The Who Revisit 'Quadrophenia' as Anaheim Crowd Nods Along: Concert Review

The Who Performing - H 2013
Robert Mora/Mora Photography

The Who Performing - H 2013

Vocally flawed, yes, but those who didn't enjoy this show are too cynical, too jaded or maybe only know the band from "CSI."

Kicking off the second leg of their North American tour, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend lead a bulked-up group through the 1973 LP before shedding a few pieces and ending with some of rock's best-loved songs.

It's time to end the denial, classic rock fans: The British Invasion heroes whose records we’ve bought, whose shows we’ve seen and whose songs we’ve adopted as our own are at or near 70 years old. Sometimes they simply can’t bring it in concert like they did half a lifetime or more ago.

So why go to see The Who play its double album Quadrophenia all the way through 40 years later? For one thing, it stands as arguably the peak of one of rock’s all-time greatest bands. Also, you’re guaranteed moments of sheer rock ecstasy. And because, let’s face it: Who knows how many more times Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey – who turn 68 and 69 this year, respectively -- will come around together.

Monday’s show at Honda Center in Anaheim kicked off the second leg of the band’s North American tour after seven weeks off (a 12-date European jaunt in June and July was announced Tuesday). Despite a show-stopping set at the Hurricane for Sandy Relief concert in mid-December, neither Daltrey nor Townshend was in prime vocal form -- “We’re all getting over coughs or colds or something,” Daltrey said near the end -- but both gave it their all during a generous show that reminded just how important both men are in the storied history of rock ’n’ roll.

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The real “problem” with the show was the not-capacity crowd, which remained seated and pretty much quiet for the first hour and a half. It had to be tough for even the most seasoned act to draw energy from such a dead room, especially when that room holds 18,000-plus. It wasn’t until the post-Quadrophenia run of Who classics that the building even hinted at coming alive. Borderline embarrassing.

But a practically snoring crowd didn’t stop the band from delivering musically (if much less loudly than years past). Quadrophenia played out live as the mandatory listening it is, with the band basically replicating the first two sides before stretching out some later. Vocal straining aside, it was compelling stuff.

But as was the case when The Who toured mostly stadiums in 1989, the group felt bulked up beyond need. Along with a horn duo, there were three keyboardists -- one Townshend referred to as offering “keyboard brass” -- that simply didn’t add enough to warrant the stage space. 

As circular video screens resembling ship portals showed historical footage leading up to the Mod movement that serves as Quadrophenia’s backdrop, the expanded Who launched into its magnum opus (played in its entirety, unlike when Daltrey took Tommy on the road in 2011 and left out “Underture”). After a rollicking but restrained “The Real Me”and the quasi-overture “Quadrophenia,” Townshend took the lead vocal on “Cut My Hair” and fairly dissed the melody. He added some of those signature guitar windmills -- likely leading some of the “My Generation” generation in the crowd to grasp at their own rotator cuffs -- while Daltrey tossed his microphone just like the old days.

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“5:15,” which leads Side 3 of the Quadrophenia LP, was the first song to go off-script -- way off. The late John Entwistle’s face appeared on the vid screens, and his extended bass solo was melded seamlessly into the show both musically and visually. The crowd whooped its heretofore loudest approval. The tribute trick was repeated later for Keith Moon during “Bell Boy,” with the late wildman drummer’s exaggerated accent spewing the words during some long-ago live show.

The unmoved likely would deride this a mere gimmick, but it was so interesting and entertaining -- not to mention well received -- that heritage acts who’ve lost key members might consider following suit. It was equal catnip for those in the crowd who saw Entwistle and/or Moon perform and those who didn't.

Daltrey left the stage during “The Rock,” resting up during the long instrumental to deliver perhaps his best vocal of the night on album's climactic “Love Reign O’er Me.” But not even the arrival of the one of the band’s most popular and enduring songs truly fired up the languid crowd, as many if not most clearly were unfamiliar with the nearly 82-minute Quadrophenia record.

Stripped of the horns and two keyboard guys, the remaining sextet proceeded to play the hell out of a handful of stone arena-rock classics. For all its hand-sitting during Quadrophenia, the crowd finally got a chance to sing along -- and to experience some moments of pure rock nirvana: the windmill-fueled power chords after the break in “Who Are You,” the still-spine-tingling acoustic guitar opening of “Pinball Wizard,” the top-of-the-lungs catharsis of “they’re all wasted!” in “Baba O’Riley” and the singular synth intro to “Won't Get Fooled Again."

Take these moments while you can, folks. 

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Yes, the singing often was dodgy, but anyone who went to this show expecting Daltrey (or Townshend) to drill every vocal written for a guy less than half his age is either delusional or in denial. If you expected that, you probably were waiting for an intro like: “Ladies and gentlemen! Would you please welcome!! MCA recording artist!!! The Whooooo!!!!”

No, Daltrey is not going to stick every vocal landing these days, though he looks about as fit as can be. Instead, for his most iconic yells -- those two each in “Love Reign O’er Me” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” -- he simply chose not to try the first and clobbered the second. He’s a pro’s pro who knows how to balance limitations and expectations.

And to the naysayers who’ll chirp that the Quadrophenia and More tour is a mere money-grab, two points to consider: Quadrophenia never has been the Who’s most popular album; if they merely wanted guaranteed sellouts, they would have played Who’s Next all the way through. Also, the top ticket price was $130, not unreasonable for an act this historic -- and less than, say, Fleetwood Mac is charging and a fraction of what The Rolling Stones recently pulled. Getting 2½ hours of timeless music by one of rock’s all-timers, even if we only heard half a Who, was worth it.

If you disagree, don’t pay to see them.

The Who plays Wednesday at Staples Center in Los Angeles.

Set List:

I Am the Sea
The Real Me
Cut My Hair
The Punk and the Godfather
I’m One
The Dirty Jobs
Helpless Dancer
Is It In My Head?
I’ve Had Enough
Sea and Sand
Bell Boy
Doctor Jimmy
The Rock
Love Reign O’er Me
Who Are You
Behind Blue Eyes
Pinball Wizard
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Tea & Theatre

Twitter: @THRMusic