THE WHO – With Orchestra: Live At Wembley (2023)

THE WHO - With Orchestra: Live At Wembley (2023) - full

On 6th July 2019, THE WHO headlined a sell out show at Wembley Stadium in London for the first time in forty years. Performing many of their greatest hits, the show featured the band as they’ve never been seen before, accompanied by a 57-piece orchestra. “The Who With Orchestra Live At Wembley” re-lives that iconic show.
It’s no small irony that the ensembles billed as The Who since approximately 2004 have more accurately replicated the layered density of the group’s best studio albums than the original quartet did (even with the use of backing tapes). But it’s an irony of mammoth proportions that the two surviving members fronting these groups, vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend, are also the bandmates with a past of (sometimes violent) disagreement on the conception and execution of projects for the group.
All of which history renders even more welcome this concert recording with orchestra. Make no mistake, this is not the often ramshackle, combustible likes of the original Who lineup: interweaving the nonet with the larger orchestra would by definition preclude such spontaneity.
As a result, these performances are of pinpoint precision, readily revealed through an ultra-clean mix overseen by Gareth Johnson and Richard Whittaker, then mastered by engineer Miles Showell.

Opening with “Who Are You,” then “Eminence Front,” Daltrey, Townshend and (extended) company waste no time in unleashing what can only accurately be described as an assault on the senses. In another significant twist of fate, the attack is actually led by Zak Starkey: with his kinetic playing, Ringo Starr’s son is ground zero for the power emanating from the combined instrumental unit.

Even on the more restrained numbers, such as “Imagine A Man,” off The Who by Numbers, the drummer punctuates the arrangements with consummate authority, thereby supplying direction for the rest of the performers.
And, not surprisingly, for those selections without orchestration, such as “Substitute” and “The Seeker,” Starkey drives the core instrumental unit, including Daltrey and Townshend, who pick and choose their vocal and instrumental spotlights carefully.

The former is particularly judicious as his voice is admittedly not as strong as it used to be. Yet, as on the majestic take of “Pinball Wizard,” his singing rises and falls with the swells of strings and horns, right in time with the crashing chords of his veteran partner (who still plays as if frustrated with his level of expertise on the instrument).

In more ways than one, these renditions fulfill the duo’s ambition to avoid just cranking out the hits. Specifically, “Hero Ground Zero” plus “Ball and Chain” both come from the 2019 WHO album and retain the air of positive stylistic familiarity that pervaded that studio set. Reaffirming that point is the remaining array of material, a bonafide ‘greatest hits’ collection.
Yet ”Live At Wembley” contains some surprising twists, two of the group’s most dramatic numbers, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Behind Blue Eyes,” proffered in an acoustic format. The former is bogged down somewhat by Townshend’s patronizing intro, but when in progress, this stark offering clearly illustrates the now-familiar structure of the tune.
Meanwhile, the latter features Katie Jacoby on violin and Audrey Snyder on cello, intermixed with electric guitar, ignited by the rhythm section.

The invigorating delivery of that pair of numbers carries a keen visceral impact. Perhaps not surprisingly then, an audible element of the mammoth open air Wembley audience sings along at various junctures; the level of the attendees’ engagement is further notable as their participation occurs without urging or encouragement from the two principals.

The Who’s touring in support of Quadrophenia was very limited around the time of its 1973 release, so this modern concept is the ideal opportunity to bring attention back to the masterwork.
Seven excerpts, including “The Real Me” and “5:15,” appear in a string near the end of these twenty cuts and the cumulative motion conjures a tangible grandeur, all of which culminates with the instrumental read of “The Rock.” Leading into “Love Reign O’er Me” Loren Gold’s contemplative piano intro to the latter is indicative of the impeccable pacing of this track sequencing.
Likewise, with “Baba O’Riley” dramatically setting up (and contrasting) the intimate acoustic conclusion of “Tea & Theatre,” this troupe known as ‘The Who’ does justice to both the concept and execution at the heart of this presentation.
Highly Recommended


Disc 1
1 Who Are You
2 Eminence Front
3 Imagine a Man
4 Pinball Wizard
5 Hero Ground Zero
6 Join Together
7 Substitute (Without Orchestra)
8 The Seeker (Without Orchestra)
9 Won’t Get Fooled Again (Acoustic)
10 Behind Blue Eyes (Acoustic)

Disc 2
1 Ball and Chain
2 The Real Me
3 I’m One
4 The Punk and the Godfather
5 5:15
6 Drowned (Without Orchestra)
7 The Rock
8 Love Reign O’er Me
9 Baba O’Riley
10 Tea & Theatre (Acoustic)

Roger Daltrey – vocals, guitars
Pete Townshend – guitars, vocals
Jon Button – bass
Zak Starkey – drums
Simon Townshend – guitar, vocals (background)
Dan Ellis – percussion
Isobel Griffiths Orchestra



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