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The Who makes when relevant


The Who’s new staging of “Quadrophenia” is full of deliberate “then and now” comparisons, but Las Vegas got an extra one Friday night.

When Pete Townshend held up a wounded palm near the end, longtime fans could only think of Annie Leibovitz’s “bloody hand” Rolling Stone photo from 1980 (the one with his pensive face cradled in scarlet fingers).

Townshend explained to Friday’s audience inside The Joint at the Hard Rock Hotel that the show had taken an unplanned pause in the middle of the “Quadrophenia” album because of his guitar’s whammy bar. “I put it through my (expletive) hand.”

“It’s symbolic actually,” he said of the windmill guitar arm. “For a man of my age it’s good that I can still do it.”

That was the theme of the whole evening, really. We aren’t sure how many big tours The Who has left, so we celebrate with them the times we’ve shared together.

Roger Daltrey had his own difficulties in the show that’s set to reprise at the Hard Rock today. Before one of the encore songs, “Behind Blue Eyes,” he went ballistic on someone in the crowd upfront, cussing them out presumably for smoking, as he echoed a pre-show announcement that any such misdeed would “shut my voice down.”

It’s Daltrey we have taken for granted over the years, when all the drama centered on Townshend, his creative whims, disposition and tinnitus determining when and how The Who would continue, and under what conditions.

Daltrey always seemed the indestructible one. His bullfrog neck, iron pecs and ripped abs are still amazing enough for a man who will turn 69 on March 1. But when the show cranked up with “The Real Me,” it raised doubts about whether this was still a good idea.

It was immediately clear Daltrey’s range is now limited and he’s working around the hard notes. And the eight players keeping a respectful distance behind Daltrey and Townshend did not deliver that musical punch in the face the song used to give you from two speakers.

But if you wondered why, of all The Who music to choose from, the double album “Quadrophenia” was getting another full presentation, it would soon be clear it’s all about who we were then, and what we are now. And besides, they were just getting warmed up.

The two rock-orchestra instrumentals that frame the concept album (the title track and “The Rock”) now score bookending film montages on the rear screen. The first summed up the era that gave us The Who, from World War II to Elvis and the Beatles. The second brought the story to the present, with footage marking the death of Elvis, John Lennon, Princess Diana and the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center.

So now, what was that about battered vocals? We’re still here, aren’t we?

Townshend often consulted a stand of sheet music and yielded electric guitar leads to younger brother Simon. And an old bluesman’s growl subbed in for a lot of the delicate singing on the original recordings. But when the wise and still-cool 67-year-old face cracks a smile, all is right with the world.

Early on, in “The Punk and the Godfather,” Townshend sang the original lyric, “I have to be careful not to preach.” By the time the album got to “Drowned,” he was preaching plenty, improvising new lyrics and challenging, “Bring on the (expletive) hurricane!”

The “Quadrophenia” The Who revived in 1996 was more devoted to the original narrative of Mods and Rockers and troubled teen Jimmy. This time it’s about this band confronting its past, literally, beneath video footage of its younger selves. The late John Entwistle and Keith Moon even get their own solo moments of resurrection, the band playing in sync to video of them on “5.15” and “Bell Boy.”

The commitment to play an almost 40-year-old album about teen identity also gave the night higher stakes. Townshend noted that it’s a difficult album to play, especially with drummer Scott Devours pinch-hitting in recent shows for usual drummer Zak Starkey after he too was injured.

Two horns and three keyboard players added pomp and circumstance, and Daltrey seemed to physically thaw as he began peeling layers of clothing. By the time this remarkably sustained work got to the knockout punch of “Love, Reign O’er Me,” the encore of greatest hits was all the sweeter; a celebration of a band with longevity we’re never likely to see again.

It’s worth showing up early today for a half-hour of opening act Vintage Trouble, a retro-suited quartet conjuring up vintage soul and The Who’s “Maximum R&B” days.

Trouble was short on songcraft but long on style, with Ty Taylor a charismatic frontman. Had this been the more literal “Quadrophenia” telling, they would have fit right into the show. As Townshend wrote in the story inside the album, “The singer was a tough-looking bloke with really good clothes.”

Contact reporter Mike Weatherford at mweatherford@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0288.

 

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