I've got mixed feelings about the album-performance concert. On its face, it feels like a cynical ploy by insecure (and usually aging) acts to attract concertgoers demanding more for their $100. But I've seen some genuinely awesome live recreations of albums that hardly smacked of promotional desperation: The Pixies playing Doolittle, Peter Gabriel doing So, Phish having a go at The Rolling Stones' Exile in Main Street, and, of course, Roger Waters reviving Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon and The Wall — both of those earning spots on my all-time top 10 concert list. In those instances, the performing musical acts not only treated the source material with respect and reverence, but elevated the experience beyond what's heard on the record.
You could say the same for The Who's modern take on its 1973 double-album masterpiece, Quadrophenia. While not as visually impressive or immersive as some of the aforementioned album shows, the English band's visceral performance of its 40-year-old album — as evidenced last night at The Joint — scored a direct hit and made the case for its timelessness, belying its age and original sociocultural context.
Quadrophenia is a coming-of-age album — more so than The Who's other conceptual epic, Tommy, which singer Roger Daltrey toured on a year and a half ago sans guitarist/primary songwriter Pete Townsend — and when done right, such works resonate with adults long after the pimple years, whether evoking nostalgia or any residual/suspended adolescence. It would seem weird to watch two men in their sixties plow through a paean to youth disillusionment. But Daltrey and Townsend — and its eight-piece backing band — sold it. They channeled their inner teenager without silly posturing or stretching believability. Daltrey's wails and guttural cries sounded as authentic as they were 40 years ago. And even Townsend still looked like a kid rocking out in his bedroom when he launched into his signature guitar windmills. Simply put, they're not faking it.
The band didn't just do the record justice emotionally, either. Three keyboardists and two trumpeters gave these massive songs depth and reach, living up to the "maximum R&B" tag that often goes with The Who. The horn section nicely colored "The Dirty Jobs," fronted by Townsend's guitarist brother, Simon, and the wily mid-album highlight, "5:15," which also saw Daltrey and Townsend engage in a vocal tag-team that symbolizes their enduring partnership. "The Rock" was performed so vigorously, Townsend nearly fell over after the fifth windmill. Closer "Love Reign O'er Me" still sounds like a progenitor to progressive rock, sans the loopy synths and geekspeak and self-indulgence, and it's a testament to Daltrey's ageless vocals that he can hit the song's sustained high notes that late in the show.
Those vocals, however, fared less ably during the suite of hits that followed Quadrophenia — and Daltrey blamed whoever was smoking near him. In fact, The Who shaved this tour's usual setlist finale, "Tea & Theatre," from the run of chestnuts, ending with "Won't Get Fooled Again." Townsend, however, rebounded from his own ailment, still able to flail away at his guitar despite cutting himself on the whammy bar during "5:15." Add the tributes to deceased bandmates Keith Moon and John Entwistle (who died at the Hard Rock Hotel), and one was reminded that the band is getting on. But those moments were few and far between. A year shy of its 50th anniversary, The Who picked the right album performance to affirm its vitality.