Rock and roll opera reigns: The Who rocks Louisville with “Quadrophenia”

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Photos by C. Michael Stewart

By BRADEN LAMMERS

Forty years after its release, The Who’s “Quadrophenia” still resonates with its fans.

The second rock opera produced by the rock ‘n’ roll legends tells the story of Jimmy, a schizophrenic, mod — a reference to the British youth subculture — set in London and Brighton in 1965. The schizophrenic personalities of the main character Jimmy are supposed to match the personalities of the original band members of The Who.

The autobiographical nature of the rock opera was on full display in this version of “Quadrophenia” that included clips of the band, back to its inception in 1964. At the end of the show, Pete Townshend, who composed “Quadrophenia,” referenced the various iterations of the rock opera over the years. The production of this incarnation of the show he credited to singer Roger Daltry and his creative team.

It was clear from the moment the lights at the KFC Yum! Center went down, the night was all about the rock ‘n’ roll legends. For a band that has such a history and tremendous success, the risk becomes that they become caricatures of their former selves in the twilight of their careers.

The risk is enhanced when there is a blatant homage to the band’s legendary past built into the story of Jimmy. But Townshend and Daltry navigated the terrain by acknowledging their rock status and moving on. It helped that they put on a solid rock show that lasted more than two hours straight through.

Townshend and Daltry were joined Saturday by Zak Starkey (drums), Pino Palladino (bass), Simon Townshend (guitar/backing vocals), Chris Stainton (keyboards), Loren Gold (keyboards/backing vocals) and Frank Simes (musical director, keyboards/backing vocals).

But touches that connected to the band’s past and “Jimmy’s personalities” came in the form of a bass solo by the late John Entwistle on “5:15” and the late Keith Moon singing on “Bell Boy” piped in on the video screen with the rest of the band playing along.

Again, the nod to the group’s past flowed into the story of “Quadrophenia” and created an immersive experience for the audience.

A cathartic culmination to the rock opera and a highlight of the show was “Love, Reign O’er Me.”

When “Quadrophenia” wrapped up, Townshend and Daltry took time to introduce the band and then immediately launched into their “and more” portion of the tour.

The Who played an encore of their hit songs starting with “Who Are You?” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Pinball Wizard.” They took the Yum! Center audience from the emotional roller coaster of “Quadrophenia” to the euphoria of a pure rock show. They played a raucous version of “Baba O’Riley” and despite some technical difficulties on “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” they had enough left for one more song.

With just Daltry and Townshend on stage, they played an acoustic version of “Tea and Theatre” to close out the show.

There were no more encores, no obligatory 15 minute break before coming back out on stage. The Who had given a great performance. Granted it may have been with less energy than they likely did in 1973, but Daltry and Townshend, now well into their 60s, were not a pale imitation of their past.

The Who showed Louisville why they are rock ‘n’ roll legends and why they still command that status.

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About hoosierhits
The music blog of the News and Tribune, Jeffersonville & New Albany, Ind.

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