Quadrophenia must be an infectious disease.
The Who coined the term, a play on schizophrenia, for its 1973 rock opera Quadrophenia; the rock opera's protagonist has four personalities rather than two. But Sunday night, when The Who performed Quadrophenia in its entirety at the PNC Bank Arts Center in Holmdel, it showed signs of being afflicted with the disease itself.
First there was the Bold Who, reminiscent of the Who that had the audacity to relase rock operas like Tommy and Quadrophenia in the first place. The band's 1997 edition, featuring original members Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and John Entwistle as well as drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son) and nine other players, could easily fill venues like the Arts Center playing only hits. Instead it has resurrected Quadrophenia, an exploration of adolescent angst with music that's brooding and majestic but rarely simple.
The Bold Who also expressed itself through the inhibition-free showmanship of Daltrey and Townshend. They're both in their 50s, but strutted and cavorted like adolescents, Daltrey hurling his microphone in the air and then catching it, Townshend playing crashing power chords with a windmill-like motion.
The Who wasn't all flash, though. The second Who personality, the Virtuoso Who, expressed itself through Entwistles' funky-but-fluid extended solo on "5:15," Townshend's impossibly fast strumming on "Drowned," and drummer Zak Starkey's intricate rolls and fills.
If these were the only Whos on hand, the show would have been an unqualified success. But there were two more to be reckoned with.
The Geezer Who appeared frequently throughout the show, coming on strong whenever guest star P.J. Proby took the stage, playing a tough gang leader but looking like an Elvis impersonator specializing in the King's Vegas days. Even the remarkably fit-looking Daltrey showed his age when he tried to roard like a rebellious teenagaer, but could only muster a feebe shriek; Townshend, richly soulful on ballads like "I'm One" and "Drowned," emerged as the band's most consistently engaging vocalist.
Townshend also manipulated his geezerdom for dramatic effect. Younger brother Simon handled the guitar solos early in the show, as if Pete himself were no longer capable, but then Pete delighted hsi fans by soloing frequently in the second half.
Which brings us to the fourth Who: the Give-The0-People-What-They-Want Who. This is the Who responsible for following the Quadrophenia set with 35 minutes of encores weighed down by lethargic versions of songs that fans surely wanted to hear ("Won't Get Fooled Again," "The Kids Are Alright") but the band didn't show much interest in playing.
The Bold Who came back for muscular versions of garage-rockers like "I Can't Explain" and "Substitute," and the show ended with a ragged but spirited version of "Who Are You." On this night in particular, it seemed like a good question.
The Who will also perform tomorrow night at 7:30 p.m. at the Blockbuster-Sony Music Entertainment Centre in Camden. Tickets are $53 ($23, lawn); call (609) 635-1445.