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Review London, Tue, 30 March 2010

The Who: Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall, review

The Telegraph, 30-03-2010

The Who deserved their standing ovation at this performance of Quadrophenia at the Royal Albert Hall. Rating: ****

I hate to be sceptical about one of the greatest groups in the history of rock, but I have a twinge of doubt every time another Who concert is announced. In their glory days, they were a band of four big personalities whose anger, ebullience and sheer masculine vitality could not quite be contained by the music, ricocheting off each other as they furiously yet rebelliously attempted to simultaneously serve and subvert the artistic needs of their visionary leader, Pete Townshend.

Many decades on, they are two creaking old friends. I have jokingly referred to them as the Who’s Left? But after this magnificent performance, I am forced to revise that to the Who Knew?

For the final night of a week of Teenage Cancer Trust gigs, charity patron Roger Daltrey assembled the Who’s touring band to perform Quadrophenia in its entirety. There are fifteen musicians, including a powerhouse five-piece horn section and Daltrey and Townshend themselves. The absolute centre of the band, however, was Zak Starkey, son of Ringo, student of Keith Moon, who puts in one of the most dynamic displays behind a drum kit I have witnessed in an age. Between his rolling thunder and Townshend’s slash-and-burn guitar, the barely controlled fury we associate with classic Who was ever present.

Quadrophenia lacks the variety, tunefulness and theatricality of Townshend’s more celebrated rock opera, ’Tommy’. Yet the existential breakdown of a Mod is arguably more of a singular piece, in which the charging rock music and occasional tender acoustic flights perfectly match the narrative.

The story-telling was aided by the big-screen backdrop, with snatches of dialogue, newsreel and film scenes, so the band themselves could concentrate on delivering the music. It was tight and driven but on a fantastic version of ’5.15’ it suddenly opened up. Townshend’s art-rock soloing seems on the verge of breaking apart and splintering on stage, and you are reminded why the Who have always been unique.

There are two star guest turns, with Eddie Vedder from Pearl Jam singing the part of the Godfather, and Tom Meighan from Kasabian as the Ace Face.

Vedder, Meighan and Daltrey on stage together: that’s not a line up, that’s a Q readers’ poll. The young Meighan inexplicably beat Daltrey in the music magazine’s list of greatest frontmen of all time, but the veteran gets comical revenge tonight, booting Meighan from behind at the end of ’Bell Boy’, a song of humiliation.

Age has taken its toll on Daltrey’s vocal cords, but he still manages to get it up for the roaring finale of ’Love Reign O’er Me’. A standing ovation was well earned, and if they didn’t bother with encores, well, at their age, Who can blame them?


Neil McCormick