NEW YORK — Pete Townshend, the songwriting leader of The Who, has avoided reunions with his bandmates except for notable exceptions. The latest one is "Quadrophenia," which besides "Tommy," was the group's other rock opera masterpiece. The band never performed the album in its entirety in a live setting, fearing that the music wouldn't come across with maximum effectiveness. Now, in a performance at London's Hyde Park and a series of dates at Madison Square Garden in New York, they have proven themselves magnificently wrong. Their performance of this 1973 classic stands as one of the finest concerts of the year. Plans for a nationwide tour are now being mapped out.
A song cycle with an amorphous plot line about British "Mod" youths in the mid 1960s, "Quadrophenia" has its share of standout songs, including "The Real Me" and "5:15." But an overall strength and power overshadow its individual moments, and the music demonstrates the full breadth and range of Townshend's songwriting talents.
The concert was designed as something of a theatrical presentation, with projected film segments (taken from the 1979 movie version), narration by Phil Daniels (the film's star), and performances by such guest stars as British glam rocker Gary Glitter and Billy Idol (as the bellboy).
After a seven-year absence, it was a pleasure to see members of the band reunited, and in such top form: Bassist John Entwhistle is his usual implacable self; Roger Daltrey, as fit as he was 25 years ago, still has a powerhouse voice and swings his microphone with abandon; and Townshend, playing an acoustic rather than electric guitar, seemed fully engaged in the material, something not always true in the band's later years. Ably filling in for the late Keith Moon was a drummer who brings to mind another legendary band - Zack Starkey, Ringo Starr's son. There was also a small army of musicians onstage, including several synthesizer players, a horn section, and a quartet of backup singers.
After performing "Quadrophenia" in its entirety, the band performed an encore set of acoustic versions of "Behind Blue Eyes," "Won't Get Fooled Again," "Magic Bus," and "Naked Eyes." The music was no less powerful for the acoustic arrangements, and Daltrey and Townshend, sharing a microphone, seemed to be having a great time together. Their enthusiasm was shared by the rapturous audience.