On Thursday I saw The Who for the second time in my life. The legendary British rock band are currently on tour playing their 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia in it’s entirety. While it’s not my favorite album of theirs1, a couple of the songs (Real Me and 5:15) are on the shortlist for favorite Who songs. Regardless of that fact, every chance to see The Who live could be the last, and you don’t pass it up.
The Who have been playing together since 1964, and while Keith Moon died in 1978, and John Entwistle died in 2002, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend are still rocking in their late 60s. Long considered to be one of the all-time great live bands, they aren’t what they used to be, but you can see why they are on that list.
The Who were never as popular in the US as they were in the UK, and always seem to play third wheel to The Beatles and The Rolling Stones in the pantheon of (British) rock bands. The reality of it though, is that The Who were so different, that the mainstream popularity just wasn’t quite the levee of The Rolling Stones. The Who released two rock operas, in addition to the plethora of other “concept” music, that in all encompassed a very wide range of style. At the end of the day though, they envelope the words “rock band” like no one else.
The show was centered around playing Quadrophenia in it’s entirety. This isn’t the first time The Who have done this, the most recent time previously was in the mid ‘90s. I haven’t spent a ton of time listening to Quadrophenia, but I was familiar with many of the songs and the general tone of the album. In addition to Daltrey and Townsend, The Who were joined by drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr) who has been playing with The Who since the mid ‘90s. Pete’s brother Simon Townsend also plays guitar, with Pino Palladino on bass, as he has been for most of the time since Entwistle passed. They also had a keyboard player, synthesist and two horn players to allow for the album to be accurately recreated in all it’s glory.
They also had several really nice video boards that showed a variety of clips and pictures from the past, plus all kinds of other effects and live shots of the show. The high points were unquestionably extended clips of Moon and Entwistle. The shots of Moon singing and being silly were featured along with actual sound of Moon drumming (or so it appeared). Entwistle’s dedication featured video of him playing bass from a far more recent timeframe, and included shots from a video camera mounted on his bass.
The representation of Quadrophenia itself was pretty amazing. The fact that these guys are so good live in their late 60s is mind-blowing. The slamming bass on “5:15” is awe-inspiring. Following the completion of Quadrophenia, which was a good 90 minutes into the show, they stopped and introduced the band members. It was nice to see some banter between Townsend and Daltrey, something they were long known for. They busted into “Who Are You”, which is probably one of their more well-known songs. They followed that up with “Behind Blue Eyes”, one of my most favorite The Who songs. Then came Tommy staple “Pinball Wizard”, followed by crowd pleasing Who’s Next songs “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, very likely my two most favorite The Who songs.
Daltrey’s scream on “Won’t Get Fooled Again” wasn’t what it was in 1971, but no one should expect that. It still gave me goose bums to hear the drum solo lead into what my friend calls “the most famous scream in music history.”
Overall the show was extremely amazing and completely worth it. The Who rocked it. I have seen around 70 concerts in my life, and most bands in their prime can’t put on a show like The Who can 50 years into their existence. Some people prefer The Rolling Stones, but in my book The Who are the best “rock band” of all time. And if you have a chance to see this tour, it’s as close to a once in a lifetime chance (at this point) as you will get.
- That would be Who’s Next [↩]