January 29, 2013
Review by Shawn Perry
Photos by Maria Younghans, Karen LeBrun & Ron Lyon
Tonight, it was the Who in Anaheim. Two nights before during an award ceremony at the NAMM show, Pete Townshend casually remarked he was unaware of the city’s very existence, but the Who have rolled through the land of Disney many times.
There was 1970 when they played Tommy for 25,000 auspicious souls at Anaheim Stadium. To many, this was a time when the Who were unchallenged as a live band. They returned six years later behind The Who By Numbers and doubled the crowd. Twenty years passed, and they showed up at what was then called the Arrowhead Pond to stage an all-out production of Quadrophenia with guest singers like Billy Idol, PJ Proby and Gary Glitter. Memories of the tour include arbitrary dialogue and slick performances void of the Who’s true essence. And Pete Townshend playing acoustic for most of the night. Ugh.
And now, at the same venue with a different name, a whole new reboot of Quadrophenia without the trappings of theatrical devices, actors and stand-in lead guitarists. Detail to the arrangements, instrumental passages and vocal harmonies of the original record were on the agenda for tonight’s performance. The Who didn’t attempt to adapt Quadrophenia to the times; they adapted to the timelessness of Quadrophenia itself, retaining its integrity and the regal power of the original four-headed monster.
Speaking of which...like many who have seen them over the years, I’ve cast my doubt about the Who’s credibility as the genuine article without their original bass player and drummer — totally original — no longer roaming the earth. Yet, Townshend and Roger Daltrey bounced back with the reasonably well received Endless Wire album in 2006. And they’ve continued to tour and play benefits, drawing in enough numbers to sustain their ongoing presence.
Maybe it's just easier these days. Townshend doesn’t grouse as much as he used to about being who he is, and has stayed fairly prolific with an autobiography and sporadic side projects. Daltrey continues to bear the torch for everything Townshend has ever written. In 2011, he took Tommy out with his own band, which had a lot to do with bringing Quadrophenia back to the stage for what is likely a final run — for the piece, perhaps the band itself. Perhaps.
Daltrey surrounded himself with clutch musicians for the Tommy tour, including Townshend’s younger brother Simon, who’s played with the Who since 1996, as well as music director Frank Simes and keyboardist Loren Gold. Daltrey, Simon Townshend and Simes set about to resuscitate the musicality of Tommy, discarding the novel, cartoonish flourishes brought to previous productions, especially the over-blown shows from 1989. It’s reasonable to suspect that Pete Townshend witnessed one of the shows and felt the same treatment could work wonders on his second great opus, Quadrophenia. Well, it sounds reasonably good on paper.
By no strange coincidence, Simes and Gold became part of the Who’s extended Quadrophenia band that also includes Simon Townshend on guitar and vocals, drummer Zak Starkey, bassist Pino Palladino, pianist John Corey and brassmen J. Greg Miller and Reggie Grisham.
If you know anything about the intricacies of Quadrophenia, originally weaved together by Pete Townshend’s homemade multi-track recordings, it booms over with layers of synths to air out the segues between the main tracks. To effectively achieve such textures without impeding the utter ballsiness of songs like “The Real Me,” “The Punk Meets The Godfather” and “Dr. Jimmy” required a delicate balance that both Simes and Gold adeptly provided.
Three round screens overhead, a giant LED on the backline and a relatively straight-forward stage were really all the players needed for the interpretation. Daltrey, his shirt half open and defying his 68 years, is a marvel of nature. Nature being what it is means the powerful snarl of the 1970s is no longer all that apparent. And he ain’t swinging that microphone around as much as he used to. The attitude and intensity, however, are still very much intact. It would seem after numerous throat-related issues that the singer has finally regained his voice as well as can be expected. There was nary a sour note heard from him.
Seeing Pete Townshend brandishing a red Stratocaster defines his invariable temperance. Or maybe he simply doesn’t care about the ring in his ears anymore. Either way, the windmills came in spurts — fast, furious and florid. And the vocals, often exchanged with his brother who shares a similar nasally tone, were as in sync and ample as ever. From where I was sitting, he relied heavily on Simon, an exceptional musician in his own right, to fill in the gaps on both guitar and vocals without surrendering the spotlight on which all eyes zoned in on.
Without giving away too much, let’s just say by the miracle of technology and inspiration, both John Entwistle and Keith Moon made their legacies known. During the interlude of “5:15,” Starkey set the tempo while video overhead had the Ox’s thundering fingers making mince meat out of his four-stringer. It wasn’t the real thing of course, but given a tolerance for virtual realities and lip syncing, it was a beautiful tribute.
Moon was paid homage during the vocal breaks in “Bell Boy,” which featured footage of him sing his parts from the first Quadrophenia tour of 1974 — by all accounts a disastrous enterprise highlighted by the drummer taking a nosedive on stage after ingesting way too much of a good time. But really, who else can truly deliver classic lines like, “Remember the gaff where the doors we smashed?” besides Keith Moon? It isn’t hard to suspend your imagination if you look up and pretend he never left the building.
The visuals became more topical as “Love Reign O’er Me” mesmerized the seemingly packed house. Daltrey meticulously punctuated the choruses and you could see the twinkle of tears in the first 10 rows. Eventually, like all that is pure and sacred, Quadrophenia faded out as easily as it washed ashore.
Of course, there was time reserved for a greatest hits set that included “Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes, “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and there was when all the players really shined. No one is gong to slag Zak Starkey for not being Keith Moon because he’s the next best thing without all the eccentricities (or least none that we know about — he is, after all, the son of Ringo). The only thing a bit off about the drummer is that his hit-hat cymbal is positioned where his ride cymbal should be. Run for your lives!
Palladino has simply developed into the man for the job. When he first stepped on to that Hollywood Bowl stage in 2002 just days after Entwistle’s death and attempted to play the unmistakable bass break in “My Generation,” I nearly drowned myself in a rancid sea of Sangria. Watching him this time, his playing is flawless, certainly not as aggressive as his predecessor, but equally competent and suitable to the music.
Tonight, they didn’t play “My Generation” or anything else they recorded before Tommy. Townshend and Daltrey ended the night on a somber note with a newer one from Endless Wire called “Tea And Theatre.” Seeing just the two — The Two! — without their support system at full steam was proof enough that the Who are still every much a “band” as they can possibly be. If they have the tenacity to keep on going, I guess there’s no reason to complain. Maybe we’ll even get another album out of them.