It is unlikely we'll ever again see or hear the likes of The Who's magnificent rockin' and rollin' staging of »Quadrophenia,« which played Saturday and Sunday at the San Jose Arena.
This presentation of Pete Townshend's 23-year-old musical-theater piece isn't merely a re-run of the 17 songs on what Townshend has said «was The Who's finest recording« (recently reissued on CD). This is, rather, a sensational, multi-media rock opera, an extravaganza that utilizes - on three screens - live video shots of the stage performers, dozens of video and film clips and cleverly edited montages of narrator Phil Daniels, who played Jimmy in a 1979 film version of »Quadrophenia.«
This production pulls out all stops in digitally synchronized visuals, stage and arena lighting, special effects and the musical performances by The Who - a quintet, not a quartet much of the time - as well as by singers Gary Glitter and Billy Idol, percussionist Jodi Linscott, keyboardist Rabbit Bundrick, a five-piece horn section, a couple of male backup singers and a few others.
»Quadrophenia's« storyline, set in London in 1964 and told frantically by Daniels, traces the confused teenage years of Jimmy, a messed-up kid whose psychiatrist didn't know what was wrong with him. His father called his conduct schizophrenia; »Nutty,' my mum called it,« says Jimmy.
Jimmy's crazy world of perplexities is magnified by the ongoing mid-'60s clashes, in Britain, between the »almost proper« pill-poppers, the »Mods« (portrayed, as »Ace Face« by Idol) and the rougher »Rockers« - the leather-jacketed bikers, represented in this performance by Glitter as the »Godfather« who swings a music stand around, wears an elegant, silver-studded leather jacket, and regularly primps his pompadour.
Although nit-pickers near me Saturday night complained, »This isn't really The Who, like the old days« - long-gone 1973 drummer Keith Moon is replaced by Zak Starkey; electric guitarist Townshend now plays a hollow-body acoustic box (his brother Simon is on electric) and, well, they're all older! - for most of the San Jose crowd, including this 30-year Who fan, this manifestation of The Who is more than good enough: It is powerful, strong both in solo and ensemble, convincing in this theater piece, and still has its own, distinctive sound.
And Roger Daltrey is not only singing with a steady, sure voice, better than in the '70s, he has also developed new routines with his lariat-style mike cord twirling.
The »Quadrophenia« production begins with rolling surf on the screen and the four-part instrumental number, »I Am The Sea« (»Helpless Dancer,« »Is It Me?,« »Bell Boy,« and »Love Reign O'er Me«) - each theme a part of Jimmy's character.
»Schizophrenic? I'm Bleeding Quadrophenic,« he later proclaims.
Crashing vocally onstage along with the videoed waves is Daltrey, who plunges into a scorching version of »The Real Me,« with its »Can you see the real me, preacher / doctor / mother?« lines repeated, repeated. Bassist John »The Ox« Entwistle, with flowing white hair and goatee, elegant in his blue satin jacket, as well as Starkey and both Townshends, get playing space. Then comes an extended overture-like reprise of the quartet of opening numbers.
Townshend starts, then Daltrey takes over »Cut My Hair,« the anti-conformity piece, and soon Glitter and Daltrey team up on »The Punk Meets the Godfather,« a mini-opera in itself, backed by a film clip of Townshend smashing a guitar. Mod leader Idol soon becomes part of the act, and with Glitter, Daltrey and Townshend helps make the one-two punch of »I've Had Enough« and »5:15« perhaps the outstanding segment of the show.
Daltrey and Idol do a fine job on »Sea and Sand,« Townshend's vocal / guitar solo stint on »Drowned« (»I'm remembering distant memories, Recalling other names . . .«) is restrained, poignant. The mixed messages of »The Rock« and »Love, Reign O'er Me« conclude the performance.
Encores Saturday included »Won't Get Fooled Again,« »Behind Blue Eyes,« »Who Are You?,« which became a joyous audience sing-along, and »Substitute.«