My son and I have waited many months for this, the promise of third row tickets on Pete’s side of the stage and access to the afternoon’s sound check. This won’t be the first time I’ve seen The Who, but it will be the first with my boy and the first from such a luxurious spot.
It’s bound to be a strange night, with the ghosts of The Ox and Moony swirling around the stage and Roger’s golden god physique now that of a golden granddad. But the music, 1973’s towering Quadrophenia, remains timeless.
Music outlives its composers and performers. As aging rock fans I think we need to accept that; otherwise, we’ll never hear our favorite works performed again.
The boy and I hit the freeway in the late morning, eastbound and down. My upbringing did not prepare me for the possibility that my kids someday would be my best friends, but my son and I crank the ridiculous stereo in my even more ridiculous car and we enjoy two hours of road trip. I’m not nineteen again, but I may as well be. I enjoy hanging out with the kid every bit as much as I did Lee G., Hal The Drummer, or any of the various vandals, hooligans, and ne’er-do-wells of my childhood.
We wind our way up I-80, from the near sea level floor of California’s Central Valley to the alpine terrain of the Sierra Nevada, one thousand, two thousand, three thousand feet. The mountains jut from the horizon and the air is dry and cool. We couldn’t be farther from Beachy Head, but Quadrophenia soundtracks the trip anyway.
By the time we reach Truckee we’re near 7,000 feet. We cross the pass named for the ill-fated Donner Party, that group of 84 unlucky pioneers who in 1846 found themselves pinned in by bad weather. When their ordeal was over only 48 remained. Those survivors sustained themselves by consuming the deceased; the departed enabling their friends to carry on.
Once we hit the high desert and the odd little town of Reno, Nevada, we ditch my ridiculous car in the casino hotel’s parking garage and set out for a quick bite. Our Who experience starts early — around 4:00 — so it’s now or never. Never might have been the better choice: casino food is, well, it’s calories.
Reno was my clever little gambit on this tour. We could have road tripped to the Oracle Arena or Staples Center shows, but both of those venues hold about 20,000 old farts reliving their glory days. The Reno Event Center, on the other hand, has a capacity of 7,500. That’s about as intimate of a setting I’m ever going to see for a Who show. But here’s the gamble: The Who virtually invented arena rock, their huge anthems designed for the enormous sheds. Will a crowd of seven grand bring enough bombast?
They do. Of course, the crowd always has a vested interest in liking a show, or as Pete put it during sound check, “Once you’ve bought the hot dog you have to eat it.” There are a couple of rough spots — Pete’s voice sounds bruised and battered tonight, but the gravel just adds character. There’s a missed cue here or there, but who cares? It’s fucking Quadrophenia and it’s live and this opportunity may never come along again.
Roger and Pete don’t forget those who didn’t make it across the pass. During “5:15” John Entwistle’s blistering solo is projected, only drummer Zak Starkey playing along live. It’s a touching moment and a sad reminder that although Pino Pallidino ably holds down the bottom end, losing The Ox took the heart out of The Who.
As for Moon the Loon, “Bellboy” was always his shining moment in Quadrophenia, and it still is tonight. Watching him sing from somewhere forty years away is a melancholy moment, to say the least.
Daltrey put together one more brilliant melancholy moment for the evening: a video collage to accompany “The Rock” that covers fifty years of world history. It’s a compelling piece of theater.
Listen, I’m tired and I’m flattering myself thinking that you’re here to read my thoughts on the evening. You want a set list and some pics, so let’s get it done:
- I Am the Sea
- The Real Me
- Cut My Hair
- The Punk and the Godfather
- I’m One
- The Dirty Jobs
- Helpless Dancer
- Is It in My Head?
- I’ve Had Enough
- Sea and Sand
- Bell Boy
- Doctor Jimmy
- The Rock
- Love, Reign O’er Me
- Who Are You
- Behind Blue Eyes
- Pinball Wizard
- Baba O’Riley
- Won’t Get Fooled Again
- Tea & Theatre
You are welcome to reuse the following photos, but please attribute them to http://www.jamesostafford.com.