Review Summary: The Who drag Billy Idol and a large band along to help bring Quadrophenia to life onstage and fire on all cylinders in this excellent concert DVD. Don't get fooled again, this is the definitive live Quadrophenia experience.
The Who's Quadrophenia has always been a curiosity for many rock music fans. Released four years after the success of Tommy and coming on the heels of both Who's Next and Live At Leeds, the album tells the tale of a single young mod named Jimmy and the trials and tribulations of his life and times in early 1960's England. Considered a grand recording at the time and not well suited to be performed by a four piece band from the stage, The Who performed Quadrophenia on just one tour and gutted five songs from it after the very first night. The piece required the group to play to backing tapes of keyboards, horns, strings, and orchestral arrangements. Onstage Townshend needed no less then 20 guitar changes to perform it. And worse yet after it all feel apart singer Roger Daltrey would see fit to explain each song to the audience before it began, slowing the once fiery live band to a screeching halt between tunes. Needless to say it wasn't long before the "Quad" portion of the show was limited to three or four well chosen numbers before moving on to simpler Who fare.
23 years after the release of the album and several years after bringing Tommy to the stage with the "Big Band Who" (percussionist, keyboardist. percussion/keyboardist, second guitar, back up singers, full horn section, etc..) The Who decided to give Quadrophenia another go in '96-'97. Realizing they could now reproduce the album onstage, and handing the reigns over to singer Roger Daltrey to direct and tell the story in the production, The Who decided playing the album in "real time" while telling its tale via prerecorded film footage projected above the stage would be best. The result of this endeavor was released last Christmas along with a 1989 performance of Tommy and nearly two hours of bonus live "hits", in a three disc set that came in at a whopping $36. Thankfully good things come to those who wait, and last month the set was busted up with the single Quadrophenia disc priced under $15. Rock fans rejoice.
- The story of Quadrophenia is a simple one of frustrated adolescence and all the things that go with it. In this case its told through the eyes of a pill popping mod and his misadventures at home, in the streets, among his so called friends, with girls, at his place of work, with the mods sworn enemies (old school '50's hold outs the "rockers") and nights spent in the beach town of Brighton. Its a story with universal appeal and connectivity, yet wrapped in a package that may be familiar to Englander's alone with its tale of young middle class english mods, aging rockers, '60's England, eel pies, and London nightlife. The challenge for Townshend originally and again for Daltrey in these performances was to cut through the "Britishness" of it all and reduce it to the simple story of lost youth and eventual redemption that at its core it has always been. Described by Townshend as "an album long My Generation" Quadrophenia has always been a basic tale wrapped in a somewhat confusing package. These performances would do much to fix that. Even if some changing of Townshend's original vision had to be made to achieve it.
- Attempting to deliver the live experience to the home viewer the DVD presents itself as an "in arena" experience. The film which helps tell the story is shown not in studio clips, but rather as if you were sitting in the front row at the show viewing it on screen. It sounds live, you can hear the audience in the background, its use of new footage along with stock footage, clips from the '79 dramatic film version of Quadrophenia, and various shots of the band members onstage, works wonderfully to convey an intimacy not found on many concert DVD's. The story is told directly by clips put to music, but most of all through narrative dialogue at the beginning and end of many of its songs, as spoken by actor Alex Langdon as Jimmy. And while this may seem unusual at first viewing, and while the clips are sometimes shown at the expense of the band onstage, it all works brilliantly to convey a true concert experience at home. The only real complaint is of Alex Langdon as Jimmy. He over acts the way an actor needs to when playing to 20,000 people from a screen in a sports arena. And at home it leaves a very "in your face" impression, his voice booming, his face huge on the TV screen. Best advice is to sit back from the screen a bit to take in the entire event. These shows were big events. The DVD conveys that well. Maybe a bit too well in some instances.
