The Who, Mohegan Sun Arena, Uncasville, CT -12/9
Photo by Norman Sands
With many of the pioneers of modern rock and roll fast approaching their 50th year in music, a few are putting together tours to celebrate the landmark. The Who’s 2012/2013 Quadrophenia and More Tour is an intelligent, inventive, and well-executed example. Roger Daltrey brilliantly chose The Who’s ambitious 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia as a vehicle to put together a dynamic retrospective of the band. Fellow original Who member, Pete Townshend, credits Daltrey with the concept and staging of the production. Three large, circular screens take the audience along on a fast-paced visual journey in the form of photos and concert footage of The Who’s earlier years, along with a cultural slice of life of the era.
The double album Quadrophenia tells the story of the protagonist Jimmy, a West London art school mod, in search of his identity and self. Jimmy’s fragmented personality manifests itself in four part themes, each representing the different personalities of The Who. But the story, this time around, focuses more on The Who, not Jimmy. Composed entirely by Townshend, the album is timeless and universal in nature and has a real lyrical power and beauty. Townshend’s ideas and albums were usually thematic and high-concept with a spiritual thread running throughout. But in a yin-yang manner, his songs mostly took the form of visceral, volatile rock epics that are considered some of the best ever written, and have influenced generations of loyal fans and musicians. Roger Daltrey still possesses one of the most iconic, expressive, and ferocious voices and it’s unimaginable to think of anyone else bringing the vocals to life except him. Quadrophenia is a vocal and instrumental mountain to climb. Could Daltrey and Townshend pull it off forty years later and still keep their legacy intact?
The question was laid to rest from the get go when “The Real Me” kicked in. Staying true to the original composition, the backing band had an edge with drummer Zak Starkey, guitarist Simon Townshend, and bassist Dino Palladino, each having toured with The Who multiple times, including previous productions of Quadrophenia. Three keyboardists and two brass players rounded out the sound and ushered in some of the gentler interludes, as well as augmenting the explosive, thunderous moments. Starkey, the real workhorse of the group, was mesmerizing. Keith Moon gave Starkey his first professional drum set and was an obvious influence, but he has his own powerful style and feel.
Townshend’s guitar playing was monumental, both acoustic and electric, and yes, he still windmills. He sang solo on “I’m One” and “Drowned” with a deeper voice, but was still quite good. The highlight of the night no doubt was “5:15.” Video of John Entwistle’s rapturous fret-flying solo played off Starkey’s drumbeats to a posthumous standing ovation. “5:15” also had an blistering blues jam by Townshend that brought down the house. Keith Moon was featured in an interactive video of “Bell Boy,” which conveyed his boyish charm and humor. As the set came to a close, a video montage, set to the instrumental “The Rock,” asked the timely question through graphic images “Have you had enough of violence, war, and conflict?” and offered the solution with a surrender to love with the show’s life-affirming peak of “Love, Reign O’er Me.” Daltrey imparted a passionate and moving performance and gave it his all. The shimmering sea washed over the background screens, clearing the energy. The only break in the evening was the long standing ovation before the encore began with epic classic rock favorites “Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Pinball Wizard,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Daltrey’s vocal stamina was amazing and he shined bright.
The concert ended with the two surviving original members in the spotlight for the heartfelt song “Tea & Theatre” from the 2006 album Endless Wire. Daltrey raised a Union Jack mug of tea and sang while Townshend played acoustic guitar. Regardless of the ups and downs, triumphs and tragedies, this is one most enduring and well-matched creative partnerships in rock history. Who else, but Townshend, can write a song to complement Daltrey’s voice.