Rock legends The Who returned to Birmingham last night to play the phenomenal Quadrophenia in full as well as a quick selection of hits. After Vintage Trouble finished their warmly received set the stage changed little meaning the titans would perform on time. As the lights dropped and the silhouettes of the band walked on stage the crowd began the chants of ‘Who, Who, Who!’. The audience once again erupted as ‘I Am The Sea’ ended with the line ‘Can you see the real me can ya? Can ya!”. This then prompted the next hour and a half of splendor. Playing the entire album with no stopping for the crowd was certainly a spectacle.
Watching the band play this near 40 year old record was fantastic and not only because it being a favourite of so many people’s. The 40 years in which The Who have aged since have not been easy, but Roger and Pete have come through still kicking and their performance has aged like a fine wine rather than diminished like a mouldy fruit. The ability they still possess even at this grand old age, a fact they know all to well, is uncanny. Roger himself said ‘I was having a moment! We’re allowed!” when, to what seemed, he forgot or mistimed the last few lyrics of ‘You Better You Bet’.
The Quadrophenia set was played without interruption, Pete’s younger brother Simon took the lead vocal duties on ‘The Dirty Jobs’ and even played several of the lead guitar sections. This seemed like another way of ‘passing the baton’, something reflected in the audience as ever with kids as young as 7 sitting next to men well into their 60s. During the middle section of ‘5:15′, which kicked off initially with an explosive uproar, the video screen played footage of the late great John Entwhistle playing an incredible virtuoso bass solo from what looked like the Albert Hall Teenage Cancer Trust concert from 2000, this met with a standing ovation. Keith Moon too made an appearance on the video screen providing his vocal lines for ‘Bell Boy’. These nods to Roger and Pete’s former band-mates were only some of the few ways they managed to make the audience feel as one. Like stated the set was beautiful and culminating into the wondrous finale of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’. Roger obvious does not possess the strength his voice once did, but where he has lost he has also gained. The choruses of the aforementioned song exploded with the pitch of his voice and the dramatic cascading guitar line. There were definitely some crying eyes in the audience when he burst into falsetto for the final chorus. As the last instruments faded away it was clear this was not just an album for some people, not just their favourite, but their soundtrack to their youth. The story echoing their own life.
The band didn’t leave the stage immediately, but Roger and Pete stayed and talked to the crowd. They introduced the band to rapturous applause and Pete himself even complimented one of the keyboardists (John Corey I believe) on his brilliant improvisation. The duo also thanked the audience for coming out, or rather ‘not going to Glastonbury’ to which Pete added ‘to see the Rolling Stones’, thus met with a plentiful of boos. Sadly Pete didn’t realise the audience previously booed an image of Margret Thatcher and thought the audience booed Princess Diana, to which he addressed the crowd as a ‘bunch of C***s’. The jolly mood however only made the talking feel more personal, you felt they were speaking to you instead of addressing thousands at once.
The crowd began to chant ‘we are the mods, we are the mods’ as the band prepared the next part of the set. Roger said ‘Let’s get this clear, you WERE the mods!’ before the familiar intro to ‘Who Are You’ played over him saying ‘Help the aged’. The band powered through ‘You Better You Bet’, ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ before the other instrumentalists said their final farewells. The dynamic duo finally sang a beautiful rendition of ‘Tea & Theatre’, a graceful end to a powerful set. The song was a subtle demonstration, lyrically and visually, at how Roger and Pete have come through all these years together.
It’s hard to leave the venue in pursuit of a fault. You have witnessed a powerful, emotional and exquisite performance that few acts nowadays can rival. They not only perform well but the songs hit people emotionally much more than other artists can. Roger correctly thanked Pete for creating these fantastic sing a long songs. The Who is an experience if you’re a fan or not, and walking out of the arena and back into normal everyday life the smile on your face won’t leave your body for a good few days. The next time you listened to Quadrophenia it’ll be a brand new experience.