchestra join forces for what is surely one of the most joyously bombastic concerts London's magnificent Royal Albert Hall has ever seen

The Who, Teenage Cancer Trust show at Royal Albert hall
(Image: © John Stead)

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Ahead of The Who taking the stage of London's most beautiful venue for the second of their two Teenage Cancer Trust gigs this week, the screen above the stage displays archive footage of previous TCT/Albert Hall shows, featuring the likes of Them Crooked Vultures, The Cure, Pulp, Florence + The Machine, Noel Gallagher, Nile Rodgers and Chic, Muse, Ed Sheeran, Paul Weller and more. The short film serves as a reminder of the incredible work which Roger Daltrey has done in curating shows for the charity for the past 24 years, not least when you remember that all these acts were persuaded to offer their services without receiving a single shiny penny in remuneration.

Meanwhile, the two hours of music which follow the film are a reminder that none of these artists, as fine as many of them undoubtedly are, can hold a candle to The Who in terms of catalogue, ambition and, even now, with Daltrey aged 80, and Pete Townshend 78 and three-quarters, live prowess. 

Roughly speaking, tonight's entertainment, a revised set-list from that performed on March 18, is split into three sections: the Tommy set (seven songs, augmented by the Heart of England orchestra), the 'greatest hits' set (seven songs, sans orchestra), and the Quadrophenia set (five songs, orchestra back in place), with Who Are You, closing section 1, and Baba O'Riley, the climax of section 3, delicious cherries on the cake. And from the moment that the allied forces strike up Overture, The Who have all 5,000+ punters in this historic hall in the palms of their hands. 

That the refined and regal Royal Albert Hall now feels like a 'home fixture' for The Who, the least house-trained, most combative band of their generation, is not without irony. When Led Zeppelin first headlined this grand room in January 1970, while Shepherd's Bush's finest were touring Tommy, the venue's general manager Frank Mundy told the Daily Mail, "I don't particularly like these concerts. But business is business, and we mustn't appear to be killjoys." How times change.

It's the jangly Bsus4 chord opening Pinball Wizard which first gets the hoi polloi off their cushioned seats tonight. Then, when the orchestra shuffle off for a break, and the unadorned band, powered from the rear by Zak Starkey, and marshalled superbly by Simon Townshend, crash through The Kids Are Alright, Substitute and My Generation ("Why don't you all... f-f-f-f-fuck off!") in succession, the room temperature rises again. Belting out that scream on Won't Get Fooled Again, Daltrey sounds magnificent, and he's equally impressive when taking things down several notches on the tender acoustic reading of Behind Blue Eyes which follows, with lead violinist Kate Jacoby and cellist Audrey Snyder adding texture and drama.

It's the evening's final segment where band and orchestra truly coalesce to fabulous effect. The unexpected appearance of Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder for The Punk and The Godfather is a thrill, but he humbly exits just as quickly, leaving the spotlight to his friends as they hit the home straight with I'm One and a glorious 5:15. As Daltrey too leaves the stage for instrumental The Rock, the screen above the players displays a film depicting over 60 years of historical happenings, from the war in Vietnam through to the coronation of King Charles, with fleeting glimpses Keith Moon and John Entwistle popping up amid news footage of 9/11, tanks in Tiananmen Square, Miners' Strike clashes, 'Tricky Dicky', Thatcher, Blair and Princess Diana. That The Who have been soundtracking this maelstrom from before President Lyndon B. Johnson deployed combat troops in Vietnam is little short of mind-blowing.

The night ends with harmony and hugs, Townshend praising "Rog" for both his efforts in organising the TCT shows for almost a quarter of a century, and for being "in great voice", and Daltrey, his white shirt soaked through with sweat, thanking everyone who has donated to ensure that the Trust can keep doing their hugely important work for teenagers living with cancer: "It's a nightmare time... let's help them through it."

Fittingly, it's the vocalist who has the final word on this majestic evening.

"Be happy," he says with a smile, "be healthy, and, most of all, be lucky."

The Who at the Royal Albert Hall, London  March 20, 2024 set-list

Amazing Journey
The Acid Queen
Pinball Wizard
We're Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You

The Kids Are Alright
My Generation
Cry If You Want
You Better You Bet
Won't Get Fooled Again
Behind Blue Eyes

The Punk And The Godfather
I'm One
The Rock
Love, Reign O'er Me
Baba O'Riley

Paul Brannigan
Contributing Editor, Louder

A music writer since 1993, formerly Editor of Kerrang! and Planet Rock magazine (RIP), Paul Brannigan is a Contributing Editor to Louder. Having previously written books on Lemmy, Dave Grohl (the Sunday Times best-seller This Is A Call) and Metallica (Birth School Metallica Death, co-authored with Ian Winwood), his Eddie Van Halen biography (Eruption in the UK, Unchained in the US) emerged in 2021. He has written for Rolling Stone, Mojo and Q, hung out with Fugazi at Dischord House, flown on Ozzy Osbourne's private jet, played Angus Young's Gibson SG, and interviewed everyone from Aerosmith and Beastie Boys to Young Gods and ZZ Top. Born in the North of Ireland, Brannigan lives in North London and supports The Arsenal.