Yesterday and Today

What the years have done to the Who.

Unfortunately, the passage of more than two decades has made the bandmembers singularly inappropriate to act out the piece. While the central character, Jimmy, was portrayed in video clips by actor Phil Daniels (himself seventeen years older than he was when he starred in the solid 1979 film version of Quadrophenia), Daltrey was put in the position of personifying him in a concert setting--and, to put it bluntly, this 52-year-old man, fit though he appeared, could never pass for a teenager. The tale has always been a nostalgic one, but in the Seventies the Who's players weren't all that far removed, age-wise, from the adolescent characters. At McNichols circa 1996, though, Townshend looked like Jimmy's grandfather, and even Daltrey couldn't make lines like "The kids at school/Have parents that seem so cool" (from "Cut My Hair") seem anything other than anachronistic. The result was something like watching a fiftyish Judy Garland in a stage version of The Wizard of Oz. A few moments--like a rousing version of "5:15" and Townshend's solo turn, "Drowned"--exhibited genuine power, and the gig as a whole was professional and fairly pleasant. But the encore, in which Townshend and Daltrey turned out an acoustic "Won't Get Fooled Again" that sounded about as forceful as a campfire version of "On Top of Old Smokey," put the evening in perspective. The life that had been obvious to witnesses of the 1979 show was still present, but there wasn't a whole lot of it left to go around. Maybe it was because of Townshend's well-documented tinnitus, but the concert was simply too sedate. Youthful rebellion never seemed so old-fashioned.

Then: As the Who disappeared from sight and the lights came up, I immediately realized that the show was the single best I'd seen to that point. And while I've seen hundreds upon hundreds of concerts since then, the Who at McNichols in 1979 remains one of my five or six favorites.

Now: For the most part, the grownups seemed to enjoy Quadrophenia--but I couldn't help but wonder about the kids. Most of them probably went home, popped a CD by Pantera (the band, not the car) into their player and turned it up loud. Because these days, the Who can leave you hungry for some rock and roll.

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