The Who proved Friday night that nothing — not age, not ever-changing musical trends, not even playing a 40-year-old album in its entirety — could dampen seeing one of the greatest rock bands of all time.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Famers were in fine form — yes, frontman Roger Daltrey unbuttoned his shirt and looked pretty fit for a guy turning 69 next week — performing to a sold-out Boardwalk Hall.
Clocking in at 2 hours, 15 minutes, Daltrey, guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend and their longtime band consisting of drummer Zak Starkey — Ringo Starr's son — bassist Pino Palladino, and guitarist Simon Townshend, Pete's brother, concentrated most of the night performing its rock opera "Quadrophenia," a 1973 gem that is not as popular as its other rock opera "Tommy," but far more complex and interesting musically.
Townshend once said "Quadrophenia" is the "best music that I've ever written, I think, and it's the best album that I will ever write." And that couldn't be more true.
Sure, some of The Who's biggest hits — saved for the night's encore — might be catchier and more radio friendly, but "Quadrophenia" is a masterpiece that holds up beautifully and to see it performed in its raw, live form is such a treat compared to what could have been another greatest hits tour.
The Who seemed more energized and passionate performing the double-album "Quadrophenia" than they have been on tours for a long time. That's because of Townshend's deep connection to the music and Daltrey's affection for the concept, which is set in London and Brighton, England, in 1965. Its title refers to schizophrenia and the album follows four personalities of Jimmy, each supposedly represented by the four original members of the band.
Starting the night with "The Real Me," one of the most powerful, rocking album openers of all time, Daltrey & Co. set the tone for what was a truly special night. Not every song on "Quadrophenia" is a gem, some are self-indulgent, but there isn't a bad one in the bunch.
Two of the standouts included the band interacting with video footage of their late, great band members. They were classy moments and crowd favorites.
The band had a blast with "5:15," which included an extended jam featuring late bassist John Entwistle performing one of his mind-blowing bass solos that had the crowd mesmerized as Townshend was ripping windmills all over the place, showing he remains an underrated guitarist in the process.
Not only was "5:15" the best song off "Quadrophenia" for the night, it was the best song of the night, including the hit-fueled encore set.
"Bell Boy" incorporated late drummer Keith Moon perfectly. Any Who fan knows Moon's ridiculous personality, and the video of him singing his theme with his thick British accent while the band rocked was definitely memorable.
Another nice part of seeing "Quadrophenia" played live is that Townshend gets plenty of mic time, singing a handful of songs such as "Cut My Hair," the acoustic-driven "I'm One" and "The Punk and the Godfather." And while not as great a singer as Daltrey — or even close — the songs he performs are his creations, and the passion exhibited for his material when he sings vocals is genuine. Even Simon Townshend got a turn on the mic, offering another standout, "The Dirty Jobs."
The only thing better than the opener of "Quadrophenia" is the closer, the classic rock staple "Love Reign o'er Me," which is also one of the best finales of any album in history, and Daltrey nailed it vocally, sounding as powerful as ever.
Armed with 10 total musicians on stage, including a horn section, as well as six giant video screens depicting everything from a rolling sea to political images to band members playing live and vintage band video, it was quite a production as the video helped progress the storyline.
"Quadrophenia" comprised about 90 minutes of The Who's 135-minute show Friday night, and the crowd didn't seem to mind at all.
Offering "Who Are You," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Pinball Wizard," "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again" and, for some reason, "Tea & Theatre," the crowd seemed thrilled to get about a half hour's worth of the most identifiable Who songs of all time. And they sounded great.
With band members approaching heir seventh decade, it would be easy to dismiss their future. But after a rocking night with "Quadrophenia," it's curious to see what The Who does next.
I Am the Sea
The Real Me
Cut My Hair
The Punk and the Godfather
The Dirty Jobs (Simon Townshend on lead vocals)
Is It in My Head?
I’ve Had Enough
Sea and Sand
Love Reign O’er Me
Who Are You
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Tea & Theatre