Live LP Review: ‘The Who With Orchestra – Live At Wembley’ – A Surprisingly Potent, Strong Live Album


I was traveling for a bit, through the South lands of the U.S. I was wearing a lot of seersucker and white linen… drinking a lot of bourbon out of mason jars and visiting with old friends. It was fun but it prevented me from gathering my thoughts about this really great new live album from the old warhorses in the Who, The Who With Orchestra – Live At Wembley. Apparently this is the soundtrack to a blu ray they released of a concert that was recorded July 6, 2019. I don’t know why they waited so long to release this thing on vinyl. While some of you may have seen the blu ray, I had not, so this live LP release came as a bit of a surprise.

I really like this thing but I can almost hear the collective eye roll amongst the Who faithful. No, this isn’t the same band that conquered the Mods back in the 60s. Drummer Keith Moon tragically died in the 70s when he overdosed on a drug that was supposed to help him overcome alcohol withdrawal… which I could use about now after my trip South. Talk about your rock n roll ways to go. And bassist John Entwistle passed in the early 2000s of a heart attack brought on by cocaine… his body was discovered by the stripper he’d slept with the previous night. Come to think of it, Entwistle may have had an even more rock n roll death than Keith Moon and John was in his 50s. Currently the Who boasts only two of it’s original members, vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist/vocalist Pete Townsend. They’ve augmented the line up with Zak Starkey, Ringo’s son, on drums; Simon Townsend, Pete’s brother, on guitar; Loren Gold, keyboards; and John Button on bass. While this may not be the thundering version of the band that played on the fabulous live album Live At Leeds, which made our list of favorite live albums, they still make a glorious racket. Starkey’s playing is more Moon than Ringo.

For the concert this album represents the band augmented themselves with an orchestra. The Who, and perhaps more pointedly Pete Townshend, have always attempted to elevate rock n roll. The Who were the first band to produce a “rock opera,” a thematic, concept album. That album was of course, Tommy. For this live LP the band plays with the Isobel Griffiths Orchestra. This isn’t your local philharmonic orchestra, it’s an orchestra put together from session players who are probably no strangers to playing on rock albums. Apparently this concert at Wembley was the Who’s performance at that august stadium in 40 years, so the orchestra was probably brought in to commemorate this special occasion. I, for one, have to say, it works. The orchestra brings back some of that old Who “strum und drang” from the old days. The orchestra makes the music big and dramatic. I also really like the set list. It’s favorites and hits but they also play some deeper tracks and most important for B&V a couple of tracks from their last LP, WHO, from 2019 which we dug here at B&V.

The album opens with two big rock tunes, “Who Are You,” which I think is the perfect opener, and “Eminence Front,” a favorite of mine since 1982. One of my favorite moments is up next when they go to a deep track from Who By Numbers, “Imagine A Man.” This is where the orchestra really pays off. It’s a great version of the song. After a rousing performance of “Pinball Wizard” they played one of the newer tracks “Hero Ground Zero” and the orchestra just elevates the tune. Then they play “Join Together” one of those great stray tracks that is only on greatest hits albums. While I love what the orchestra brings to the table, the Who are smart enough to dismiss them for a few tracks and they are also absolute highlights. “Substitute” sounds fresh and rocking as does the next track, “The Seeker.” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” is done acoustic – just Roger and Pete – and I love it. It brings something new to the track. They follow that up with an acoustic based “Behind Blue Eyes” and it marks the return of the orchestra. I love the strings on that one.

“Ball And Chain” is another track from WHO and it’s one of my favs from that album so yes, play it loud. At that point, as is their wont, the Who play a mini-suite of songs from my favorite of their rock operas, Quadrophenia. It’s got the expected favorites like “Love Reign O’er Me,” “The Real Me,” and “5:15” (one of my favorite train songs), but a few deeper tracks that I’ve always loved, “I’m One” and “The Punk And The Godfather.” They wrap it up with a rocking version of “Baba O’Reilly” and then an acoustic track from the oft overlooked Endless Wire, “Tea And Theater.” It’s a nice intimate way to wrap up a bombastic, rocking, orchestral performance.

I had zero expectations when I stumbled across this new live Who album. Maybe that helped me connect with it? But it’s a great, fun, live record to listen to. It’s always fantastic when a band that’s been around this long and has lost some critical original members can rally together and put on a performance as impressive as this one. The Who may be battered but they’re not broken. This is still a surprisingly potent band both live and those rare times they go into the studio. This will be a great listen at the pool, turned up to 11. I hope these guys keep rocking forever… well, that may be unrealistic… maybe just keep rocking as long as they can. They certainly still have the chops… and it’s not often I get to use the phrase “strum und drang” in a post…



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