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About 14 months ago, Roger Daltrey visited Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre to tear through “Tommy,” the beloved late-‘60s Who rock opera.
Musical partner Pete Townshend wasn’t part of that tour, but the mercurial backbone of The Who was on board Monday night as the band returned to Atlanta (OK, technically Duluth) to tackle their OTHER beloved rock opera, “Quadrophenia.”
Many in the crowd, which filled about three-fourths of Gwinnett Center Arena, opted to sit and listen sedately as Daltrey, Townshend and longtime secondary members Pino Palladino (bass), Zak Starkey (drums) and Simon Townshend (Pete’s brother, who toured with Daltrey for last year’s “Tommy,” on guitar), unveiled the 1973 opus.
But among the magnificent set featuring three circular video screens and a display running the length of the stage, intriguing video and atmospheric lighting, the band confidently booted the songs to life, aided tremendously by a two-piece horn section and three keyboardists.
Daltrey proudly flaunted his toned pecs under an unbuttoned shirt and sounded as you would expect a former first-class rock yowler to sound at 68 – a little worn and a little limited in range – but he nonetheless delivered with enough of a wallop to satiate most fans. And, impressively, he still mostly hit the difficult notes at the end of “Love, Reign O’er Me” at the set’s end.
But let’s back up for a moment.
Monday’s show was the third date of this “Quadrophenia” tour and the famously moody Townshend appeared to enjoy himself throughout as he pounded his red and white Fender during the album’s title track and laid his gruff vocals onto “Cut My Hair.”
What did get the audience whooping were Daltrey’s first round of mic-slinging, which came on “The Punk and the Godfather,” and Townshend’s prolonged windmill during “I’ve Had Enough.”
Given that Townshend, 67, created the psychologically probing “Quadrophenia” with The Who’s four members in mind, allotting each a representative song, the video screens frequently flashed from black and white footage of social uprisings and calm seas to vintage footage of the band, taking time to spotlight their deceased members.
John “The Ox” Entwistle returned during the exhilarating “5.15” to play his masterful bass solo (as Palladino looked on from the stage, his hands never touching his instrument) and then during “Doctor Jimmy,” while the homage to Keith Moon came on “Bell Boy,” his recorded vocals playing along with a live video of him performing, impish and crazy-eyed.
As much as the original Who members are missed, it’s important to point out how adroit Palladino was in holding down the busy bass part of “Sea and Sand” and how Starkey has faithfully recreated Moon’s signature tom-tom fills and cymbal crashes, particularly during “I’ve Had Enough” as it built to its sonic climax.
But, much to the delight of the crowd, the phrase “and more” is attached to this “Quadrophenia” tour. So after about 90 minutes of the rock opera, Townshend introduced the band – including musical director Frank Simes – enveloped Daltrey in a bear hug and thanked him for the “amazing job” he did developing this live presentation of “Quadrophenia.”
Then came round two, a handful of Who classics that launched with a fiery “Baba O’Riley” that included Daltrey swinging his mic like a baseball bat and Townshend smiling slightly at his own inability to hit the high note in the song.
“Behind Blue Eyes,” “Who Are You” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” resounded with arena-level punch, the giddy crowd singing and dancing along, not really caring if “Behind” and its resounding message of melancholia sounded a bit shaky or if Daltrey’s voice became increasingly rough on “Who Are You.”
People come to these shows realizing that at this stage in a band’s career, not all will sound perfect. It couldn’t possibly. But if fans want to have what could always be a last musical fling with some of their long-ago idols, they have no choice but to accept a smattering of shortcomings amid an overwhelmingly strong presentation.
(For more photos from last night’s show, check out our gallery.)
By Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Music Scene