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Boo-Who

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Gene Shaw

Age Before Beauty: Dinosaur rockers Pete Townshend (right) and Roger Daltrey of the Who prove that the music business still has no workable retirement policy.

The Who relive the past with 'Quadrophenia' concert tour

By Gina Arnold

IN THE 18-ODD years since Who drummer Keith Moon passed away, Pete Townshend has kept busy in various creative ways. He's written a book and recorded solo albums, as well as turning in a new rock opera, Psychoderelict in 1993. Alas, the only successful things that Townshend has done in the interim are the ones that have plundered or revised his own earlier work: re-forming the Who, and turning the Tommy into a highly successful Broadway play.

Under the circumstances, you can't quite blame him for thinking that a revival of Quadrophenia--the 1973 rock opera that was made into a 1978 film--is in order. After all, it's not his fault that the public at large seems to be mad for nostalgia. And yet, there's still something distasteful about the project.

A new version of Quadrophenia--half rock concert, half rock opera, complete with actors and three former members of the Who augmented by numerous other musicians--is currently on tour and headed for San Jose.

My cynicism, however, may just be a hangover from having seen the work in progress. Last June, I attended "MasterCard Presents the Masters of Rock Concert (™)," billed in the oft-erroneous British press as "the largest rock concert ever held in London," "the largest rock concert held in Hyde Park since 1976" and "the largest gathering in London since the Royal Wedding in 1981."

It featured five acts: Jools Holland, Alanis Morissette, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton and "Pete Townshend and friends," his friends being Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and 14 other musicians, numerous singers and six actors. They performed Quadrophenia in its entirety, and it was later shown on HBO.

Live, the project was ostensibly a benefit for the prince's trust charity, but it was also a huge media hype, designed to occur in conjunction with the CD release of Quadrophenia. Some clever press officer even managed to get a rumor started that "special guests" would include an impromptu reunion of the remaining three Beatles--a rumor that kept sadly gullible journalists in their seats to the end.

Meanwhile, the newspapers in England kept on asserting that this was the first time Quadrophenia had ever been presented in concert. Not true. Quadrophenia was performed in America in 1974. The night of the performance, in San Francisco, drummer Keith Moon passed out halfway through the show and was replaced on drums by a random member of the audience. In Hyde Park, Moon was replaced on drums by Rabbit Bundrick and Zak "Son of Ringo" Starkey.

The London show was held in an enclosure running along Park Lane, stretching from Marble Arch back about a quarter of a mile. Although it was vast, it was also the smallest amount of space in which you could reasonably fit 150,000 people. At 4pm, the enclosure was full of fans, standing wall to wall, fence to fence, shoulder to shoulder, cheek to cheek. It was freezing cold and raining much of the time.

Quadrophenia began at 5:45, and alas, it was a mess. The staging was impossible to watch, and the voice-over made little connective sense. Worst of all, the size of the venue meant that the sound and the visuals were out of sync, so every character--Phil Daniels as the narrator, Gary Glitter as the Punk and Adrian Edmonson in Sting's role as the Bellboy (he'll be "played" by Billy Idol, the most useless man in rock, in San Jose)--looked like he'd been badly redubbed in a Japanese cartoon.

In short, it was a rout, a riot of money and advertising and cross-promotion. There is simply nothing fun about standing in a freezing cold field for nine hours, watching a bunch of dinosaurs lumber across some far-off TV screens. And the irony of it all is that Quadrophenia is the story of a boy who hates his background and looks to his rock & roll heroes to lead him out of the mire of modern life.

The music, however, actually holds up better then expected. Songs like "The Real Me," "Had Enough," "Cut My Hair," "The Punk Meets the Godfather," "Helpless Dancer" and "5:15" have been relatively underplayed on FM radio compared to so many other Who songs, and they sound great. Daltrey--who looks about 20 years younger than his mates--was in particularly fine form, and Townshend was quite moving on the solo acoustic number "Drowned."

The show wound up, as the record does, with "Love Reign O'er Me," followed by an encore of "5:15." In America, the band is playing a few old Who songs instead--a much more enjoyable way to end the show. Seen in a more congenial setting--seated indoors, with a sane number of people--Quadrophenia won't be the outrageously crass thing that it seemed in London. But it won't be a revelation, either.


The Who perform Saturday­Sunday (Oct. 19­20) at 8pm at the San Jose Arena, 525 W. Santa Clara St., San Jose. Tickets are $50. (BASS)

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From the October 17-23, 1996 issue of Metro

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