Last night Josh and I went to a The Who concert in the Ziggo Dome in Amsterdam. We began with Burger King accompanied by Josh’s friend Simon and his dad. We had a double cheese burger with fries and Zero Cola. The less said about it the better.
The Ziggo dome is not a dome, it is a very large shoebox capable of accommodating some 16.000 people decorated on the outside with lights which make pretty patterns. The urban plan and the routing of the building is well thought through and that probably also goes for the logistics behind stage. Everything is licked. Behind the stage a triptych of screens can show anything you want to show and the lighting is extremely sophisticated. First we had a band called the Last Internationale, three youngish people doing old rock themes, the girl with a powerful voice and a good bum, the guitarist very good at his job moving around stage with the elegance of a gorilla. Then we had to wait. We were given a licked history of the band, projected on the screens. Pictures and memorials of Keith Moon and John Entwistle, bland stories of historical importance and influence as well as a repeated request not to smoke, especially near the stage, as Roger Daltrey was allergic to smoke. ‘Why not eat one of those funky cakes instead? J’ the screen asked. Why indeed not, how quaint. Then the lights went off, the screen changed its message to ‘Keep Calm, here comes The Who’, and the band duly appeared to raucous response.
The average age of the cheering audience must have been around 55, but old people have begun to behave like young people, a thing we have I think, on balance, to be thankful for. We have been unaged . We merely look old, and we were certainly ready to rock.
Roger Daltrey is a small stocky old man with a Bonapartean poise, a fluffy beard and a slightly exaggerated bounce in his step. An evening like this costs much. A very thick-set short neck and generous curly grey hair frame the darkened purple glasses and a mouth holding funny teeth that I don’t recognize as his and lips that have lost the sharp definition they had of old. Regularly fiddling with his hearing aids he swung his microphone like a habituated street-band leader. Some habits should be quietly disposed of with age. Occasionally he forgot his lines and at the end told us he had fallen in the bathroom a few days ago and laughed the laugh of people knowing a bad excuse when they give one.
Pete Townshend has become a nice old man, with an obvious a hard side, who tries to hide his niceness by saying ‘fuck’ and ‘cunt’, and his dark side by being self-deprecating and forgiving. His energy is undiminished, playing his guitar with which he is as familiar as he is with his own hands. Wonderful to watch and hear. Moreover, there is no attempt to hide himself behind anti-aging techniques, wysiwyg: a balding man in a t-shirt. The drums were done by Zak Starkey son-of-ringo-starr, poor bloke. Great drummer though. It was fun seeing the graphics accompanying the songs, old films of dancing teenagers in the sixties, the mods on their scooters cruising with too many headlights, too near the edge of the white cliffs in Dorset or thereabouts, the brutalist housing estates, the practically shaped cars and dark bridges of a colourless London.
So there we were, a hall full of dented, torn, stitched and crumpled oldies, most refusing to accept any age never mind their own and accompanied by young people. What these young people were doing there was not altogether clear. I regularly glimpsed my son and his friend standing there watching intently, motionless and expressionless. But that says very little. It was he who had suggested we go, not me. The music was good, but, apart from the instrumental splashes, the records are a lot better. We afterwards admired Daltrey for doing what he tried to do, and that is all we need to say. The old knew why they were there though. With the opening notes to each song, the music seeped out from a deep core within me, long forgotten but intimately mine and as familiar as yesterday, brought to life by a whole body resonating to the incredible loudness, building structures of incomprehensible memories, unsorted flashes of things that happened, although I no longer remember when, where or what their significance. When I looked around, I saw men, mostly men, older than me, abandoning themselves to the music, swaying their bodies, raising their arms and singing along, drinking beer and boasting too their mates about a time too long ago.
Afterwards I lay in my bed and my usual high pitched tinnitus had been joined for the occasion by a metallic bar of sound somewhere in the middle range. I fell asleep and ageless man with small discomforts.