Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Pete Townshend’s Classic Quadrophenia: The Greek Theater, Los Angeles, CA, September 16, 2017

“And I’m still diving down for pearls…”

Last show of the mini-tour. Classic Quadrophenia comes to a close in Los Angeles, at the old Greek Theater (actually an amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills area). It’s a beautiful setting, trees all around, expensive mansions surround you in this neighborhood. The location has been here for decades, hosting shows of all kinds. I recall vividly a Who show here – maybe 2004? – where Pete decided what would help the show improve “These first ten rows have to leave!” – yes, the dreaded Los Angeles jaded attitude was hindering that show.

We wondered what it will be like tonight. The sophisticated New Yorkers brought a double-header of positive noisy response. Both Tanglewood/Boston and Rosemont/Chicago were more loose affairs; casual audiences with a boisterous spirit. But La-La Land (where I live) has sometimes kept up with its Tinseltown reputation. We DO see a lot of great shows here, plus art and experiences that can make one a little jaded, in comparison to the average population. But it is a music town, people are fans and workers in music – so we know it well and want it, if it’s really good.

Even rehearsal started with some hitches: the California sun was really out, and we were in a fully-qualified summer day. The stage was baking hot, and the orchestra brought in was having trouble reading their scores AND sweating in their black evening clothing. Luckily, this venue has a massive thick stage curtain, which was brought nearly closed across the stage – keeping out most of the light and sun. What a weird sound – there are curtains on the back and sides – instead of the usual echoing concert hall sound. And now another in front – it was like hearing a symphony in your coat closet! To further complicate matters, the front curtain was acting like a sail – and blowing back into the music stands and legs of the busy musicians. Stagehands then sat across the lip of the stage, holding back the curtain while rehearsals continued. As I always say “rough rehearsal, great show” and the converse is true. But we’ve now been through the rough part – in comparison, the show might seem like a breeze…

And it was.

As I said last time, ALL our shows are special. Tonight, the sun dropped and the temperature became shirtsleeves-warm. No moon tonight, but the trees were lit gently and the stairsteps of the Greek have subtle lights in them for safety; so there is a little light glow everywhere. The feeling today became mellow and hopeful. We also knew in a few hours it would all be over, and we’d be wishing it could continue.

A few more things conspired to make the night magical. Our orchestra here was incredible – especially the percussionists. This was the most-powerful and tight the music has sounded to-date. Certainly, that alone can make a good show great. Many of these players are from the Hollywood Bowl orchestra so – while they are not specifically a unit that always plays together – we have some of the better musicians here tonight, and they do have experience with just these types of shows.

Our sound system was the best of the tour – especially in the deep bass range that seemed to be missing in Chicago. Many people commented on the sound being excellent out front, and I agree. Throughout this show, our sound crew (Not The Who’s normal people) have taken on this tricky task (about a hundred channels of instruments, stage setup, unusual monitors for various singers) with quiet competence. Alfie and I discussed singing outdoors – fresh air and no A/C to dry out the moisture. Almost ideal conditions for singing – and it showed in his power tonight. ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ was incredibly good, you could feel the audience being affected as it happened.

Luckily, our front rows tonight were not those of ten years back; we had some real Who diehards here in L.A., and I walked all the way to the back and found single fans standing and rocking hard, despite the distance. This space has that illusion I see from our unique perspective: It doesn’t look so big from the stage. But as you walk to the back, it seems VERY far to the front.

The big roundel (target-ish mod symbol) was autographed just before the show by all participants. We’ll find some way to benefit Teen Cancer America in a few weeks with it – it should be some places where it can be appreciated, not in storage. I also gathered up some things from each show, so if you saw Tanglewood, New York, Chicago or L.A. – you’ll have a chance to get a special souvenir of your night and help a great cause.

This tour has been an unknown, with generally fine results. As one audience member pointed out to me – they had no idea what they were buying tickets for when this went on sale. They knew Quadrophenia, they knew Townshend – but what WAS this? It was an educated gamble that it could be good – whatever it turned out to be. I’m sure there are a few who wanted the tour we just did a few years ago. But most had – or were forced to have! – an open mind, and came out with smiles and a few emotional moments. Alfie won many over, rock fans who don’t normally like “that kind of singing” and found his strengths and guts really brought a new voice to that character. Billy’s stage presence alone brought a confidence and swagger that this show needs for the tough moments. Pete certainly is the maestro/author of the work, but he enjoys being self-deprecating when singing without the usual crutch (powerful guitar).

Pete deserves the accolades he gets just by walking out, those 50+ years of exceptional “stuff” in many avenues. He’s fitting in well vocally, so different with his lower, gruffer voice – yet seems just satisfied to step back and let the others “take it” as he watches the show closely from the wings most of the night. Strictly as a composer, hearing the music live brightly (fully detached from your voice and guitar) must really be fulfilling.

Yes, I’m sure no one would have minded if he chose to do the whole show himself and play loud guitar – but that’s the usual, the “same-old”, and it’s the goal of many Who fans to have something but the same hits over and over through the years. In some ways, this is what many of you have been asking for – deeper catalog songs, new versions, etc. It’s still the music we love, and high quality, but fresh and different. There will always be the actual album, the recent box set, and the previous tours with video/audio recordings. Already, Quadrophenia has had many lives. Each one has benefits the others do not.

Pete Townshend has a FaceBook page; if you had not noticed it, it’s recently full of great photos, notes and video of this sorta big Who excursion. It reminds me a lot of when blogs were a new thing, circa 2000, and he was one of the first and foremost. That stopped long ago, and we can read that the FB account will not always be so active as it has been these two weeks. Go while you can, it’s more direct and fulfilling than you might expect.

This all bodes well for future Who-related things. During this tour, some other proposals came up as offers for similar presentations of other Who albums. Things no one had foreseen or talked about, but are now possible. We’ll cross fingers and hope for anything to come true. Likely, there will be more Who shows, somewhere/sometime – the usual old stuff we love. And maybe a few surprises, too.

It’s Hard – On Ice? Not likely.

Onward . . . South America!

Tonight’s Set List

I Am the Sea
The Real Me
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
Sea and Sand
Bell Boy
Doctor Jimmy
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me


The Real Me