The Who at The o2, Dublin on June 8th 2013
“As Roger is allergic to smoke, we’d appreciate it if you’d stick to brownies”. The semi-comic hash reference that greets us as we enter the O2 is about the only humour on display tonight as part of The Who’s long-awaited live delivery on a classic. Until recently, ‘Quadrophenia’s multi-faceted complexities have been consigned to the role of fan favourite, largely excluded from The Who’s live set-up in favour of hits and the more accessible rock opera ‘Tommy’. ‘Quadrophenia is notoriously difficult to perform, being intricate, serious and almost neoclassical in its approach, and unlike many of The Who’s more widely touted moments, it’s certainly not about fun.
Perhaps that goes a long way to explaining tonight’s approach. With Simon Townshend in alongside notorious brother Pete and the theatrical Roger Daltrey, the eighty-minute teenage meltdown of a double album has an almost orchestral bent. There’s something odd about watching a gig with a pre-defined set list. To some extent it detracts from the spectacle: whilst ‘Quadrophenia’s storytelling edge requires that things are delivered in place, the constant stream in and out of the arena for drinks when a weaker track is approaching is extremely noticeable. Still, with its journey through world events accompanied with bouts of excessive teenage ambition, the on-stage set-up is as sophisticated and note perfect as the album itself, Daltrey’s occasional missed higher notes aside. The feeling is distant, despite the video odes to John Entwistle, Keith Moon and the days when The Who ended shows by smashing their entire stage set up to pieces. It’s disconcerting, cold, but undeniably impressive.
What’s most captivating about The Who in the 21st century is probably the energy. Daltrey is nothing if not dramatic, cupping his ear, throwing his arms to the sky in acclaim of the peaking crescendos, and dousing his performance in a loveable cringe-tastic dose of high-energy dad dancing. The sheer skill involved in the delivery of the extended second half of the album in particular stands out. The evening’s ‘Quadrophenia’ highlights come in Doctor Jimmy and the Stunning The Rock, its eight minute instrumental throb updated to present with a backdrop that takes in historic moments that flitter from the fall of the Berlin Wall to the Pussy Riot debacle. The stream of references to The Sea – presumably a looping cycle that relates to the Brighton edge to ‘Quadrophenia’s tale – help hold things together and offer a pleasant pace change. It’s intricate, detailed and endlessly complex.
When it comes to the defacto encore, and the hits, then, things seem almost out of place in their simplicity. The casual fan of the band would expect nothing less than a finale that features Who Are You, Pinball Wizard, Won’t Get Fooled Again and Baba O’Reilly in quick succession, and performed with as close to raucous energy as the rockers can manage beneath the starker arrow symbolism or a 3D pinball machine, they’re a glorious summary of the Londoners better-known corners. There’s no My Generation, but there rarely is these days, and screaming “Teenage wasteland” back at a band that had their finest hour many moons ago feels distinctly odd.
That’s not to say The Who should lay down their instruments and slip away quietly. Get over the fact that they’re now an act that belong in front of seats, looking more awkward then cool and pulling cheap crowd-pleasers like chucking an Irish flag up alongside that infamous RAF logo symbol (odd, to say the least, but it gets a cheer), and they’re still incredible songwriters, talented performers and only a bum vocal note and a whole lot of anger short of what documentaries tell us they once were. Tonight isn’t about rock; it’s about giving an under-recognized and gloriously exceptional piece of music the airing it should have had a long, long time ago. For entertainment value, Daltrey’s ‘Tommy’ at Marley Park blew this out of the water. Sit back and think about it, though, and as a demonstration of just what The Who are capable of – an exercise in technical glory – this is a big winner. All the intricacies you’d expect from a four-way split personality teenage meltdown on stage are present and correct. You can keep you ’talking ‘bout my degeneration’ jokes a few more years: they’ve still got it.
The Who Photo Gallery
Photos: Owen Humphreys