When one of my college friends brought home a copy of The Who's album Quadrophenia in 1973 It seemed to be a great concept, treading ground that Tommy had not yet explored. One person suggested that we drive up to Montreal from upstate New York to see the upcoming Quadrophenia concert. Seven guys piled into a station wagon loaded down with two cases of Molson's Ale. Needless to say we floated up to Montreal. One guy Jimmy was not used to drinking and he stuck his head out the window to leave his beer strewn along Highway 401. Upon arriving in Montreal we found it difficult to find a hotel room. We found one place and when we told the clerk that we were Americans he of course jacked up the price. We tore apart the two beds and strewed the mattresses along the floor. Our drunken friend Jimmy crashed in the bathtub.
The next night we arrived in the Montreal Forum where rows of team photos were on the wall. The legendary feats of Montreal Canadiens: Jean Belliveau, Rocket Richard, and Gump Worsley filled the halls. Tonight the ice wasn't on the floor of the hockey arena but in the veins of the audience. The first band, an unknown Southern group called Lynard Skynard, was booed so badly they walked off the stage in disgust after a few songs. The Who showcased their new album Quadrophenia. The audience's response was.....no response. "Show us something!" they seem to say. The Who went through their elaborate new rock opera and were received with indifference by this finicky crowd. When the band wound up with some old Tommy numbers the crowd finally showed some life. The Who, frustrated with the tepid response to their new album, tore down the chandeliers and wrecked their hotel room. They got thrown in jail and were released when they paid the hotel $2500 for damages. Discouraged by the album's poor response, The Who shelved the staging of the rock opera and only did a few Quad songs at their concerts since then.
It is now 23 years later. The resilient Who revive Quadrophenia for a June concert in (Jurassic) Hyde Park, London. The show evolves into a major tour which lands in Worcester Nov. 12, 1996. Quadrophenia is a story of a troubled angry young English lad from the early 60's who looks for his place in the world by becoming one of the gang of Mods. The Mods with their trench coats and motor scooters square off with the greasy leather Rockers on Brighton Beach, an English resort town. Why the fascination with the Mods? Quadrophenia is the Who*s tribute to the Mods who comprised their earliest group of fans. The show starts with videos of the boy Jimmy relating his disenchantment with his working class family, job, and bleak future. Looking for something to believe in he finds his identity and he thinks his salvation by becoming a Mod. He has a quadrophenic personality comprising parts of all four members of The Who.
Zak Starkey on drums, Simon Townshend on guitar, a full horn section, and the other musicians provide a musical wave that ushers in Pete Townshend, John Entwistle, and Roger Daltry. As the video shows the ocean crashing against Brighton's shore. Gary Glitter appears as the Rocker beset in his chains and leather and giant sideburns. Billy Idol emerges from the fog in his Mod gear and motor scooter. When Idol as the once impressive Mod leader is sighted later as a subservient bellboy he's chastised in the song of the same name. When Idol leaves with his luggage Roger boots him off stage and Pete tosses his trench coat at him. The show briefly looks like a Charlie Chaplin movie. The Who perform "Doctor Jimmy", "515", "Love Reign O'er Me", "The Punk and the Godfather" and all the music from the Quadrophenia saga. It's a fantastic performance. They walk off the stage and return to do "Don't Get Fooled Again", "Behind Blue Eyes", and "Who Are You" to crown the evening. Pete takes a bow with John and Roger exclaiming, "This is what's left!" (of The Who - minus the madcap Keith Moon)
Roger Daltry may not have the vocal range he once did, John Entwistle's hair is gray, and Pete may be the quintessential Jurassic rocker. But don't forget the dinosaurs were once the most majestic creatures on earth. The most impressive thing about The Who, besides their still timeless music, is that these guys play with so much heart. After all these years they play as if the music really matters, as if it's really important. Pete takes the microphone and says, "We're all lucky to be here!" And he's right. Not just the band but everyone in the audience who sees this great rock and roll experience. It's a testimony to The Who that they revived Quadrophenia 23 years after that debacle in Montreal for the recognition that it has long deserved. There have been many great rock & roll songs over the years, but nothing so perfectly captures the landscape of adolescence as Quadrophenia.
On Saturday I had the pleasure of meeting John Entwistle at the American Animation Gallery at 166 Newbury Street in Boston. There he had paintings, caricarures of tourists, and drawings of The Who. He was selling copies of them as well as The Who By Numbers cover which he did. The drawing I liked the best was a full color watercolor of Keith Moon as a pirate. There were also drawings by rockers Jerry Garcia, Ron Wood, and John Lennon. A local tv ststion was filming and they got a shot of me and my friend Kitty in the audience. This has been a great Who week.