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Who’s Experience – Burning Flames

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Thursday, Jul 18, 2013
How a rock opera from the '70s transformed what should have been another calm, neglectful Sunday in my life.

It was early June 2013 when I found myself in London by complete chance, on a long weekend with nothing but time. Waking up to a lazy Sunday after a heavy Saturday (those pub crawls will get to you after the fourth or fifth shot), I figured I should try and see a show at the West End since I had never done it. I had heard good things about Jersey Boys, so I went to Leicester Square around 9 AM. The bookie had just opened the shop and didn’t look very happy to see me.
  
“Hi, I was wondering what shows you have on today”.


“What would you like?”


“What do you have?”


“We have Jersey Boys, we have The Lion King, we have Stomp...” As he went on, my mind was already set on the first one he mentioned. I don’t know why I didn’t stop him. “Oh yes, we also have a concert, the Who is playing at the O2 Arena”.


“The Who?” I had to ask again.


“Yes”.


“How much is the ticket?”


“Seventy-seven pounds”.


“How much for Jersey Boys?”


“Forty-five”.


My poor student’s pocket rumbled, but in the end, the heart spoke louder than the brain. “I will take The Who”. I didn’t even ask what they were playing.


“The Who. That’s great. I saw the concert last night” The old man was suddenly being nice to me, which was a good surprise. “It is wonderful. They play Quadrophenia on its entirety, and then a few hits”.
Quadrophenia.


When I was a freshman in high school my mom introduced me to a movie called Tommy. It starred Ann Margret, Jack Nicholson and a guy with funny hair, by the name of Daltrey, Roger Daltrey. And I fell in love with the music. The story itself made little to no sense—a “deaf, dumb and blind kid” that “sure plays a mean pinball”—but that didn’t matter, for as Steve Forbert sings, “Love is a funny state of mind”.


I found little to no comfort in sharing this new found passion with others my age, for they could not get past the kitsch ‘70s style of the music and preferred to listen to Avril Lavigne instead. Like anything, eventually Tommy became a memory; a memory I knew by heart, but still just a memory, one that faded into the back of my mind like most music does as it is replaced by the next new discovery. The exception in this case is that my next new discovery was by the same band, and it was even better.


Keith Moon still is to this day my favourite drummer (Jimmy Krupa is a close second), no matter how many people tell me John Bonham is better, and John Entwhistle is by far my favourite bass player (sorry, Sir Paul, though Wings is still wonderful)—not to mention Mr. Townshend’s lyrics, in my view second only to those of the Kinks’ Ray Davies. All of these assertions can be explained in one word: Quadrophenia.
“I Am The Sea”, “905”, “I Am One”, just to name a few. All the angst. All the pain. It all matched so well what I thought I was going through growing up, and yet surpassed anything I could actually feel myself. It was just plain beautiful, and it justified my love and understanding of rock in general.


When the bookie said they were playing it, I didn’t even stop to consider what it would mean to see it live. I hadn’t stopped to listen to the CD in a long time and didn’t think it would matter much—I just figured it would be cool to see the old geezers live, for the first and probably last time, a once in a lifetime opportunity. I am kind of glad I didn’t overthink it, for the surprise punch it gave me was too thrilling.


They came on stage and started the album right away. There was no breather: about two and a half hours of a true Who experience. I used to say that the best concert I had ever seen was Roger Waters’ The Wall, but that now is up for questioning.


Nostalgia for lost days of youth where Roger Daltrey’s voice summarized all of my questions and fears through verses only Townshend could write (“Can you see the real me, can you? Can you?”) overloaded me and I was a kid again. When it ended, I could barely speak. I felt so alive I could only thank the odd circumstances that led me to London on a random, unplanned weekend, for they revived an old flame, or perhaps made me reconnect with a flame that never stopped burning.


They closed the show with “Tea and Theatre”; just Daltrey and Townshend on the stage, guitar and voice. It is a tune from their last album, Endless Wire, which is about a more mature age and, ergo, a more mature band. I am glad they haven’t forgotten their rascal, crazy days of youth—even though Townshend never did smash his guitar on the amplifier, no matter how much I was secretly hoping he would.

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