Scott Mervis / Pittsburgh Post-Gazett
The Who hasn't played Pittsburgh in 12 years, having skipped us on the last few tours, so fans here would have been thrilled with a full-on greatest hits show.
Of course, that's not the agenda on this tour as the band is dusting off a 39-year-old Mods vs. Rockers rock opera that was a little obscure to American audiences, even back then. That, and the subpar Super Bowl gig, help explain why the upper decks were practically empty at Consol Energy Center Sunday night.
Fortunately, "Quadrophenia" is one of the two or three best Who albums and some might even argue it was the band's last great work. As the Consol show is just a few dates into the tour, we got it at the perfect time.
Still, it got off to a shaky start when the "I Am the Sea" intro played twice without Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend stepping on stage. The third time was a charm but Daltrey muffed the first note of "The Real Me" and had to start again. Even then, he didn't sound like The Real Daltrey, fading at times and shying away from the higher notes.
It seemed like we were in for a long night, but you can't count out The Who (as we've learned many times). Pete's younger brother Simon and drummer Zak Starkey powered them through a spot-on version of the "Quadrophenia" overture and Pete came through with a rugged, emotional take on "Cut My Hair," with clips of the band in younger, wilder days flashing behind them.
While it's a bit out of whack, frankly, to see a gray-haired 67-year-old man who looks every bit his age sing the words of a troubled young mod, there was an undeniable poignancy to it (especially if you happen to be in the midst of reading his autobiography).
Daltrey -- warmed up, shirt open and twirling his mike -- found his pipes for "The Punk Meets the Godfather" while Ringo's son did his best Keith Moon. He and bassist Pino Palladino drove the engine hard all night, except for the amazing rumbling solo on "5:15," coming to us on video from the late John Entwistle. That sparked lots of windmilling from Pete and a heated jam from The Who, who, by the way, came with a killer sound system. The late, lovable Moonie had his moment on the maniacal "Bell Boy" vocal, not to mention all the crushing drum fills that were all his.
Simon was a diamond in the rough, whether it was taking a guitar lead or stepping up with a bold vocal on "Dirty Jobs" that found the sweet spot between Roger and Pete. The latter did a hard, bluesy vocal on "Drowned," adding a gritty reference to the Ohio.
The big climax was all about Roger. The show built steam all the way up to "Dr. Jimmy" and "Love Reign O'er Me," and when they came up, he nailed both, reaching deep and hitting that "Looooove!" scream almost like he did back in the day.
Overall, the playing -- with the help of the three keyboards (why?) and two horns -- flawless and often thrilling. On "The Rock," The Who was the quadrophonic, symphonic powerhouse Pete envisioned when he dreamed up this opus back in '72.
After Pete's complimentary remarks about the city, The Who launched into a crowd-pleasing encore set starting with "Who Are You" and offering a taste of "Tommy" ("Pinball Wizard"), a gentle acoustic closing of "Tea & Theatre" and the crashing best of "Who's Next" with "Behind Blue Eyes," the politically charged "Won't Get Fooled Again" (perfect scream!) and the anthemic "Baba O'Riley."
It seemed to me that when the seasoned Who fans yelled "teenage wasteland ...they're all wasted!" it carried a different meaning than it had back when THEY were the teenagers.