- Always one of rocks great live bands, The Who (even in big band form) don't disappoint with the trio of Daltrey, Townshend, and Entwistle delivering the goods in full. Backed by Zak Starkey on drums, long time keyboardist John Bundrick, Simon Townshend on electric/lead guitar, and with the aforementioned ensemble suited up and ready to go, Quadrophenia comes to full life in a way it never has since its recording over 30 years ago. Thought to be too ambitious for a band like The Who upon its release, its explosiveness and wall of sound grandeur is undeniable in this setting and to hear it played straight through like this is a small revelation. Entwistle is thunderous and powerful, Townshend energetic and ferocious on his loud
and aggressive acoustic guitar (hearing problems kept him from electric) Daltrey strong (if hoarse throughout) in his vocal delivery. Adding to this original core group is the surprisingly powerful Zak Starkey and equally engaging Simon Townshend (Pete's brother) as they both play out their prominent placement in the band with verve and appropriate firepower. Add to this the sweeping keyboards, crashing percussion, blaring five peice horn section, plus a couple of well honed back up singers, and you have the recipe for a rock n roll musical extravaganza unmatched in recent DVD viewing memory. The album is performed front to back, and a beginning, middle, and end are easily conveyed by the songs and video put together. Most camera shots are kept to Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle, and Starkey alone to suggest tightness, and this works to keep the visuals from becoming too busy. P.J. Proby makes a couple of appearances to portray "The Godfather" and Billy Idol as well to play King Of All Mods "Ace Face". And while the inclusion of such "actors" may irritate some and the effect is clearly way over the top and cartoonish, again, in a showy live performance before 20,000 they had there place. And the DVD does well to keep them in it.
- Musical, mostly. Pete's brother Simon takes a turn on lead vocals for an excellent reading of "The Dirty Jobs" and Pete joins his brother mid song to harmonize, revealing the family connection as their voices become one and the camera captures them just so. The melancholy "Sea And Sand" with its video shots of dancing mods, rioting mods, scooter riding mods, and another appearance by Idol as "The Face". John Entwistle's bass "solo" during 5:15. The two musical pieces "Quadrophenia" and "The Rock" forming the spiritual center of the story, and rarely heard Who favorites such as "I've Had Enough", "Cut My Hair", "Bell Boy", and "Helpless Dancer". All conspire to make this a musical magnum opus that is hard to deny on any level. And it would be wrong not to mention Townshend's impassioned lead vocal parts where he nearly sings himself faint reaching for emotional places you seldom hear Pete reaching for in his singing. That alone is nearly worth the price of admission.
- The DVD is well shot and directed nicely. Everything is well lit and it has no weird color variations or inconsistencies often found on concert DVD's. The sound is excellent 5.1 Dolby and the video is presented in full screen format. Crowd shots are nil and the focus is kept on band, video screens, backing musicians, and guest performers. As concert DVD's go it's got a leg up on most in bringing you the full performance experience front and center and without compromise. DVD bonuses include a brief commentary concerning the Quadrophenia story and its coming to the stage and a full performance commentary/interview by Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. Running time for the primary performance is two hours twenty-two minutes.
So who is this DVD for? Well for any halfway interested Who fan, of course. But its also for any fan of (for lack of a better term) "classic rock", concept album aficionado, or concert DVD enthusiast who simply wants to add another to his or her collection. Musically generous, passionately performed, and expertly presented, Quadrophenia Live is a great performance by one of rocks great bands trying to tell a very simple story in a very dynamic way. Whether Townshend overreached all those years ago in creating such a vehicle for The Who is all water under the bridge now, as watching this DVD its clear why Quadrophenia is rightfully regarded as one of rocks all time great concept albums whether it was manageable way back in '73 or not. Hearing it now as it was originally intended it stands well alongside Pink Floyd's The Wall, The Band's Last Waltz, or The Who's own Tommy as one of rocks great, grand masterpieces for the ages. And at under $15 its certainly a bargain most any rock music fan can hardly afford to miss.