Who knew that "Quadrophenia" was still such a major selling point in 2013?
I guess The Who knew.
The legendary British rock band, which formed way back in 1964, drew a near-capacity crowd to Oracle Arena in Oakland on Friday by simply promising to once again perform the 1973 opus "Quadrophenia." It's was the third time that the Who had attempted such a trick in the Bay Area. The group also brought "Quadrophenia" to the Cow Palace in Daly City in 1973 -- an infamous gig where Keith Moon passed out and was replaced on drums by, I kid you not, a guy from out of the crowd -- and then for a two-night stand at the HP Pavilion in San Jose in 1996.
What makes the lasting appeal of "Quadrophenia" so surprising, and satisfying, is that it's anything but a de-facto "greatest hits" album. Of the 17 tracks that make up the two-album set only a small handful can be called true fan favorites. To the contrary, "Quadrophenia" is a complex, challenging rock opera, one that hardly offers the type of grand drama to be found in comparable rock operas like Pink Floyd's "The Wall" and The Who's own "Tommy." To simplify things greatly, it's just the story of a young man trying to find his way in the world, while battling a personality disorder.
It's not something that lends itself easily in concert to mind-blowing theatrics, a la Roger Waters building a towering brick barricade, then blowing it apart, during his recent "The Wall" tours. The storyline is
The appeal, one must conclude, is strictly musical -- which, indeed, is a refreshing change of pace in the touring business. The music covers a ton of ground, but it still manages to feel quite coherent, like a rock symphony in 17 parts.
And, perhaps most important, you really feel like you've been on a journey -- a worthwhile journey -- by the time the band concludes the production with the immortal anthem "Love, Reign O'er Me."
The band, which is still led by ageless vocalist Roger Daltrey and guitarist-mastermind Pete Townshend, certainly didn't spend a lot of money on this production. The only real effects were some overhead video screens, which mainly flipped back and forth between stage shots and archival footage of the group.
The Who opened with "I Am the Sea," the first cut from "Quadrophenia," and then proceeded to zoom through every track on the album in order over approximately the next 100 minutes. In general, the live takes sounded very close to the album, which is exactly what fans wanted. That reportedly wasn't the case back in 1973, as The Who struggled to re-create the dense sonics from the studio on the live stage.
Daltrey, who at 68 still isn't shy about baring his chest for all to see, was an absolute lion at the microphone for most of the night. He roared proudly through the classic cuts "The Real Me," "5:15" and "Love, Reign O'er Me." His voice started to give out come encore time, when The Who ventured into greatest-hits territory, but he would somehow manage to stand tall when it mattered most -- delivering the famed scream with gusto at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again."
Townshend, the only other original member left in the band, also was in fine form. He delivered a particularly soulful guitar solo during "5:15" and managed to thrill everyone in the house with that heroic lead -- one of the most cherished in all of rock 'n' roll -- at the beginning of "Pinball Wizard," which came during the six-song encore.
The other musicians onstage also made solid contributions. Pete's brother, Simon Townshend, was a mighty force on guitar and even handled lead vocals on "The Dirty Jobs," while drummer Zak Starsky (Ringo Starr's son) and bassist Pino Palladino were terrific as always.
Yet, it was the musicians who weren't actually on the stage who really provided the magic. Original bassist John Entwistle (who died in 2002) and Moon (died in 1978) were very much a part of the production, as video segments were mixed in with the live performance in ways that made it feel like these dearly departed players were still part of the mix. Moon even sang lead vocals on "Bell Boy."
The Who has now brought "Quadrophenia" through town three times during three different decades. Who knows if the group will do it again? If it does indeed happen, however, count that a full house will turn out to see it.
Follow Jim Harrington at http://twitter.com/jimthecritic, www.facebook.com/jim.bayareanews and http://blogs.mercurynews.com/aei/category/concerts.