Thursday, November 1, 2012
Better than: Either of the two remaining original members attempting to cover Quadrophenia on their own.
When it comes to bidding farewell, the Who have always been prime contenders. I recall a concert at the old Joe Robbie Stadium some 20 years ago when the band claimed it would be their last go-around. They recruited a slew of special guests to affirm that contention. There was also a previous farewell tour in '79, when Pete Townshend insisted they were giving up the ghost due to the demise of drummer Keith Moon. In fact, every one of the Who's outings of the past couple of decades has offered this suggestion. And no wonder. With Moon long gone and bassist John Entwistle dead over a decade, any claim to the Who's history might seem somewhat sanctimonious to begin with.
Whether or not this will be the band's final outing remains to be seen, but given its conceptual intentions -- that is, to replay their operatic opus Quadrophenia -- there's valid reason for making the rounds. Consequently, Daltrey, Townshend, and newer recruits Zak Starkey (drums), Pino Palladino (bass), and Pete's brother Simon Townshend (guitar/backing vocals) -- assisted by no less than three keyboard players and a small brass section to boot -- deserve credit for attempting to do more than merely rehashing the hits.
After all, like Tommy, Quadrophenia is a complex song cycle with a tangible plot line -- one that centers on a young Mod named Jimmy and how he copes with his coming of age. It also has the benefit of riveting, anthemic melodies to help move the story along.
The initial stop on a tour that keeps them on the road through the end of February, last night's show offered the Who their first opportunity to test the production's many moving parts.
At one point Townshend alluded to opening night jitters, but for the most part, he and Daltrey seemed up to the task. Townshend treated the audience to several of his patented windmill gestures, while Daltrey occasionally lassoed his mic in his rock god ways of old.
Mostly though, the show was about the visuals, beginning with a video backdrop that displayed images of London during the blitz, and then wove its way forward through the postwar boom, the burgeoning adolescent rebellion of the '50s, the Beatles, and the British music invasion and beyond into the tumult of the '60s. The band set a high bar; there were frequent film clips of the younger Who. It was hard to take one's eyes off the images of the original line-up in its prime.
The comparisons between then and now became inevitable. In fact, at some points, the act of binding past and present seemed to take precedence. An instrumental interlude included a lengthy video sequence showing Entwistle performing an extraordinary bass solo while the live band practically faded into the background. "Bell Boy" featured a film clip of Keith Moon adding his distinctive Cockney vocal. Even in the present tense, the spotlight was shared with Simon Townshend, who not only took on an exceptional share of the guitar duties, but inexplicable sang the lead vocal on the song "I'm One."
Nevertheless, by the time the Quadrophenia portion of the program wound its way to a conclusion, today's Who were in full throttle. The instrumental "The Rock" provided an ideal soundtrack for another series of images denoting the new millennium, complete with visual references to Columbine, 9-11 and the Iraqi invasion, and when they concluded with the stirring "Love Reign O'er Me." Any doubts about whether the band was up to their task at hand quickly dissipated. It proved so conclusive, in fact, that many members of the audience began heading for the exits in masse was the Quadrophenia portion concluded.
Oddly enough, so did Townshend.