The lunatic and the romantic are gone, the hypocrite and the helpless dancer carried on and the story of a frustrated four-part young man rocked much more than half-bad.
Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend and the rest of what passes for the legendary British rock band The Who roared and crashed wave-like on Friday in Toronto, a place the guitarist Townshend praised as “almost a second home.”
The Who’s rock opera Quadrophenia was rendered in its glorious entirety, from the taped, salt-aired instrumental I Am the Sea to the epic, swirling instrumental The Rock, to the towering, white-cliffed Love, Reign o’er Me. By the end it was impossible to tell the punks (the audience) from the godfathers (on stage), all hands on the “axe that belongs to a dying nation.”
Quadrophenia is an album from 1973 that looks back at the Mod sub-culture of London’s early 1960s. The narrative concerns an amphetamine-gobbling fellow troubled by the four-part disharmony in his brain. As envisioned by Townshend, the four members of The Who were represented within a frustrated protagonist: Singer Daltrey as the tough guy-dancer, bassist John Entwistle as the romantic, drummer Keith Moon as the maniac, and Townshend himself as the begger-hypocrite – love reign over him.
On stage in 2012, the concert began with the two surviving members of The Who with their backs to the audience, watching the watery imagery on the screens behind the stage as a few of the band’s early, Mod-era hits faded in and out of the speakers. Nostalgia snapped back to reality at the instant Can You See The Real Me announced itself.
Townshend, ashen but fit, hit the choppy chords on his red Stratocaster, its sounds gritty, trebly and hard. He offered up a few swings of his trademark windmill motion, the revolutions of which would grow more labrum-imperilling as the evening progressed.
Daltrey, stocky and with his famous locks now curled grey, was strong enough, though he rounded down some of his lines. Quadrophenia is a young man’s album to sing, but the 68-year-old was no chump at it. (Though, really, enough with the half-hearted attempts of microphone swinging.)
Were we seeing the real Who? Seemed so.
The band now counts as its members Pino Palladino on bass, Simon Townshend (brother of) on second guitar and Ringo Starr offspring Zak Starkey, a hustler on drums. Also on stage were brass players and keyboardists, who added texture to a muscular but nuanced soundtrack.
Though the concert tour’s staging was conceived by Daltrey, it was apparent that the show’s frontman was album’s conceptualist, Townshend. His playing was tough, rugged and physical. His singing, as heard on Cut My Hair, is now growly as opposed to the soft, melodious voice of the past – “It’s all a game, inside I’m just the same.”
The band’s former members appeared more than just in spirit. Into the off-the-rails boogie and jam of 5:15, an elaborate bass solo from Entwistle was dubbed, complete with video. Later, Moon’s cockney singing on Bell Boy was presented in the same manner.
In every way the crescendo piece Love Reign o’er Me was the showstopper, but Townshend’s unifying acoustic moment of I’m One may have been more memorable. When he sang “fingers so clumsy, voice too loud,” everyone understood and absolutely no one agreed.
An encore run-through of greatest hits was nothing less than an 18,000-strong party. The anthem-concert of Who Are You, Behind Blues Eyes, Pinball Wizard, Baba O’Riley and Won’t Get Fooled Again was for the fans – especially the ones whose “teenage wasteland” days were behind them, and whose beards had grown longer in the decades that might seem now like overnight.
The Who plays Copps Coliseum, Hamilton, Feb. 19.