04 November 2012


Performance Review: The Who

The Who
Quadrophenia Tour
Amway Center, Orlando, Florida
Saturday, 3 November 2012

Mack and I went to see The Who last night at the still newish Amway Center in Orlando.

Background: The Who are one of the few bands that have mattered to me for a long time. Tommy was one of the first LPs I ever bought (at some little record store in Lakeland, Florida, to try to play through this RCA reel-to-reel tape deck (standard two-channel quarter-track quarter-inch dealie) I had conned my dad into buying me (at some home furnishings store in Leesburg, Florida, earlier that same winter of 1971 (I think))). (The ghost of Lowell George celebrates my having closed all parentheses properly.) (Yes, I was a doofus about electronics at the time: The r2r wanted line levels in, but my turntable had a magnetic cartridge, so the level was a factor of 100 or more too low.) Spent that late winter of 1971, a freshman in high school, listening to Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar over and over and over again on the headphone output of that tape deck. (Dammit! Not supposed to reference things at the outer level introduced at an inner level. Bad scoping.)

Who's Next came a year or so later, leading to a world where you could hear ``Won't Get Fooled Again'' on the same daily basis as ``Stairway to Heaven''. When I was a senior in high school,  Quadrophenia was released, and I spent many hours both listening to it—by then I had gotten a receiver with a real phono preamplifier, and I could blast it on the stereo—and playing tunes from it on the piano. I still have the well-worn songbook.

As with much of a young man's fancy, taste changed, and my intense interest in The Who waned but never vanished. Many phases followed: Yes and ELP, Todd Rundgren (say it like Beavis), King Crimson (had had a Record Club of America pressing of In the Court of the Crimson King from some time in high school, but that interest didn't really take off until I got a copy of Larks' Tongues in Aspic), followed after dropping out of college with a turn into punk and new wave. Over the years I never really became aware of many opportunities to see The Who, and after the disappointments of live arena performances by Yes and Jethro Tull, I just didn't crave humongous rock shows like I might have just a few years earlier.

Still, when I back in college in Boston and visiting a friend in Queens for the weekend one summer, I was very disappointed when he said, ``You wouldn't have wanted to go see The Who at Giants' Stadium, would you? A friend needed to sell his tickets, but I didn't think you'd want to go.'' (So disappointed. Yes, we had seen Minutemen and Black Flag and the Hüskers in club scenes—and numerable Zappa shows at disparate locales—but that didn't mean I wouldn't want to go see The Who. Really, dude, what were you thinking? The Who? Not go see The Who?)

I came to realize that of all the big name acts, The Who was the one that I wanted to see. (If you ask me ``Beatles or Stones?'' I always answer, ``The Who''.)

So, when another friend posted on Facebook a few months ago about buying tix to take his kids to see The Who perform Quadrophenia in Nashville, I was like, ``The Who are on tour? Can I still get tickets?'' And, yes, I could still get tickets, which is how we ended up at the show last night.

I enjoyed it tremendously. The backing musicians were great, including two horn players and three keyboardists. Pino Palladino admirably covered the bass parts, and Simon Townsend, Pete's brother, played guitar and sang. Zak Starkey, Ringo's son, was just great on drums, copping the Moon feel and groove. Roger Daltrey has likely seen better days as a singer, but the crowd covers for him when he can't hit the high notes anymore. (He may never be able to hit those high notes again, but we hear them whether he hits them or not.) His and Pete Townsend's stage presences are both solid professionals, old guys who've done this a zillion times. Does it lack a certain spontaneity? Sure. Are they consumate showmen, Roger whirling the mike around (no wireless anywhere, as far as I could tell), Pete still doing the windmill and crunching out thick waves of sound on any one of a dozen guitars? Absolutely.

Here's some photos I shot with my iPhone and posted in this set on Flickr.

The Who: Pete
Pete, during ``The Real Me'' (I think).

The Who: Roger
Roger, during ``The Real Me'' (I think).

The Who: Moon
Keith Moon (!) posthumously singing ``Bell Boy'' by the magic of video. 

Not only did Moon sing, there was also a bass-drums duet, with prerecorded posthumous bass performance by John ``Ox'' Entwistle and the resourceful and wonderful aforementioned Zak Starkey.

For an idea of how guys who've been playing together for a long time, have worn themselves out many times over, sound today, here's a video of the band, with Roger and Pete trading lyrics on ``Helpless Dancer''. Okay, ``sound today'' is probably generous, because of the audio quality.

I think we also have to keep in mind that this is only the second show of the tour. Given what I heard about how the Sunrise show on Thursday night went, I would expect that this means even better shows in the days ahead.

Roger Daltrey put together the accompanying video features with the songs. The montage during ``The Rock'' took us from Mods and Rockers to Free Pussy Riot. Quadrophenia became not timeless, but a multigenerational artifact. It's not just the story of Jimmy and his leapers and his scooter: It's the story of anyone who ever wanted to fit into her or his times as they were changing, as she or he couldn't deal with family, as intimacies were allowed and denied. A very thoughtful framing.

After finishing the performance of Quadrophenia and dismissing the larger ensemble except for Chris Stainton on keys, the band played several more tunes, including ``Baba O'Reiley'', ``The Kids are Alright'', ``Who Are You?'', and ``Won't Get Fooled Again'' (including Roger reminding everyone to vote).

The Who
``Won't Get Fooled Again''.

The Who: Won't Get Fooled Again
More ``Won't Get Fooled Again''.

After that, Roger and Pete stayed on to sing one more tune, the beautiful, thoughtful ``Tea and Theater''.

Will you have some tea

After theatre with me?

We did it all - didn't we?

Jumped every wall - instinctively
Unravelled codes - ingeniously
Wired all the roads - so seamlessly

We made it work

But one of us failed
That makes it so sad
A great dream derailed

One of us gone

One of us mad
One of us, me
All of us sad

All of us sad - lean on my shoulder now

The story is done - 's getting colder now
A thousand songs - still smoulder now
We played them as one - we're older now

All of us sad

All of us free
Before we walk from the stage
Two of us
Will you have some tea?
Will you have some tea
At the theatre with me?

Two old men, singing rock and roll, friends after many fights, performers together, shared history as a force not to be dismissed. Made me think of  ``History Lesson, Part II''.

If you can't tell, I'm really glad I finally got to see The Who. If your criteria is that they ought to sound in voice and attitude like they did when they were all young men, then you would likely be disappointed to see this show. But if you are interested in those who've had success, have maintained  credibility and integrity, have survived losses, and have lived and shared their creative spirit with millions over the years—and are doing so again for whatever reason (maybe they need the money)—then you'd probably enjoy this show. Most human-sized arena rock show I've ever been to, because of an intimate partnership between two creative souls.

Long live rock. Long live Roger and Pete. Long live The Who.

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