The Who’s Quadrophenia (Forum; 17,000 seats; $ 75 top) Presented by Avalon. Band: Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Zak Starkey, Simon Townshend, Gary Glitter, Billy Idol. Reviewed Oct. 22, 1996.
The four personalities of the mod lad at the core of “Quadrophenia” might well point to the schizophrenia that has defined the Who in its attempts to remain viable in the 18 years since the death of drummer Keith Moon. The much-lauded and oft-reincarnated “Tommy” remains the act’s great nostalgia trip, but “Quadrophenia” appeals to an entirely different slice of the Who audience, one that stands behind the revival with the same doctrine that greeted the 1973 original: This is a celebration of songs rather than a concept. The music still works; the concept remains a mess. The dichotomy of the works and even the differences between the 1973 masterwork and the rest of the Who catalog is magnified by “The Who’s Quadrophenia,” which started as a Prince’s Trust concert in June, sold out six nights in New York and is hitting a dozen or so U.S. cities. Whereas “Tommy” is free-flowing and airy, clear within its own hippie-blurred vision yet open to new astute interpretation as the Broadway production evidenced, “Quadrophenia” is part hard-body, part bloated excess. It contains the hallmarks of all great Who works the solid compositions, a little Brit music hall, Roger Daltrey’s calm-to-terror vocal tricks and more crescendos than a Tchaikovsky work yet it possesses a level of timelessness that defies its era and its out-of-control progeny. “Quadrophenia” is the strongest album in the Who canon, made even clearer by MCA’s reissue of the original disc this year. It’s the sonic triumph of 1996. And the performances Tuesday of the Who augmented by five horns, a lead guitarist, two keyboardists, a pair of backup singers, a percussionist, and Gary Glitter and Billy Idol as gussied-up representations of Jimmy’s personalities were a mixed bag in relation to the original disc. Daltrey sings a step or two lower and his vocals were downright ragged by night’s end; Pete Townshend is still amazing to watch even if he does spend most of the night playing rhythm on acoustic guitar; John Entwistle, apparently dressed in remnants from a Tucson Members Only liquidation sale, machine-guns basslines with uncompromising clarity and all the delightful heavy-handedness of the original playing intact; Zak Starkey, Ringo’s kid, is no Keith Moon, and his drumming not only lacks imagination, but the punch he supplies is regularly insufficient; and Simon Townshend does a decent job imitating his brother’s recorded leads. “Quadrophenia’s” story concerns Jimmy, a mod who hates his job and family and essentially lives for his motor scooter, pills, booze, clothes and music. He gets in the middle of a skirmish between the mods and the rival rockers and is jailed. As he ponders his own four-part schizophrenia (hence, quadrophenia), a load of gibberish suggests some level of sanctimony in love and bodies of water. This presentation (a 90-minute version of an 81:46 album) is a by-the-album reading. Daltrey and Townshend, who presented these songs in ’73 with lengthy explanations of where the story is headed, can’t let the songs speak for themselves, and break up nearly every number with a video clip of Jimmy or shots from the 1979 film. Rather than explicating matters, it grows tedious within 20 minutes, often halting the energy or verve of the preceding song. The triumph in this whole thing is the music’s ability to obliterate time and its era 1973-74, when “Quadrophenia” couldn’t crack top five lists that included Elton John, Cheech & Chong, Art Garfunkel and Jim Croce and the Who’s ability to deliver performances that don’t reek of aging stars trying to recapture a moment of glory. But the Who, much more than its peers from the ’60s, spent much of its life on the edge. The risky business is long gone, and nothing pointed to it better than the four-song encore of a lifeless acoustic “Won’t Get Fooled Again” that desperately needed drums, a snappy rendition of the obscure “Naked Eye,” an off-key “Behind Blue Eyes” and a weary “Who Are You.” It’s a safe bet there won’t be a resurrection of “Who’s Next.” Some memories are sacred. The band will perform the same show Friday at Arrowhead Pond in Anaheim. Phil Gallo