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Review: Who, Reign O'er Me

By Rick Koster

Publication: theday.com

Published 12/10/2012 12:00 AM
Updated 12/10/2012 01:20 PM

If you sell out a 10,000-seat hall like the Mohegan Sun Arena, it doesn't matter whether you're Tool or Taylor Swift: you're going to get a cross-section of humanity in the crowd.

Take The Who's performance Sunday night, when they majestically concluded the current leg of their "Quadrophenia" tour. Three and maybe four (My) generations were in attendance and, yes, in this age of Ke$ha, it's heartening to watch a 12-year-old girl belt out all the words to "5:15" when the band played that particular anthem.

At the same time, the overwhelming percentage of fans coming through the doors of the arena looked like guys who'd shown up for a free Lipitor giveaway — and the only requirement for admission was to wear a faux "vintage" Who T-shirt.

Which actually makes a great deal of sense. A lot of these folks were probably like me back in 1973 when The Who released the thematically complex "Quadrophenia." The double-album is a rock opera masterpiece of adolescent bewilderment, rage, hurt and longing as seen through the eyes of a young Mod named Jimmy. His persona is a broken-mirror distillation of four distinct personalities — each reflective of a different member of The Who — and his struggles take place against a suffocating, tattered battle-flag slice of British and global culture.

Not only does this insanely ambitious project happen to have terrific songs — most memorably "The Real Me," "Cut My Hair," "The Punk and the Godfather," "I'm One," "5:15," "Bell Boy," "Doctor Jimmy" and "Love, Reign O'er Me" — but they're celestially intertwined with shifting, arching instrumentals that introduce and echo the respective motifs in breathtaking fashion.

I used to lie in my dorm room bed in the middle of the night, lights off and wearing headphones the size of hubcaps, blasting "Quadrophenia" at brain-peeling volume and wondering, "What the hell is wrong with me?" — and taking solace at how Peter Townshend could so stunningly capture those feelings and, with his band, make it sound so amazingly great.

Well, at the Sun, in performance, it STILL sounded amazingly great — and we in Lipitor Nation responded. Townshend and vocalist Roger Daltrey — 67 and 68, respectively — are of course the surviving members of The Who. They played and sang with passion and, based on video screen close-ups, with a sort of bemused and reflective wisdom, as though marveling over the teenage complexities that so long ago writhed vibrantly within Jimmy's heart, brain and guts.

Astonishingly, both men managed, for the most part, to hit the grueling but necessary high vocal notes, particularly in the dramatic coda of "Love, Reign O'er Me." When the going got rough, Daltrey was enough of a pro to smoothly alter the melody line.

Original bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon are gone, of course, but made representative thematic appearances through archival video footage: Entwistle with a blistering bass solo on "5:15" and Moon singing his Cockney lines during "Bell Boy."

Otherwise, Townshend and Daltrey were empathetically backed by an eight-piece band that included superstar bassist Pino Palladino and drummer Zack "Son of Ringo" Starkey.

The complete "Quadrophenia" recitation was received by the crowd with the sort of transfixed adulation reserved for religious epiphany; a subsequent mini-set — including "Baba O'Reilly," "Who Are You," "Pinball Wizard," "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" — was a celebratory reminder that, if their legacy demands that The Who must continually revisit their own history, there are far worse places to be than in the past.

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