As far as overblown, nostalgic resurrections go, the Who’s “Quadrophenia” was probably the last album that needed to be reimagined and restaged. Since the album’s release in 1973, the group has consistently revisited the material across a variety of media — a 1979 film, a grandiose Who tour in the 1990s, a slew of staged theatrical productions in the 2000s and, most recently, an exhaustive box-set release in 2011. Conceivably, everything that can be done with “Quadrophenia” seems to have been done, but with the “Quadrophenia and More” tour — which arrived at Staples on Wednesday night — the band’s current incarnation faithfully re-created the album for a reverently subdued audience.
With three circular projection screens hanging over the stage, the eight-piece Who lineup emerged as the oceanic sounds of “I Am the Sea” echoed from the house speakers. The band members established early on that there would be no banter or formal audience recognition during the performance of “Quadrophenia.” This was to be a serious reading of a lengthy piece of music that composer-guitarist Pete Townshend often cites as his best work.
As the ambient introduction continued its initial period of stasis, Roger Daltrey sang a few heavily reverberated lines foreshadowing the song to come. In a flash, the raucous chug of “The Real Me” tore into the previously serene environment as Daltrey and Townshend vamped. Both nearing 70, Daltrey and Townshend are still vibrant performers, if a bit inconsistent when it comes to vocal quality. Gone are the bizarre antics and unpredictability that characterized the group in its early days, but still Townshend graciously delivered a generous helping of guitar windmills while Daltrey unabashedly displayed his impressively chiseled torso to the mostly delighted audience.
Lengthy instrumental pieces connect the songs of “Quadrophenia,” and these segments greatly affected the mood and momentum of the performance. For each raved-up rocker there was an equally obtuse, prolonged period of instrumental pontification — sapping energy from a band that relies so heavily upon its ability to capitalize on triumphant moments. Townshend took lead vocal duties on a number of tracks throughout the evening, notably adding his now world-weary crag to the folky introspection of “I’m One” with especially poignant results.
As the band worked its way through the hour and a half of “Quadrophenia,” there were two strange audiovisual tributes to the group’s fallen founders, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Projected onto the trio of screens, images of a gray-haired Entwistle delivering one of his famed bass solos galvanized the audience, as drummer Zak Starkey thundered along with the skittering bass work. Moon was celebrated in the middle of “Bell Boy,” as a recording of the raucous drummer delivering the demented spoken-word segment played over the support of the live band. The Who’s original four-piece lineup was so iconic that its deceased members still clearly loom large in the memory of its fans and current lineup.
Toward the end of “Quadrophenia,” a cliched montage of newsreel footage was projected during one of the instrumental passages. As Townshend wailed on his guitar, images of international conflicts — including the still-bracing, ground-level footage of the World Trade Center collapse — flickered across the screen. It was a half-hearted stab at poignancy, an attempt to connect the album’s universal themes to the pain of serious real-life atrocities; an understandable concept, but one that was delivered without tact or taste.
As the crass imagery faded to black, Daltrey re-emerged and delivered a fiery, emotionally inspired reading of “Love, Reign o’er Me.” As the band laid into the song’s rolling chord progression, Daltrey extended his voice to its breaking point — summoning a deeply powerful bellow that imbued the direct lyrics with a deeply affecting sense of purpose and meaning.
After the completion of “Quadrophenia,” the lights came up and Townshend thanked the audience for its patience in absorbing the heady material. In appreciation, the group performed a series of its best-known tracks including “Baba O’Riley,” “Pinball Wizard” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which delighted the crowd. In the end, it seems that all the Who’s large and loyal fanbase wants is to have a good time singing along to the classics. Perhaps next time they won’t need to sit through a monumentally opaque rock opera to do it.