November 13, 2012
Washington, DC USA
Review by Erick Lermo
Photos by Rick Diamond
Elites of Rock and Roll
Due to a number of issues I was dealing with up until the day The Who was scheduled to perform at the Verizon Center in Washington, D.C., I had decided against attending the show. But, being the lifelong fan I am, the thought of missing the band's epic Quadrophenia album performed in its entirety (I was unable to see the 1997 Quadrophenia tour) proved too great a temptation to miss.
Several hours before show time, I told the boss I needed to leave and called the wife telling her I'd be home late. Knowing me too well she said, "I knew you couldn't stay away from the show". Arriving at the box office, I asked for the best single seat available and to my total amazement was given a ticket on the eighth row - directly in front of Pete Townshend. Some things are just meant to be.
Not only had I scored myself a VIP ticket at a fraction of the cost, I also happened to be surrounded by fellow enthusiasts who spoke "Who" just as well as I did. They were all wearing VIP badges, had been present at the sound check earlier, and were given special Quadrophenia lithographs. I was happy for them and ecstatic for me. Let the show begin.
The opening act was a band out of Hollywood, California called Vintage Trouble. This rock and soul band was absolutely incredible. When you're touring with a legendary band like The Who, the opening slot can be brutal but this group handled the pressure like seasoned pros. They were led by Ty Taylor, a vocalist who finished sixth in the Rockstar: INXS television program that aired several years ago. The group also featured Nalle Colt on guitar, drummer Richard Danielson and battery mate Rick Barrio Dill. They were so impressive, that in all the years I've been going to concerts, this is the only opening act I've ever seen that received a raucous standing ovation when they completed their set. The energy they displayed and the original music they performed really was that good.
It's doubtful Pete Townshend imagined he'd still be touring 47 years after he penned the line, "I hope I die before I get old" for the Who classic, "My Generation." Fortunately, neither he nor Roger Daltrey let Father Time get the best of them. Throughout their energetic two and a half hour show, both musicians gave vibrant performances that had the crowd going from start to finish. They were supported in this ambitious endeavor by a strong supporting cast featuring the well-pedigreed Zak Starkey on drums (Ringo's son, Keith Moon's godson), Pino Palladino on bass, and Pete's younger brother Simon supporting him on guitar and vocals. Add to the mix three keyboardists, who provided backing vocals plus a brass section, and you have a collection of musicians more than capable of recreating Townshend's complex masterpiece.
There are a handful of legendary artists on par with The Who that can actually tour behind a single album and draw huge arena size crowds night after night. Quadrophenia was, and still is, one of the greatest rock operas (and greatest albums) ever written. Certainly Townshend's other gem, Tommy, gets its fair share of accolades, but tonight this ecstatic audience was here to see Pete's master stroke of songwriting brilliance on display.
Quadrophenia, for the uninitiated, was Pete Townshend's second rock opera created in a period of five years, the first being Tommy. It would have been the guitarist's third rock opera in a row, but he couldn't find a satisfactory musical theme to build the middle album (the abandoned "Lifehouse" project) around and it subsequently became Who's Next. It featured three hits that would be performed in the encore, "Won't Get Fooled Again,", "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Baba O'Riley".
These days, Townshend comes across looking more like a businessman on casual Friday, than the reckless, flying-through-the-air rocker that ruled the stage from the 1960s through the early 80s. Interestingly enough, he still dons his signature over-sized footwear. That bit of nostalgia, mind you, doesn't prompt Pete to take the occasional leap or launch into a slide, but he still does his trademark windmill slashes on the guitar that remain a marvel to behold. As for Roger Daltrey, he was in top physical condition. He strutted about the stage, did his signature twirling of the microphone, and even managed to unveil his classic unbuttoned shirt look for the encore. Obviously the vocals of this 68-year old singer aren't as strong as they were 'back in the day,' but remarkably, his singing had much better range than displayed on previous tours.
You would have thought that translating the split-personality angst of an English Mod lad of the early 60s, to an American audience, would create a problem on this tour. It didn't. Daltrey and The Who's musical director, Frank Simes, deftly used still photography and video. When interwoven with the music, the images displayed on the giant screens adorning the stage gave the audience a portrait of the young pill-popping, parent fighting, Jimmy who was just dying to fit in. Ultimately, he finds that he truly needs love to reign over him to achieve inner peace.
Townshend revealed that Daltrey was the instigator behind the current tour, and suggested that modern technology could aid them in resurrecting portions of Quadrophenia featuring the late John Entwistle and Keith Moon. When it came time to perform "5:15", a video of Entwistle performing his incredible bass solo came on the screens. The band played along as though 'The Ox" was still there. In spirit he most certainly was. The same situation occurred later during "Bell Boy", when a video of Keith Moon singing his part came to life on the screens as well. Both instances were touching moments to fallen comrades.
Musically and visually, this concert provided a wonderful respite from today's bubblegum pop singles. It was also a reminder of the timeless rock and roll music English musicians crafted in the late '60s into the decade of the '70s. Not only was Quadrophenia an incredibly brilliant concept album, if you look at the bulk of the music Townshend was writing and arranging back then, you just shake your head in awe at his total genius. The thousands attending this concert were not only watching musical history unfold before their eyes, they also were paying respect to two of the greatest artists of our time.
That point was really driven home during the encore. Following the performance of Quadrophenia, and an introduction of the band, Townshend dismissed several musicians leaving only the core unit behind to perform six Who classics. Aside from the aforementioned tunes, "Pinball Wizard" and "Who Are You?" were also included. The most poignant moment of the show came with the final song, the lesser known "Tea & Theater" off the band's last studio recording, the 2006 Endless Wire. Daltrey and Townshend stood alone on stage, with guitar and voice as their only instruments. It was a special moment not only for the audience, but these two old friends as well.
Long ago, The Who established themselves as one of the elites of rock and roll. The Quadrophenia tour is doing nothing to tarnish that image. Instead, with the aid of technology and a solid backing band behind them, Townshend and Daltrey are only enhancing the legend. This band didn't die before it got old. It just got better. Indeed, the 'remaining' kids are alright!
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 and Theater