If you issued a survey to fans of the Who asking them to choose between Tommy and Quadrophenia, the results would be equally divided: Holiday Campers to the left, Mods to the right.
Technically speaking, both were sophisticated works (distinct challenges for the Who to perform live) and each earned major motion picture treatment. Yet while the former has experienced far greater mainstream success since Townshend and Company rolled it out three-and-a-half decades ago, it is the latter that more readily resonates with purists.
In either case, aficionados hold their respective favorite in fanatically high regard, and any band attempting to recreate the Who’s tales of pinball proficiency or adolescent disillusionment on stage better be able to deliver the musical goods.
And so it was on a brutally frigid evening that guitarist/impresario Bill Canell assembled a group of musicians to tackle the complexities of the Quad-dyssey. Backed by his usual Who’s Next tribute band brethren, Canell augmented the group on this special night with a three piece horn section, keyboardist, and backing acoustic guitar.
Could the expanded Who’s Next line-up faithfully replicate the epic mod adventure? Would the audience be deftly transported to mid ‘60s Brighton and the Cliffs of Beachy Head? Would everyone leave the club wanting to buy GS scooters and then beat the hell out of passing Rockers? Yes, yes, and yes
With an uncanny knack for duplicating even the most subtle musical nuances, the band performed its set, an unabridged run through Quadrophenia, with impeccable precision. Vocalist Dave McDonald hit notes that Roger Daltrey hasn’t touched in years while bassist Will Schelly, with minimal effort, displayed the dexterity and thunder of John Entwistle (shining brightly with a “5:15” solo). Bobby Reynolds brutalized his kit with Keith Moon fervor, and in Canell the spirit of Pete Townshend was alive and well, channeling freely through each windmill and power chord. The band played loud and proud, reminding everyone in attendance of Quadrophenia‘s majestic orchestration.
As the band churned through each song, snippets from classic Who performances and the theatrical adaptation were projected across twin screens placed on each side of the stage, making the Quad experience even grander. How wonderful to see footage from the Who’s “loudest band in the world” prime, or Phil Daniels’ expression as the pill popping lost soul and the ultra cool Sting as the Ace Face. The video montage may be standard fare for Who’s Next shows, but the novelty never wears thin. It only helps to further the painstakingly reproduced atmosphere.
And when the Quad set was done? The band treated the SRO crowd to nearly an hour of Who classics, culminating in stellar renditions of “Naked Eye” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. For a packed venue of fanatical Whobees, it doesn’t get any better.
The prevailing knock on tribute groups is that they lack originality, sticking to a blueprint of songs that are practiced to perfection, and played ad-nauseum. That may be true of most cover acts, yet Who’s Next shatters the cover band stereotype with their collective expertise and ability to play anyway, anyhow, anywhere. There was something artistically noble (and daunting) in an undertaking as ambitious as Quadrophenia, but Canell and his band-mates proved that they were up for the task.
What’s next for Who’s Next? Stay tuned…