This past week, I saw The Who perform their classic album, Quadrophenia, at Nassau Coliseum. I wanted to wait a couple of days to absorb my feelings about the concert before I administered my review.
Let me start by saying I love The Who. Behind The Kinks, they are my all-time favorite band. Pete Townshend’s writing has always spoke to me personally. He encompasses teenage angst and the search for spiritual awareness and does it with the most powerful sound in the history of music. Having the greatest bass player in John Entwhistle and the greatest drummer, Keith Moon didn’t hurt either. Now with John and Keith gone for some time, we are left with Roger and Pete. A formidable duo.
They have done a great job in rounding out the band with Pino Palladino, an expert bassist, Simon Townshend (Pete’s brother), on guitar, and the amazing Zack Starkey (Ringo’s son) on drums. They also added a horn section and a few other background players, keyboards and guitars. It’s practically an orchestra up there. A far cry from the powerhouse trio, and Roger Daltrey on vocals that gave us Live At Leeds, and a host of other live material that has stood the test of time.
I will get to the show in a moment. First I want to complain about a couple of things. The venue is a dump. Nassau Coliseum is a shitbox and should be torn down. The floors were sticky, the sound system was awful, I was sitting in the 300’s which I hated. The place is a dinosaur. The crowd was a typical Long Island crowd responding only to the greatest hits portion of the show. Talking and texting during most of Quadrophenia. A lady next to us was playing solitaire on her phone. I can’t imagine anything I would rather be doing than watching The Who, but the days of going to concerts and actually getting into the concert seem to be fading.
Ok, as promised. the show.
The Who played Quadrophenia in its entirety. This is a classic rock opera. It is probably my favorite album of all time. It’s poetic and powerful and brilliant. It surpasses Tommy as Townshend’s masterpiece in my opinion.
The album came out in 1974 but they never played it live in its entirety, until 1994. I was fortunate to be there in 1994. At that show, Pete never left the acoustic guitar. This time he stayed mostly on electric except when the acoustic was called for. Last time they played around with different arrangements. This time, they stuck to the album arrangements on every song. It really felt like we were hearing the album as it sounded on vinyl almost 40 years ago (wow). The screens in the back showed pictures of the early days of The Who, and historical events that tried to match with the song at hand. Last time, they had an actor playing the part of Jimmy, the kid in the story, narrating the scenes in between songs. They also had special guests like Billy Idol and Gary Glitter (pre-jail days).
To be perfectly honest, I liked the narration and the arrangements from the 1994 version. It moved the story along, helped us understand what it was really all about. It represented it as a piece of art, which it clearly is. This mechanism of showing random video has been done by other artists, such as Roger Waters, and Beatlemania (the awful stage show from the 70’s).
Pete was his usual self. windmills, jumps and energy at the right moments. I could have used more of that. His voice was excellent, even if he seemed to be shouting more than singing. He believed it and so did I. Roger had some great moments and some moments when you can feel him struggling. Roger had a tough task at hand but the crowd was pretty forgiving.
Through the magic of video, we were treated to a John Entwhistle solo during the song “5:15”, which was a definite highlight. And Keith Moon on the song “Bell Boy” left most of the crowd feeling melancholy. It was a nice tribute to a band that once was. And it kind of felt that way.
Zack Starkey was perfect. Keith Moon was an amazing drummer. I always felt that Moon’s greatest accomplishment was the work he did on Quadrophenia. I know this album by heart and I would have noticed a missed beat. Zack did not miss once. Never. Perfect throughout.
The Quadrophenia portion of the show ended with a strong performance of “Love, Reign Oer Me”. I can’t really say anything bad about it since these guys are pushing 70. To do something of this level at this stage in their lives is quite extraordinary. I am pretty sure they will not do this again.
The greatest hits portion were the usual Who staples. “Who Are You”,” Baba O’Reilly”, “Pinball WIzard”, “Behind Blue Eyes”, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. The crowd woke up of course.
It was great to see them, but it was clear to me and a little sad that this is the end of an era. They are not the band they were.
I am glad I got to see them back in 1979 in their prime and a few more times since.
I gotta be honest, although I am surprised. I enjoyed the last version of Quadrophenia Live (1994) a little more. Even though Pete remained acoustic, the visuals were better, the music tighter. Maybe because John Entwhistle was there. Maybe because I had better seats. Maybe because they were younger. Hard to say.
Either way. I still love The Who and Pete still remains one of my all time rock heroes.
If they come around and do Tommy, I am not sure if I would go, but …I probably will get fooled again.