When a friend asked me last summer if I wanted to see the Who at the Barclays Center in November, I said yes, but not without reservations.
A Who fanatic through high school, college, and early adulthood, I’d seen them once before, in 1989, when we were both a lot younger, they in their 40’s, I in my 20’s, when it was easier to pretend that they were a band in their prime.
So it was with some trepidation that I headed to the Barclays Center last Thursday night, and with satisfaction that I left it.
First impressions of the venue are that it’s gone overboard in an attempt for sleek, Brooklyn coolness. Its darkness—both in décor and in lighting—feels more foreboding than urban hip, and at least for this particular event, which did not pack the house, the arena itself felt like a vacuous barn.
The men on the stage were undeniably old, and someone tweeted to me during the show, “Enjoy the Two!”, referring to the absent Keith Moon, who died in 1978, and John Entwistle, who died in 2002.
But instead of avoiding the passing of their youth and bandmates, Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend invoked them, the screens behind the stage regularly displaying images of the very young Who, in their 30’s when Quadrophenia, the centerpiece of the show, was released in 1973.
At several points, the musicians on the screen replaced those on the stage, bass player Pino Palladino stepping aside during one number so that Entwistle’s performance, projected on the screen, is the one that the audience heard; Keith Moon reprised his role as the Bell Boy in the song of the same name and treated those in attendance to an extended drum solo, while current drummer Zak Starkey (son of Ringo Starr) looked on.
Quadrophenia is the story of a British mod in the 1960’s, and the band played it, uninterrupted, start to finish; while the quality and complexity of the music stand up nearly 40 years later, a sense of anachronism couldn’t help but pervade the performances of two men in their late 60s singing about youthful disaffection.
The largely middle-aged Barclays Center crowd received appreciatively the performance of Quadrophenia, but predictably, it was the “greatest hits” part of the show (“Who Are You?”, “Baba O’Riley,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again”) that brought it to its feet.
Known for transcendent live performances in its heyday, this version of the Who set more modest goals and achieved them, successfully linking the band’s past and present. And if the performances relied a little too heavily on the band’s former selves, the audience was happy to indulge them.
Were you there? What did you think?
Photo: Alison Wright via Twitter