The Who @ Jobing.com Arena|2/6/13
If anything stoked the fears that this Who go-round was going to be another case of living legends living off their legends and treading the floorboards only to show off their diminished firepower, it might have been this announcement, which went up on the big screens before The Who took the stage:
Roger is allergic to smoke and would greatly appreciate if you could stick to brownies ;-)
Not only will I never hear "Put out the fire and don't look past my shoulder" as anything but an anti-smoking rant, I now have to reconcile the man who stuttered, "Why don't you all f-f-f-fade away" eons ago now using emoticons.
Anyone who saw the Who's 1996 Quadrophenia tour with John Entwhistle still among us would've went away from that show feeling like it was the last word on Pete Townshend's "other" rock opera, an atonement for having toured behind the album's original release, with a technically flawed and often boring presentation that ensured most of Quadrophenia stayed off the Who set list for the next 22 years. Playing the piece in its entirety now seemed superfluous, especially with a Two's Missing Who count, no guest stars (no Billy Idol or Gary Glitter), and an even more weathered Townshend and Daltrey 15 years later.
And yet what sounded like not such a hot idea on paper turned out to be an incredible night of arena rock as nature intended it to be: big and monolithic, like one massive beating heart worshipping the same love object. No, not Jimmy, the protagonist of the story. The Who. Even Daltrey and Townshend worship those guys that used to be The Who -- and they were in it. Luckily, that reverent attitude has never got quite as bad as the Stones' case of former-self worship; The Who doesn't end up sounding like the World's Greatest Cover Band (Of Themselves) the way Mick and Keef do. The Who still inhabits these autobiographical songs -- even Townshend is on record as saying that Quadrophenia was the last great album the Who made. Clearly, they relished the opportunity to remind you they are still capable of breathing fire.
During the Sandy Benefit Concert in December, Daltrey didn't sound especially good, not going for high notes on "Love Reign O'er Me" and occasionally sounding groggy. When he sang his first number "The Real Me" several keys lower than the original, it might've seemed like the law of diminishing returns had gone into effect, the good's gone for good. In truth, much of this rock opera is a bitch to sing and in going easy at the start, Daltrey was pacing himself, choosing his battles wisely and storing energy for hitting the big notes where they mattered most: the bloodcurdling "Yeaaaaah" on "Won't Get Fooled Again," the climax of "Love Reign," where he screams so that the demons will leave his body, his telling Teenage Wasteland just how wasted they are in "Baba O'Riley." He never faltered on any of these larger-than-life moments, even some of the ones I'd forgotten, like the roar above the trains pulling into the station at the end of "Had Enough." And yes, he mic-twirled like days of old, and even though the move doesn't garner instant applause like Townshend's windmilling power chords, it felt encouraging to any fans who make noises whenever getting out of a chair now seeing Daltrey still do it with such agility. He barely looked more than a few years older than he did in 1982.
In comparison to the 1996 tour, where Townshend mostly played acoustic guitar and let his brother Simon do most of the heavy lifting, this time he strapped on a red Stratocaster and did the lion's share of string bending. Simon Townshend, whose voice is a dead ringer of his brother's sweet young tenor, did the honors on "The Dirty Jobs." Probably a necessity in this show, where there's no break between songs, and there's no talking to the audience until all of Quadrophenia has been dispensed with. Later, we find out that this presentation was Roger's vision of Quadrophenia and his team put all the visuals together. If the '96 Quadrophenia tour was slavishly devoted to presenting the story, complete with filmed narrator talking between the songs, this tour was about slavishly presenting the original album, with not a tea kettle sound effect or a recorded crashing wave out of place.
The two overtures that bookended the album "Quadrophenia" and "The Rock" were used to visually show pre Mod history (WWII, rations, bombing raids, Elvis, teen affluence after the war) and post-1974 Who-story (the birth of punk, Thatcher, the death of Elvis and Lennon, Keith and John, 9-11, and Pussy Riot).
While introducing the band, we learned that the drummer was not Zak Starkey, who Townshend said was dealing with some "tendonitis shit," but Scott Davis who's been with them all of two shows and didn't miss a beat as it were. He and Pino Palladino were great substitutes for the original rhythm section, but both Entwhistle and Moon had their tributes. During the end of "5:15," Palladino left the stage as Davis played along with The Ox on film, doing one of his insanely fast bass solos. Faulty video projection robbed the first half of Moon's tribute, having him singing "Bell Boy" from the screen. Once the problem was corrected, the audience erupted at the singing side of the Moon and Daltrey could give a general's salute to his fallen comrade.
Never leaving the stage to come back and do planned encores, the band remained onstage and Daltrey strapped on an acoustic to deliver some old favorites or as Townshend put it, "Here we go, same old shit."
A priceless exchange between Townshend and Daltrey after "Baba O' Riley" ensued:
Townshend: "I don't know what it is about the ending of 'Baba O' Riley' but it seems to keep getting shorter and shorter. It used to go on for hours and hours."
Daltrey: "A lot of things used to go on for hours and hours."
Townshend: "Not at my house. It still goes on for hours and hours. I do it myself."
Presumably, not with "Pictures of Lily" nearby.
Alone onstage after the hard-to-top "Won't Get Fooled Again," the two men sang the new song, "Tea and Theatre," which Townshend explained was not about the two of them but two old lovers who find each other again after a night at the theater. Okay, so maybe it was about them. During "Who are You," the smell of pot and not brownies wafted up from the floor of the Jobing.com Arena despite being told at the beginning of the show "Violators caught smoking will be asked to leave."
After nearly two hours celebrating teenage rebellion, what better way two-finger salute could there be?
Read the setlist on the next page.
"I Am the Sea" "The Real Me" "Quadrophenia" "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" "5:15" "Sea and Sand" "Drowned" "Bell Boy" "Doctor Jimmy" "The Rock" "Love Reign O'er Me"
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Same Ol' Shit Setlist:
"Who Are You" "Behind Blue Eyes" "Pinball Wizard" "Baba O'Riley" "Won't Get Fooled Again" "Tea and Theatre"