“The Who Plan U.S. Tour,” said the headline in Saturday morning’s paper. The subhead warned of the extent of the wretchedness to follow: “Band Plans to Perform Quadrophenia in Full.”
Enough. Please, Pete. Please, Roger. Enough.
Enough of referring to yourselves as “The Who.” The Who died Sept. 7, 1978, when their drummer, Keith Moon, swallowed 32 sedatives. It only took six to kill him. The power of Moon’s drumming still impresses more than 30 years after his death: roaring waves across the toms and snares, and thunder from his double bass drums, all powerfully punctuated by a constant crash of cymbals—and every single beat on time. Moon was a hurricane, blending the raw power of a tub-thumper like John Bonham with the machine-gun dexterity of Mitch Mitchell. He was the best drummer in rock.
Which is why Pete and Roger’s plan to perform Quadrophenia in its entirety is a joke that isn’t making me laugh. In the Associated Press story about the upcoming tour, Daltrey referred to Quadrophenia as “Pete’s pinnacle,” and he’s right. Quadrophenia blew me away when it was released in 1973, and it hasn’t aged a bit. It is The Who at its best. The opening song, “The Real Me,” is full of the rage and bluster that the album’s protagonist—and all of us—felt at 18, 19, 20. “Cut My Hair” and “I Am One” depict the constant struggle to fit in. “The Dirty Jobs” and “Helpless Dancer” tell the story of how we feel we’ve received the short end of the stick, as does “I’ve Had Enough.” The song “Dr. Jimmy” explores the frustration of trying to find our identity with pills or booze. And the triumphant “Love, Reign O’er Me” closes the album with faith in something bigger. Quadrophenia is magnificent, musically and lyrically, and if you’re a fan of classic rock, it belongs in your music library. Period.
As Daltrey said, it is indeed “Pete’s pinnacle” as a songwriter— but it is, more than that, a Keith Moon album. Without Moon on the kit, that album doesn’t get made—and a big assist goes to The Who’s redoubtable bassist, John Entwistle (dead 10 years now. Who’s next?). Entwistle keeps Quadrophenia anchored, keeps it from soaring into low-altitude Earth orbit. Sure, Townshend’s guitar and keyboard work is compelling. Sure, Daltrey shows why he was one of the great rock singers of his era. But Quadrophenia is a Keith Moon album. Listen to it with that in mind. He is a force of nature, a percussive nuclear explosion that birthed the mushroom cloud of the album.
And now Pete and Roger, ages 67 and 68, respectively, want to perform the whole double album? I don’t think Daltrey is capable of hitting half the notes he hit in 1973. I have no idea what kind of chops Pete has anymore, but something tells me there will be at least two other guitarists on stage during the upcoming tour. I don’t know who the hired hands will be on bass and drums, but that’s no matter. Daltrey and Townshend trying to perform Quadrophenia without Moon and Entwistle is a noble but doomed ambition.
Look: I’m not trashing the Quadrophenia/tour idea because I’m not a Who fan. I’ve got more than 80 of their songs in my music library. Who’s Next—man, I was listening to that when it was new. Unless you were there, you have no idea what an earthquake it was at the time. “Baby O’Riley,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” Entwistle’s “My Wife” — five-star songs, every one of them. My library includes The Who by Numbers, a largely overlooked album that includes a brilliant Who song, “They Are All in Love.” There’s their fully realized concept album, The Who Sell Out. And if the band had never released anything but its version of “Summertime Blues” from Live at Leeds, it would still have left a musical footprint. Who knows how many air guitarists that song has expired? “Happy Jack.” “Can’t Explain.” “Magic Bus.” “Substitute.” “My Generation.” “The Kids Are Alright.” This is music you don’t put away. It is the legacy of a superb band.
I wish Townshend and Daltrey knew when to quit. Every time you think you’ve seen the last of them, they roll away the rock and crawl out of the crypt. Their place in rock history is secure. But, to twist a lyric from “My Generation,” they should have stopped rocking before they got old.
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