by Steve Jones
Quadrophenia and More: The Who
Nov. 9, 2012
The idea of a few old-timers hitting the stage to relive their past may not be appealing to most, but what makes the Who continue to be a powerful force is the strength of its core members. The vocals of Roger Daltrey and guitar of Pete Townsend, combined with the flowing drums of Zak Starkey and foundational bass of Pino Palladino are what rock the house.
Ever since I was a young boy, I've been inspired by the Who's rock opera Quadrophenia. I'll never forget sitting in a friend's dorm room putting a brand-new vinyl copy on the stereo and turning the volume control to 10 to feel the power the music generated.
And that music still generates power. An opening video and the band's unassuming entrance to the album's opening prelude, "I am the Sea," led to the Greensboro Coliseum coming alive to Daltrey's first plaintive cries in "The Real Me." On tour for the first time since 1997, the Who are performing Quadrophenia in its entirety - laid out in four themes, one for each original band member.
While Townsend stepped to the microphone for "Cut My Hair" after complaining of a clicking noise in the sound system, that appeared to be the only production flaw of the evening. Power chords overflowed during "The Punk and the Godfather." Townsend was at his introspective best during "I'm One" - a song that reveals confusion and the desire teens have to fit in with the crowd - as he played and sang the first verse on his own before the band joined in.
As the band continued through the opera, the crowd hung on every vocal and note. The backing band was stellar, especially Starkey - son of Ringo Starr - whose drumming was every bit on par with the late Keith Moon. Also shining was Palladino on bass, standing erectly a la the late John Entwistle. The two original members played key roles on video screens - an Entwistle bass lead extended "5:15" and Moon's image sang his parts from "Bell Boy" as Daltrey stared at the screen.
Most stunning was the inspired and out-front playing of Townsend's brother, Simon, who handled the lead guitar role. Daltrey flanked on either side by a Townsend brother is quite a sight.
Yet the key to the night was the enthusiasm of Daltrey and Pete Townsend whose camaraderie on stage is unmistakeable. The two remaining original members both exceeded expectations. Amid constant guitar changes, Townsend, 67, played joyfully like a man wrestling a big dog. He is not a lead player but a power-chord master, building and repeating until a burst of windmill fury erupts. Vocally, he was surprisingly strong. After all, it is Townsend's music and the music is Townsend. During band introductions, he said, "All I did was write the music."
Roger Daltrey, 68, has the torso of a British Schwarzenegger, clearly having hit the gym to prepare for the tour. He is a physical specimen because he has to be - the vocals required for Townsend's music are the most challenging in rock. And, for the most part, Daltrey scaled the musical peaks. If the vocals on the original are a 10, his impressive singing was in the seven-to-nine range all night.
Concluding Quadrophenia with a stellar "Love Reign O'er Me," the encore was a string of greatest hits which ignited the crowd. "Baba O' Reilly" had the whole coliseum on it's feet reliving teenage wasteland days. Next, Townsend's guitar laid out the opening notes to "Pinball Wizard" and Daltrey seized the vocals. Daltrey was excellent on the classic "Behind Blue Eyes" while manhandling an acoustic guitar. "Who Are You" rocked the place once more before bringing the house down with "Won't Get Fooled Again." As scenes from 9/11 flashed on the video screens the power and emotion of the music could not have been clearer.
After all the sound and fury, Townsend and Daltrey ended the show alone on stage performing a melancholy look back through their career during "Tea And Theatre." An appropriate ending for two life-long friends.
I Am the Sea
The Real Me
Cut My Hair
The Punk and the Godfather
The Dirty Jobs
Is It in My Head?
I've Had Enough
Sea and Sand
Love Reign O'er Me
Behind Blue Eyes
Who Are You
Won't Get Fooled Again
Tea & Theatre