Wednesday, June 18, 2014

The Who - Quadrophenia - Live In London - Bloody Brilliant

Who'd have thunk? Bloody brilliant. Not feral, as The Who once was, but stunningly beautiful. Daltrey is on fire, and this is the perfect document for the greatness of Peter Townshend's right hand. Holy shit good....If you ever dug The Who, even for a moment, buy this.

I love having my mind blown. Especially when I don't expect it. I had recently been sent a trailer type clip which impressed me tremendously, but I was still unprepared for the sheer breadth of this document. This past month started off well enough with the release of the new Zeppelin remasters/nuggets collection, and this is just icing on the cake. It's most telling that two of rock's original wonders are putting out the most exciting and vibrant packages that are crossing my desk. If you're one of the twelve people who have never figured out the genius of Pete Townshend and The Who, I implore you to check this one out.

This is truly Townshend and Daltrey at their most powerful. They've gotten past their pasts and here only serve the music. Daltrey hits notes he shouldn't be able to hit at 69, and his phrasing and tones are impeccable throughout. Townshend's glory is multi-fold on this epic - his writing, singing, and playing are all sublime. When he takes a vocal on the third cut, Cut My Hair, it's almost as good as his guitar playing, but not quite, for his guitar playing gives paid to the theory that he resides beside Keith and John Lennon as rock's best rhythm players. His soloing has never been better, especially on the many melodic single note themes he sprinkled across this classic rock opera, though you might want to watch close as some are played by his excellent brother, Simon.

The Punk and The Godfather has long been one of my favorite deep cuts by the band, and the rendition here is a great defining of The Who theory - from the raucous opening chords to Daltrey and Townshend's vocal sharings to the songs dizzying amount of abrupt changes in directions that never once sound forced, or cobbled together, this is a primer of the highest caliber.

Photo by Kevin Mazur
Of course, you can never replace the rhythm section of Keith Moon and John Entwistle, but you'd be hard pressed to find better replacements than those who here join the firm's senior partners. Pino Palladino has grown steadily in his role as The Ox's replacement - while he's always been a fabulous bassist, it took him several years to grow into comfort playing the parts of rock's most adventurous bassist. Give a listen to The Real Me, and you hear that he has at last grasped the song's complexity - his tone is great, but no match for Entwistle's, but then, neither is anyone else's. His performance is sublime.

Scott Devours, drummer. He's damned near the star of the album, though few know who he is, let alone that he did time with The Who as a fill-in for Zak Starkey when Zak's tendon problems kept him off the road for a bit. Devours must have listened and played along with the original Quadrophenia album enough to get it directly into his DNA, because he's perfect at every fill and every cymbal splash (of which their are very, very many). This is the best fill-in performance I have ever heard - shockingly good.

I don't feel it necessary to go through a song-by-song here, as you most likely already know Quadrophenia back to front. The encores are as good as the main course, being made up of a selection of the band's best.

Who Are You was just never this good. Townshend kicks things off with a bit of guitar pyro, and then the song kicks in proper and it's off to the races. Listening to Townshend play rhythm guitar behind Daltrey's vocals is pure power and beauty - his right hand is surely straight from God. Palladino percolates wildly, and when they edge their way into the tune's breakdown, he gives way to what might be one of Pete's best ever solos, then he's back in with some ferocious runs - Devours sets this all of perfectly, and the trio of keyboardists (led by musical director Frank Simes) orchestrate with pristine precision. Late in the night, and Daltrey is ragged, but ragged in a good way - he's still hitting the notes, and backing off when he needs, then pushing even harder towards the big ending, in which Devours is magnificent.

You'd Better You Bet is equally grand - the energy here is so much better than the haze under which the original was recorded. This is like someone has taken a blanket off of Towshend's original intent - the vibrancy is palpable, and dare I say that though he's a great drummer, Kenney Jones was never right for the band. Devours' performance puts me in the mind of Simon Phillips who always sounded so right with Townshend's right hand. I wish I could hear a mix of this featuring just Townshend, Palladino, and Devours - it is a rock tour de force.

Is Pinball Wizard Townshend's greatest moment? His guitar playing is magnificent, his writing is pure genius, and his arranging skills are amongst the best that rock has known. Daltrey always made this song his own, and never more so than here. He sings like a guy who has something to prove.

The set is rounded out with Baba O'Riley, Won't Get Fooled Again, and they are all they should be. Not surprisingly, they end the set with Tea & Theater from the band's last studio set, Endless Wire. It's Townshend and Daltrey in the end, just as it was in the beginning. Never quite one, but inseparable as one of rock's great brotherhoods.

There may be those who pine for the past, and refuse to face the inevitabilities of age, death, and time, and for those I am sad - for they may miss the beauty of maturation, and the glory of records like this. If you'd have played this for me in 1977, explaining all that happened in between, and told me this is where it ends up, I'd have pissed myself with joy. This is as happy as endings ever get, and it's not even the end. Townshend and Daltrey did this right, and we are the beneficiaries of their toils.

This review is dedicated to my friend Joe Kroger - Joe told me to go to this show, and I demurred for all the wrong reasons. Joe, I was full of shit, and you were right as rain....

Five of Five Stars

The Who - Quadrophenia - Live In London
Universal Music
Released - June 8, 2014

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