Madison Square Garden, New York, December 12th. Photo – Kevin Mazur
Last night, The Who – Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and their touring band – joined their friends and peers at Madison Garden to do their bit for the victims of Hurricane Sandy performing to a packed house and an estimated 2 billion on line/broadcast audience. Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, accompanied by their fine supporting band, played a rousing 7 song set – ‘Who Are You’, ‘Bell Boy’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, See Me/Feel Me’, Baba O’Riley’, Love Reign O’er Me’ and ‘Tea and Theatre’. It was an emotional performance. Not the first time, of course, that The Who have rallied to support a city they love and which clearly loves them.
Ironically, Hurricane Sandy swept up through the East Coast just as The Who arrived in Florida to rehearse for the first leg of their North American tour of ‘Quadrophenia and More’; and last night’s 121212 Sandy Relief Concert occurred just as they were due to fly home for a well-earned Christmas and New Year break before the second leg at the end of January.
The tour has been a roller coaster ride, beginning with a first night at which Pete Townshend left the stage because the on stage monitors were too loud, proceeding with some extraordinarily powerful performances of Quadrophenia, which were enthusiastically received by fans and press alike.
“The Who’s 1973 rock opera, Quadrophenia, is one of their boldest and most fully realized albums,” wrote Andy Greene in Rolling Stone, “ but it’s never quite gotten the live show it deserves – until now.”
Scotiabank Place, Ottawa, November 21st . Photo – Sandy Sharkey
“Joie de vivre reigns o’er The Who, Boston audience”, wrote Craig S. Semon of telegram.com. “Townshend uttered one of rock’s most famous rhetorical questions, “Why should I care?” and then gave us many reason to do just that on “5:15,” which had a “Live At Leeds” worthy blues jam that was more powerful than a locomotive and had so many windmills on Townshend’s guitar that Don Quixote would have thought he died and gone to heaven.”
“The complete “Quadrophenia” recitation was received by the crowd with the sort of transfixed adulation reserved for religious epiphany,” wrote Rick Koster in The Connecticut Day. “A subsequent mini-set — including “Baba O’Reilly,” “Who Are You,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” — was a celebratory reminder that, if their legacy demands that The Who must continually revisit their own history, there are far worse places to be than in the past.”
There’s always an edge of volatility about The Who’s live performances. This was evident even during the rehearsals in Kissimmee, Florida. Everyone there – crew, band, management, merchandisers – knew that Roger Daltrey’s new interpretation of Quadrophenia was going to be big, bold, ambitious and technically very demanding. It would be wonderful – if it worked. Pete had had no input. He’d generously and trustingly left it all to Roger. So would he like it? “I won’t actually see it,” he said. “But I’ll feel it from the audience.”
The original stage version of Quadrophenia merged the four personalities of Jimmy Cooper with character traits of the four original Who members. Roger’s new production focuses, by necessity, on the two surviving members of the band. Indeed, key to his vision was to add a new dimension to the piece, the dimension of time. Four personalities and four dimensions. A beguilingly simple device, through which the two Who survivors could come together to celebrate what many fans consider to be Pete Townshend’s greatest music and The Who’s most complete work, Quadrophenia. Roger’s vision was as crystal clear as day, as sharp as a knife. He worked it meticulously through the entire production, personally supervising every aspect of it.
Roger gave Quadrophenia a fresh perspective rooted firmly in the rich history and heritage of the album, using the best of the fabulous content that already existed but adapting and adding to it through a unique display. Above all, he wanted the visuals and staging to support the band and allow the audience to respond.
Prudential Center, Newark, December 6th. Photo – Joe Russo
Being true to the album meant removing the narrative, which was present in previous stage versions, on the grounds that it slowed up the pace and rhythm of the music. The result was a roller coaster of stunning music and songs with very little space in between.
On first sight, this was a risky thing to do. The story of Jimmy is dear to the heart not only of Who fans but also, of course, to the creator of the story. On the other hand, no one is more in tune to the indefinable chemistry that happens and needs to happen between a rock band and it audience at any successful live rock show.
“If theatre is about suspending disbelief,” Pete Townshend wrote recently, “rock is about suspending any suspension of disbelief and merely throwing oneself into the middle of the music like a willing sacrificial victim.”
The Arena at Gwinnett Center, Duluth, November 5th. Photo – Rick Diamond
The staging, dominated by six giant screens, three of them circular, in front of which the working Who band, lead by Roger and Pete, perform, helped create this chemistry with the audience along with, of course, the timeless nature of the work itself and the uncanny ability of Pete Townshend to be way ahead of his time. Nonetheless, during this first leg of the tour, culminating in the 121212 concert last night, something significant has happened with The Who. The playing and replaying of Quadrophenia to increasingly enthusiastic audiences has somehow reignited the passion within the two surviving members of The Who. It’s difficult to define exactly what happened. Perhaps it was a sense of relief that the production worked so well, a sense of “Where did we go right?” Perhaps it was due to the fact that Quadrophenia is still as relevant today as when Townshend wrote it. Or perhaps it was because of the added ‘time’ dimension, which conjured up on screen performances by the late greats John Entwistle and Keith Moon. These had a huge impact on the audience. Clearly, these touched Daltrey and Townshend too, creating not only a sense of yesterday and tomorrow coming together but also, frequently, especially after John Entwistle’s extended bass solo in ‘5:15’, explosive, wild guitar solos from Pete Townshend.
There is always a feeling with tours like this by the handful of iconic rock bands which still tread the boards that they are doing so merely for commercial gain, that perhaps the focus is on marketing the brand rather than celebrating the band. However, if the the virtually unanimous praise of The Who for this tour by fans and press alike is anything to go by, one thing is clear: this is not just a band churning the same old same old to prop up their pensions. No. The Who, Roger and Pete, older and wiser, are a band at the height of their game, loving what they do, performing with skill, honesty and passion, unerringly in tune with their audiences. Perhaps that is why more and more new fans are coming to these shows, realising that they have a unique opportunity to see the greatest live band of all time doing what they do best, performing Quadrophenia, their most difficult and challenging love child and, in so doing, to witness The Who reigning o’er love.
Rob Lee, editor, www.thewho.com
The Who’s North American tour of ‘Quadrophenia and More’ resumes on January 28th at Anaheim, Ca. and concludes on February 28th in Providence, Rhode Island.
To buy tickets for the next leg of The Who’s North American tour of Quadrophenia and More and to read reviews and see photos of the last leg, click HERE.