[9 July 2014]
Music and Film Critics don’t always get the “deluxe” treatment when reviewing products from a distributor. For my review of The Clash’s boxed set Sound System, I received plastic envelopes containing the rarities discs with none of the main albums, packaging or extras, included. This is a somewhat standard practice. After all, we’re here to review content, not necessarily the pretty packaging, buttons and stickers, right?
Apparently Universal Music did not receive the memo, because soon after my editor requested the concert video for The Who’s Quadrophenia: Live In London concert film, I received a large box with a beautiful boxed set inside containing the amazing packaging (shaped like the iconic target-headlight of the opera’s main character’s mod scooter), a five disc set, sticker and a 32 page booklet with full color photos and liner notes. So this boxed set automatically gets a stellar rating! Just kidding. However, this is striking, considering the fact that the concert film is available in stores in less deluxe editions than the “Limited Collectors Edition Metal Box”.
However, what makes Quadrophenia: Live in London so excellent isn’t the cool packaging or even the extras. It’s the content that makes this set incredible. The five disc set includes one DVD and one Blu-ray of the concert film (which I will get to momentarily) as well as a double CD of the full concert (as recorded on 8 July 2013 at London’s Wembley Arena) and the full original album on 5.1 surround sound CD. Those who already own the original audio album will likely want to hang on to their copies, as the original artwork, liner notes and commentary from the opera’s main character named Jimmy (usually) are not included here. Then again, as an extra the full album is incredible and helps to prove one more amazing thing when compared to the concert film… The Who remains a powerhouse (as does Quadrophenia) whether experienced in 1973 or 2013.
Quadrophenia isn’t as well loved as The Who’s other (completed) rock opera, Tommy, however it is much more daring, experimental and edgy than the earlier work. All four personalities of the members of The Who have been grafted inside a decidedly conflicted young mod who uses pills and gin to control his craziness and (hopefully) discover “The Real Me”. Further, Quadrophenia never died and continued to sell as The Who embarked on multiple tours over the decades to keep the album alive. That most recent Quadrophenia tour (a 37 date concert slate called “Quadrophenia + More”) took place between 2012 and 2013 to celebrate the 40th anniversary of this quintessential album.
I caught the tour on 5 February 2013, five months prior to the recording of this concert film, and while there’s no substitute for seeing the show live as someone who was there, I can tell you Quadrophenia: Live in London is pretty much as close to seeing the actual concert as technologically possible. The audio and video (particularly on Blu-ray) are astonishing and the special effects come to life, treating this cinematic show as an opera that the viewer has an on-stage viewpoint on.
Although Lead Vocalist Roger Daltrey and Guitarist, Vocalist, Songwriter Pete Townshend were 69 and 68 at the time of this recording and hardly the angry young men they were when the album was released, both prove to be in great shape and capable as performers. Daltrey’s voice is amazing and although it doesn’t sound exactly the same, he rarely misses a high note and never comes up short, no matter how dynamically he bounds around the stage (swinging that microphone by the cable). Townshend still swings his arm in that windmill fashion to hit the heaviest chords and when he rips into the solos, his fingers are faster than ever and remain an intimidating rival to those younger guitarists he influences.
There will always be the question of whether “The Who” is really “The Who” anymore, since the death of fiery drummer Keith Moon and thundering bassist John Entwistle. This may be especially notable when considering a full performance of Quadrophenia, which was specifically designed to be reflective of and performed by the original four members of the band. This concern is hardly lost on The Who during this tour or this individual concert.
Three round screens (representing the aforementioned Mod headlight and the two surrounding signal lights) fill the stage behind the band, often simply appearing to be the front of the scooter, but more often showing decades of The Who’s iconography and the various stages of all four original members. This is both in tribute to each member and as a cinematic representation of how each one influenced Jimmy and his four dissociative personalities. Thus, this is, at least visually, still Quadrophenia.
As to whether or not this is still “The Who”, at key moments of the concert those three screens are filled with archival footage of both Moon and Entwistle, singing their parts (such as Moon’s “Bell Boy”) and jamming on solos (Entwistle’s is not to be missed). This is far from a hobbled band living off of its memories. Those memories come alive again on the stage and the audience loves it.
Aside from those moments, The Who is supplemented by Steve Devours on drums, Pino Palladino on bass and (Pete’s brother) Simon Townshend on guitar. While each are treated as full members of the band (not hidden behind risers as some bands do), none of these latter day Who performers attempt to top or better their predecessors, but to pay tribute to them. Any drummer will tell you that there was and will ever be only one Keith Moon.
After the finalé of Quadrophenia (“Love Reign O’er Me”), the concert continues with several more Who favorites, such as “Who Are You”, “Pinball Wizard” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. While this additional group of six total additional songs provide an excellently performed slate of memorable hits for the consumer, the fact that there are only six non-Quadrophenia songs in the show may fail to beckon less than rabid Who fans. Quadrophenia is filled with excellent and technically proficient songs, but neither the songs nor the album on the whole prove to be The Who’s most accessible release.
Casual fans expecting something like The Who’s greatest hits live would be better served buying their album called Greatest Hits Live. Or, at least, they might opt for the single Blu-ray edition of Quadrophenia: Live in London (which carries a price tag of under $25) as opposed to the “5-Disc Limited Collectors Edition, Metal Box” version (which costs almost $130).
That said, Quadrophenia: Live in London makes for an incredible home video experience as well as a near-perfect representation of The Who’s “Quadrophenia + More” Tour. If you caught any date on the tour, this concert film makes for a fantastic souvenir. If you missed the tour outright and you are a fan of The Who’s “Maximum R&B” music, the Blu-ray of Quadrophenia: Live in London is as close to actually being there as you can possibly get without a time machine and a hefty ticket charge.