MONTREAL, QUEBEC: NOVEMBER 20, 2012
Legendary British rockers The Who perform at the Bell Centre. in Montreal Tuesday, November 20, 2012. The band performed the entirety of the 1973 album Quadrophenia.
Article by Bernard Perusse, Music Columnist, THE MONTREAL GAZETTE
Photos by John Kenney/THE GAZETTE
After the Who’s first Montreal performance of their masterwork Quadrophenia, at the Forum in 1973, things got out of hand back at the Bonaventure Hotel (Pete Townshend mistakenly refers to it as the Four Seasons in his autobiography, Who I Am). So out of hand, in fact, that they spent the night in jail.
Almost four decades later, they were back Tuesday night with the latest revival of the epic musical story. And by all appearances, the strongest substance being consumed on the Bell Centre stage was the tea in Roger Daltrey’s Union Jack cup, which he held aloft before he and Townshend ended the night alone performing Tea & Theatre, from the criminally underrated Endless Wire album. The song was emotionally dedicated to Chris Stamp, the Who’s co-manager in the group’s early days.
The wistful ending contrasted beautifully with the go-for-broke performance of the Townshend-penned saga, set in mod England in the 1960s, and the deliriously-received Who classics that topped it all off to make a 130-minute, filler-free set.
The evening had started with a bang, as Vintage Trouble opened with a highly energetic and impressive half-hour set of old-school soul – plenty of let-me-hear-you-say-yeahs and originals that evoke, in spirit, the likes of Land of 1000 Dances and Good Lovin’. They left with a standing ovation ringing in their ears. Let’s hope they come back soon to headline a club show.
The crowd having been seriously warmed up, Daltrey and Townshend arrived onstage with faux Who members Pino Palladino on bass, Townshend’s brother Simon on guitar and Zak Starkey on drums, plus two horn players, two keyboard players and a pianist.
It may now take 10 musicians to do what four used to do, but the upside of that is that Quadrophenia sounded more fresh and dynamic live than anyone could reasonably have expected.
The work has lost none of its heart or relevance. “The angst of those teenage years in which we all feel misunderstood is easy to make fun of, but it’s real, and it brings my hero Jimmy to the brink of suicide,” Townshend writes of Quadrophenia in his autobiography. Does that seem tragically familiar almost 40 years after its composition?
Musically, the songs are as explosive, stately and challenging as you remember. A busy and engaging multi-screen, multimedia presentation accompanied the band’s performance, alternating close-up shots of the action with vintage footage of the Who, eye-pleasing graphics, film of the ocean and news footage from the World War II to now. As Churchill, Elvis, the Beatles, Vietnam, Nixon, Princess Diana, 9/11 and Pussy Riot headlines punctuated the progress of the music, Jimmy’s story – and that of the Who – took its place in the present.
The two fallen members of the Who were brought into the action via Keith Moon, captured on film singing his lines in Bell Boy, and a brilliant bass solo by John Entwistle, also shown onscreen and dropped into 5:15. Not surprisingly, the audience howled itself hoarse.
Speaking of which, Daltrey managed to nail some important notes like the punishing “Loooovvvveee ….” at the climax of Love Reign o’er Me and came pretty close to pulling off the explosive scream that partly defines Won’t Get Fooled Again. But other challenges, like the smooth upward pull of “prove” in Baba O’Riley, were reached only in the audience’s collective memory. Still others dropped out of the mix completely. At times, Daltrey appeared to be either in trouble or working very hard, but the audience was nonetheless rewarded much of the time.
Townshend, on the other hand, looked fit, cheerful and relaxed, effortlessly doing the windmill guitar moves he is so celebrated for and hammering out a few impressive solos, notably in 5:15 and Drowned. His singing voice – he shares more of Quadrophenia’s lead vocals than you might recall – has acquired a gruff edge over its sweetness, but remains strong.
At the end of the evening, the two old warriors stood arm in arm and gazed happily at the 8,800 fans who had cheered them on so loudly. Townshend, the man who wrote “Hope I die before I get old” when he was 20, couldn’t have looked more comfortable with life.
1. I Am the Sea
2. The Real Me
4. Cut My Hair
5. The Punk and the Godfather
6. I’m One
7. The Dirty Jobs
8. Helpless Dancer
9. Is It In My Head
10. I’ve Had Enough
11. I’ve Had Enough
13. Sea and Sand
15. Bell Boy
16. Doctor Jimmy
17. The Rock
18. Love Reign o’er Me…
19. Who Are You
20. Behind Blue Eyes
21. Pinball Wizard
22. Baba O’Riley
23. Won’t Get Fooled Again
The Who play at Scotiabank Place, Ottawa, tonight and Air Canada Center, Toronto on November 23rd before heading back to the U.S. for more shows. For tickets and VIP packages, click HERE.