NEW YORK -- Seven years after its supposed farewell tour, the rock group the Who is together again and performing their most sophisticated work, Quadrophenia (# # # out of four), for six nights at Madison Square Garden through Monday. But the question arising at Tuesday's first night was, why did the group bring so many other people along?
The Who doesn't seem to trust itself anymore. Pete Townshend, 51, traded his lead guitar and flamboyant leg splits for an acoustic guitar and laser-like intensity, while Roger Daltrey, 52, has lost some of his vocal range. But that's no reason to bring in a five-piece horn section, four backup singers, guest stars Billy Idol and Gary Glitter plus Phil Daniels to narrate Quadrophenia's story of alienated youth amid riots between rockers and mods in early '60s England.
These reputed masters of chaos never had a chance to get dangerous.
Not that the concert was staid, with drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son) capturing the old fury of the late Keith Moon. But there was a formality, as though it were a real opera. Part of the fault may be the work itself.
The 1973 concept album lacks the durable hits of Tommy, the lyrics are dense and its musical sophistication is emotionally distancing. Add to that the ritual element that venerable performers are subjected to -- fans shouted along with the group rather than listen for new meaning -- and the music's tale of teen-age angst receded even further.
Luckily, Quadrophenia isn't the whole show. Encores include delightfully loose-limbed versions of Magic Bus, Behind Blue Eyes and an acoustic Won't Get Fooled Again with all the old spontaneity and magnetism. The concert ended where it should've started.