I don’t want to cause a big s-s-s-sensation, sang Roger Daltrey. “I’m just talking about my g-g-g-generation.” Many of that generation (including your reviewer) were in the audience for last night’s show. Was it a sensation, as billed?
Croydon is famous for its trams and infamous as the location of the dreaded Immigration Directorate of the Home Office. Many a forlorn asylum seeker has queued outside the hideously ugly Lunar House, just one of many dreadful 1960s buildings for which Croydon is also notorious. Another one is the Fairfield Halls, but at least a wide variety of entertainment is put on there. The musical fare ranges from classical to rock, and it was certainly the latter that was on offer for one night only at that venue last night. The show has a schedule of one-night stands all over the country, between 5th May and 3rd July this year, so there will be plenty of opportunities for people to see it. But what is it exactly?
It is subtitled “A Tribute to the Music of The Who”, and that is actually a pretty fair description. It is not a tribute band. Unlike the original Who, there are four musicians and three singers, including a girl, and I suspect they do not trash the bedrooms in the hotels where they are staying. There were certainly no guitars smashed on stage, but hits such as Can’t Explain, Substitute, I Can See for Miles, Pictures of Lily and My Generation were performed very competently. The songs from the rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia were also run through, again very competently. But was it a sensation?
After dinner at a friend’s house, Dr Johnson was asked by Boswell what he thought of the meal. “It was a good dinner enough”, replied the sage, “but it was not a dinner to invite a man to.” That was the feeling I had as I left the Fairfield Halls after the concert. I had just watched a bunch of (mostly) youngsters make a pretty good fist of reprising the oeuvre of one of the greatest rock bands of the Sixties and Seventies. But they could not reproduce the magic of a live Who concert. Something more was needed. An evening devoted to the story of The Who, telling the tale of the rise (and fall) of the band, and with the musical numbers linked to that tale, would have made the experience much more worthwhile.
This is a formula that has worked well for numerous West End productions based on the tempestuous lives of pop stars – the Beatles, the Kinks, Carole King and the Motown stable being current examples. Of course, a travelling roadshow cannot be a West End musical. But what is needed is something to connect the songs. As it is, the Sensation crew are not a ‘tribute band’, trying to look and sound as much as possible like their superannuated forebears. But without the trappings of a tribute band, they need to do more than run through the repertoire of The Who reasonably well.