The Who at Allstate Arena | Photos and review
When the Who released Quadrophenia in 1973, it was an enormously ambitious album by the standards of the day. The double album was the band's second rock opera, incorporating complex horns (Entwistle played the horn arrangements on the record himself as Pete Townshend would remind us when he introduced the Who's live horn players last night), keyboards, and an operatic storyline about Jimmy the Mod growing up in the '60s, struggling with an identity crisis amid the clashes between mods and rockers. The record was a triumph, though initially it got a lukewarm reaction—today it rates higher than Tommy for many fans and critics. It's certainly a more mature piece of art. Pete Townshend calls it his favorite Who album. But the Who's early tours for Quadrophenia were inconsistent. Keith Moon struggled to play with the stage tapes the Who found it needed to complete the sound of the record. The band wanted to show films during the UK tour for Quadrophenia—which was, naturally, toured in quadrophonic sound—but that didn't happen.
Last night at Allstate Arena, the Who—Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend plus a band of expert journeyman including longtime Who touring members Zak Starkey on the drums and Pino Palladino on the bass as well as Townshend's brother Simon on rhythm guitar and taking lead vocals on "Dirty Jobs"—brought Quadrophenia to life, in every sense, then played a few more songs. As a storytelling vehicle, the stage presentation turned the now very specific tale of Jimmy the Mod into a style-conscious visual story of the Who and the post-war English generation. Musically, the band played the enormously complex and difficult record at a prodigious level of detail, celebrating the music of the rock opera in a way that sometimes challenged the crowd (namely the long instrumental passages in "the Rock" and "Quadrophenia") and definitely challenged the band (Townshend told us the "music is a tough ride for us as musicians" after folding up the green binder of notes he used during the Quadrophenia set), but paid off in an artful arena rock experience.
Townshend and Daltrey were in fine form, one still playing auto-destruct art school guitar slinger to the R&B loving neighborhood pugilist. Both brought their trademark showmanship in measured amounts of windmills and mic swings as well as astounding musical chops. Daltrey's screams gave me a shiver more than once. Townshend's jagged rhythm guitar and improvisation can still summon a simmering and attractive anger, while his solos in "Drowned" and elsewhere prove that he might be old but unlikely to go quietly.
In the "Sea and Sand," on which Daltrey and Townshend share vocals, Townshend brought some added emotional intensity with references to Hurricane Sandy and an invitation to "bring on that fucking storm."
Delving into is own history, the band was inventive. The Who didn't resurrect Tupac, it brought John Entwistle and Keith Moon back to life briefly. During an epic rendition of "5:15," John Entwistle appeared on screen and launched into a mind-destroying bass solo that would make Les Claypool run for the baby pool, while Starkey joined in with the digital Entwistle for a jaw-dropping jam session. In "Bell Boy," Moon sang his vocal parts in a kind of Robert Newtown as Long John Silver voice along to video of a live set from yesteryear.
In 1973, the Who was just a decade old and already mining its youth for inspiration, romancing the sixties when they were barely over. Now, the Who are in their sixties (Daltrey 68, Townshend 67) and Quadrophenia's celebration of youthful angst balanced against impressionistic imagery of early '60s England has gained more potency in the passing decades. Roger Daltrey is keenly aware of this, as he's the man behind the projected visuals—shown on a quartet of screens, three of them mod circles, above the band that approximate the shape of a mod's scooter headlights. The presentation turns Jimmy's story into the story of the Who's generation as seen through the band's history from the early days through untimely deaths. Toward the end of the night, the video goes a bit far, cycling through the '80s, '90s and recent history during "The Rock"—Margaret Thatcher to Pussy Riot, Elvis to Tiananmen Square—in a kind of This is Your Life montage, but I can't say that I didn't find it emotional.
In the post-Quadrophenia set, the band unleashed hits from "Behind Blue Eyes" to "Baba O'Riley" and "Pinball Wizard", with an extended "Won't Get Fooled Again" finishing out the night, before the chatty Daltrey and Townshend returned for an acoustic rendition of "Tea and Theatre" from the band's 2006 album, Endless Wire.
Generations have relied on classic rock radio to blast them to work and soccer practices with "Baba O'Riley" but last night the Who proved that not only does it still have a story to tell but its Quadrophenia, if not exactly Chopin as Townshend might have it, is a rock album for the ages.
Photos from the Who's November 28th performance at Allstate Arena.