The Who reigned over Tulsa with full-scale "Quadrophenia" performance
While classic acts ranging from Steely Dan to the Pixies have taken to the road with complete performances of classic albums, The Who's Thursday night concert for a packed crowd at the BOK Center in Tulsa was a lesson in strength, endurance and expert musicianship as the band faithfully and powerfully brought to life its classic 1973 double album, "Quadrophenia."
The Who's rock opera about a Mod losing his grip on sanity after a historic gang war in the early 1960s was guitarist Pete Townshend's most ambitious set of songs, an attempt to make sense of his 1960s youth as he closed in on his 30s. Marking the album's 40th anniversary with a full-scale rendering of the double album, Townshend and lead singer Roger Daltrey, the surviving members of the original lineup, spiked the album's dense narrative with historical footage that explained where they came from and then pushed forward, seemingly referencing every major upheaval of their lifetimes.
The story of Jimmy the Mod's mental breakdown still came through clearly in songs such as "The Real Me," "5:15" and "Cut My Hair," but the visuals, which spanned from World War II to the Occupy Wall Street movement, told of a more far-reaching disillusionment -- the fall of the British Empire and loss of innocence in the modern era. The story of "Quadrophenia" is difficult to fully convey in a concert setting where fans are looking for more hits and less introspection, but Townshend, Daltrey and their backing band pummeled through, vividly conveying the sweep of the original double album.
But the real story is Daltrey and Townshend's extraordinary stamina: they took no breaks during the "Quadrophenia" performance, playing it out with the tenacity of a record needle spiraling through four nonstop sides of music. Daltrey is a kind of vocal wonder at 68. He hit all the wrenching last notes of the album's final song, "Love, Reign O'er Me," and still had plenty of power in reserve for The Who's six-song encore.
While regular drummer Zak Starkey was out of commission with a pulled tendon, Daltrey's solo touring drummer, Scott Devours, capably covered the manic percussion fills created by the late Keith Moon. Townshend's brother, Simon Townshend, covered many of the lead guitar parts and lent a superb vocal to "The Dirty Jobs," and Pino Palladino continued his expert rendering of the late John Entwistle's intricate basslines. Technological assists allowed The Who to slyly pay tribute to their deceased compatriots. Entwistle appeared on the video screens and, thanks to archival footage and state-of-the-art computer sequencing, contributed an amazing bass solo to "5:15," and the band played along to Moon's maniacal vocals on "Bell Boy."
The 20,000-strong crowd showed its love to the band throughout "Quadrophenia," but was most energized by the encore, which pulled heavily from 1971's "Who's Next." The band's massive round video screens complemented the synthesizer parts on tracks such as "Baba O'Riley" with frenetic computer graphics, but the real focus was on Daltrey as the crowd anticipated the famous scream near the close of "Won't Get Fooled Again." Over four decades after recording it, Daltrey can still send that scream to the back of the arenas, and Townshend, who suffered tinnitus in the late-1980s but has since recovered much of his hearing, is able to expertly recreate his signature riffs and melodies -- no jumps or splits anymore, but he still managed to execute his classic windmill slashes at his strings.
The rest of the band left Daltrey and Townshend onstage for the final song, "Tea and Theatre," a track from 2006's "Endless Wire" that looked back with nostalgia on The Who's accomplishments and legacy. "We did it all/ Didn't we?" Daltrey sang as Townshend plucked out the song's delicate acoustic melody. On Thursday night, The Who did not dig deep into their catalog and classics like "I Can't Explain" and "My Generation" were nowhere to be found, but when it came to "Quadrophenia," they did it all, and they did it proud.