Timeline: Air Canada Center, Toronto, Ontario, November 23rd
They’re getting old, they are both singers with a demanding tasks, and the other two are dead. So I didn’t expect much, except history being made ‘cos it’s THE WHO and because it’s Quadrophenia played in its entirety.
Floor-shakingly pleasantly surprised, I was: The Who were... I actually cannot see how they could have done better, on balance, probably the tip being that this was the greatest, full range, separation, audibility etc. concert sound I’ve ever heard in a hockey arena. OK, so stage: lights were minimal, only thing I remember being lots of strobe. No props or pyro at all. Big round central screen, two side ones and then the in-house fairly crappy rectangular ones. But great use of the screens: for Quadrophenia, the water, mod footage etc., everything you’d want to hold interest. A whirlwind of news footage at one point, a long stay on a Toronto Argonauts logo, as the penultimate CFL Grey Cup was being played two days later, in Toronto, with Toronto in it. Best use of screen however was the two-thirds steam Zak Starkey drum solo, which was played in perfect synch and hi-fidelity to a filmed JOHN ENTWISTLE bass solo. Elsewhere, Keith made many appearances as did vintage Pete and Rog. Highlight of Keith was his vocal part for ‘Bell Boy’.
As for band, let’s get it straight first: Pete is more than half of The Who being its guitarist, co-lead singer and writer of most everything. Add on that you can’t do The Who without Roger, the other co-lead singer and it’s a base consented to. daring, creative guy that he is however, Pete flies in the face of reinforcing establishment by having three keyboardists, his Hunter S. Thompson-look-alike brother Simon on second guitar (and one lead vocal—bang-up job), plus longtime Pino on bass. For Quadrophenia, he necessarily had a two-piece brass section (no doubt the keyboard army was the rest of it), to reproduce Entwistle’s parts to the album. And then there was Zak, also longtime and a perfect drummer for the situation. Like Kenney, mandate imposed or not, he’s a 60% version of Keith, so filling often and daringly but without the fiscal cliff. And recorded a joy, every drum... I don’t know how they did this, but I was way up high and to the hard stage right (left? Man, don’t get me started how we missed hanging with Voivod on a rare arena show, same place, ‘cos of this), every tom, bass whack, cymbal brush and splash, snare... perfect.
Pete was aptly grandfatherly and wise looking, in, I believe, a sweater and slacks! I’m not even sure he shed the sweater at any point. Roger looked a bit upscale, perfect short-cropped blonde hair, granny glasses (Pete had glasses on and off, and even a music stand that he referred to from time to time). Roger slowly unravelled sartorially until his upscale white dress shirt was unbuttoned.
Pacing? Well, this was interesting: they opened Quadrophenia without a word of hello, played the whole double album without any missives to the mic. Once it was dine, both Roger and Pete talked a lot, warmly. Pete has said this time and time again so you start to believe him, that Toronto is like a second home to him, best friend lives here, good luck if we start a tour here and end it here except I always end up with a venereal disease (he said that). Then qualified for the fact-checkers, that the tours never end up that way.
He played a storm, the first post-punker, as much colour guitar as root rhythm, loads of acoustic, and his patented almost acoustic on electric, gorgeous tone always, kerranging chords when needed. There was one re-start of a song, due, I think to his guitar not being on, but it was quick and forgotten. His singing... if there was ever a shred of deterioration, it might be that 1% of the parts had a little more ragged roar in them when before it was his pageboy. Seriously, well, OK, 5%. But always, always, powerful and on-key. Man, I don’t even think he ducked notes. Roger? Just perfect, no loss of stamina or energy Roger, power, no ducking that I recall, which could mean just so little that I don’t remember. He played harmonica and tambourine too, plus some guitar - good on ya.
Once Quadrophenia was done with (and man, no boredom whatsoever), it was a quick bang of five hoary chestnuts and then the poignant acoustic, just Roger and Pete, ‘Tea & Theatre.’ So ‘Who Are You’, ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Baba O’Reilly’, ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, ‘Tea & Theatre’. All those apex slogany vocal bits by either Pete or Roger—pure rock history magic.
I dreaded hearing ‘I Can’t Explain’ or ‘My Generation’ or more of creepy Tommy, but I would have liked something from The Who By Numbers and especially Face Dances or It’s Hard. Also, I know it wouldn’t be right, but I’m bummed Endless Wire has been dispensed with. Still, those five all fit the ragged prog band ethic, the ‘70s band of substance, anchored by Quadrophenia so it was a considered picked list that cohered, save for the emotional goodbye serenade.