By John Curley
The Who’s current tour featuring Quadrophenia looks back on an album that was released almost 40 years ago that was a fictionalized version of events that happened almost 50 years ago. The Who’s second so-called “rock opera” (following the more celebrated Tommy), Quadrophenia seems to be the favorite of the two among the band’s most ardent fans. From the introspective “Cut My Hair” and “I’m One” to the majestic “The Punk And The Godfather” and “Sea And Sand” to the rocking “The Real Me” and “5:15,” Quadrophenia has something to sate the appetite of every fan of The Who.
While The Who were charged with making a night of seeming nostalgia seem current, their concert at the new Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY on Wednesday, November 14th managed to accomplish that and did so with flying colors. Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, and company were on fire at the Barclays Center, and they put on a show that thrilled the crowd and sent everyone home happy.
Using video images to help tell the story of the album, The Who brought the album to life. Images of waves crashing onto the Brighton, England beach set the tone for “I Am The Sea,” the album’s intro. It was a very effective way to start the proceedings. Film and video dating from World War II (the era of Daltrey’s and Townshend’s births) to the present told the story of both the album and the lives of everyone who lived through those times. Images of the 1960s Mods and of The Who’s early days in the clubs of London were also used to give the audience a sense of what the era in which the album takes place was like. The Who’s deceased original members, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon, also had roles in the show. A live Entwistle bass solo from “5:15” was integrated seamlessly into the performance of the song while video of the late bassist was shown on the screen. Keith Moon’s vocal from the studio recording of “Bell Boy” was used during the performance of that song while video of Moon was shown on the video screens. The crowd roared for both of those sections of the show.
In addition to original members Roger Daltrey on lead vocals and occasional guitar and Pete Townshend on lead guitar and vocals, The Who were joined by their longtime touring band, which features Pino Paladino on bass, Zak Starkey on drums, and Simon Townshend (Pete’s younger brother) on rhythm guitar and backing vocals. On this tour, The Who are augmented by John Corey on keyboards, Loren Gold on keyboards and backing vocals, and Frank Simes on keyboards and backing vocals as well as a two-piece horn section. (Simes also served as the tour's musical director.) The extra musicians really fleshed out the songs, and the horn section was featured prominently during “5:15.” Simon Townshend had a moment in the spotlight, taking the lead vocal part on “The Dirty Jobs.”
Special mention should be given to drummer Zak Starkey. The son of The Beatles’ Ringo Starr, Starkey actually received his first drum kit from Keith Moon, who was a friend of his father. Starkey’s playing evokes that of Moon’s far more than either of his predecessors behind The Who’s drum kit, Kenney Jones and Simon Phillips. Quadrophenia was the best showcase in The Who’s catalog of studio recordings for Moon’s orchestral style of drumming, and Starkey seemed to be channeling the maniacal Moon during the Barclays Center performance. Moon used to jokingly refer to himself as “the best Keith Moon-type drummer in the world.” Now that Moon has gone to that great gig in the sky, the mantle has been assumed by Starkey. His performance during the Quadrophenia section of the concert was absolutely spectacular.
The current live version of Quadrophenia works better than the one that The Who performed at New York’s Madison Square Garden in the summer of 1996. That version featured Billy Idol playing the role of The Ace Face/Bell Boy and the absolutely ghastly Gary Glitter as The Godfather. Phil Daniels, who portrayed the young Mod protagonist Jimmy Cooper in Franc Roddam’s excellent 1979 film version of Quadrophenia, served as the narrator for the Garden shows in 1996. (Daniels was replaced by a younger actor on film playing Jimmy for the version of the show that toured North America in 1996-97.) In those 1996-97 Quadrophenia shows, Pete Townshend was forced to play acoustic guitar for most of the concert due to hearing difficulties. The current show ditched the guest stars and the narrator. The music and the video images tell the story very well. And Pete Townshend, playing electric guitar for most of the show, was in full windmilling glory. He is still one of the most demonstrative guitarists in concert and puts the shoegazers a third of his age to shame.
Following the full-length performance of Quadrophenia, The Who only took a brief break for Pete Townshend to introduce the musicians. Then, it was right back to business with a selection of greatest hits. A terrific “Pinball Wizard” and an absolutely blistering “Won’t Get Fooled Again” were the highlights of that part of the show.
The musicians, with the exception of Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, left the stage following the performance of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Townshend then picked up an acoustic guitar and played a touching version of “Tea & Theatre” (from the 2006 Endless Wire album) with Daltrey to close out the show. It was a fitting end to the proceedings, featuring two men who first joined forces in 1962 when an 18-year-old Daltrey asked the 17-year-old Townshend to join his band, which was then known as The Detours. That conversation 50 years ago changed the course of the lives of both of them, and of rock history as well. Daltrey and Townshend, now only a few years away from their respective 70th birthdays, smiled broadly as the crowd stood and cheered with a full-throated roar at the conclusion of the show. If this is The Who’s last tour, as has been rumored, they did themselves proud at the Barclays Center. It was a magnificent night of music in the Borough of Kings.
The Los Angeles-based quartet Vintage Trouble opened the show. I missed their set due to traffic on the way to the show, unfortunately, so I can’t comment on it.
The Who were on stage for two hours and 10 minutes, and performed 23 songs at the Barclays Center show. The set list was as follows:
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
Who Are You
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Tea & Theatre