The Who, Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday 05 April 2010
Quadrophenia was an exercise in nostalgia even when the Who released the concept album in 1973.
Pete Townshend's look at the mods of the early Sixties, the style, the scooters, the fights on Brighton beach, through the eyes of an angst-ridden teenager, was later filmed with great success and last week performed in its entirety at the Royal Albert Hall for the Teenage Cancer Trust.
Complete with projections showing newsreel footage of the mods and rockers' skirmishes (I particularly loved hearing an almost forgotten word when the newsreader referred to Brighton "cafeteria" windows being smashed) and some rather sledgehammer narrative to explain songs that needed no explanation, Quadrophenia now confirmed the first impressions back in the Seventies. The group's second rock opera may not have had quite the consistency of their first, Tommy, but it still packed one hell of a punch.
It also confirmed that no other rock lyricist has ever managed to chronicle teenage angst, or a teenage yearning to belong, as well as Townshend. Even at his present age, and looking rather like a university lecturer with a lot on his mind, he could still convey the angst of his own youth and his own desire to belong in the few songs where he took a poignant lead vocal.
The power of Roger Daltrey's voice never seems to diminish. Indeed, the efforts of the two guest vocalists Tom Meighan of Kasabian and Eddie Vedder of Pearl Jam only served to highlight how unsurpassable are Daltrey's interpretations of Townshend's lyrics. Some of these songs have not been performed for quite a while, and they repaid another listen. But I'm not totally convinced that the evening completely worked.
It never fully felt like a Who gig. The stage, with strings and brass section, was crowded, and The Who are at their best with room to move. The rock opera was performed with no chat between songs, which deprived us of the repartee of Townshend and Daltrey, whose patter has always been the best. And the energy, variety and climaxes, which the band has remarkably managed to keep in their gigs well into late middle age, were less conspicuous than usual.
A regular show with an extended segment from Quadrophenia may have made for a more satisfying evening. This was a compelling exercise in social history. But I've been to better Who gigs.
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