When the announcement came last year that The Who would be visiting Tulsa in 2013, I (along with many other rock fans) rejoiced. When I saw the date, however, I did something of a double take.
While the arrival of rock legends and hall of famers Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey is worth celebration -- especially as they roll out a full production of Quadrophenia for its 40th anniversary -- booking the band on Feb. 14 seemed peculiar at best. In the back of my mind I could immediately picture the excitement of men everywhere at the chance to see The Who once again -- and the frustration of wives and girlfriends across town at the prospect of losing roses and a fine dinner for a thundering, loud rock concert. Fortunately for me, that's not an issue, but I digress ...
While booking The Who on Valentine's Day may not be the most romantic date in the books, it's definitely appropriate in that The Who is a band many classic rock fans have always loved. Revered as rock legends, Townshend's songwriting has always been as strong as -- if not ahead of -- his peers. When paired with the power of Daltrey's voice -- which for many classic rock fans is only rivaled by Robert Plant -- The Who at its peak was nearly a force of nature. Somehow, however, the group always seemed to be overshadowed by its peers, The Beatles and The Rolling Stones.
While the 1968 rock opera Tommy truly set The Who apart and established the band's status as an elite rock band, many would argue that it wasn't necessarily the band's finest moment or Townshend's crowning achievement. For a large segment of fans, Townshend perfected his storytelling skills and Daltrey gave one of his finest performances nearly five years later with the rock opera Quadrophenia.
The Who revived its seminal work in 1997 with a tour that saw the band play Quadrophenia in its entirety for the album's 25th anniversary. Last year, Townshend and Daltrey hit the road once more to give the album one more visit in a show that has continued to keep fans old and new enthralled.
When asked last year why he thought the music and themes of Quadrophenia (both the album and film adaptation) still resonate so strongly today, Townshend proved to be both reflective and insightful.
"In 1972, I was 28, writing about London and Brighton in 1963 and 1964 when the band was just starting," he said. "I was still young enough to remember how it felt to be 16 or 17 and at war with my parents, bosses, and authority. I could still remember that feeling of struggling to fit in, something that happened to me when I was even younger, around 14, and everyone around me seemed to have gotten their lives on track. This is such a universal experience for young people that it has echoed."
Indeed, the themes of alienation, class wars, and trying to fit in all resonate universally, regardless of the decade or if you grew up in England or the United States. Finding your place in life, along with acceptance and love is what everyone searches for on one level or another and the completion of that cycle as Quadrophenia closed with "The Rock" and "Love Reign O'er Me" not only drew the album to a close with a visceral high point, but also the resolution that everyone strives for.
Some 40 years later, however, listening habits have changed, and in the age of the iPod, many music fans are more single-oriented and not as interested in full albums. Meanwhile, as music and fashion tend to go in cycles and the album as an art form is starting to cycle back around, older fans crave the full experience. Classic acts have started performing their older albums in full, as The Who is with its current tour.
In July, "Raise the Question" asked Townshend: "In this single-driven digital age, there are artists now singing the praises of the album as an art form and playing their own albums from front to back on stage. Since Quadrophenia represents the album aesthetic in its highest form, what are your thoughts about the importance of albums these days for artists and the audiences?"
"Mod was over in the South of England by spring of 1965 and in a sense, the band had changed too," Townshend said. "We were less pure, less an R&B band and becoming more of a singles-oriented pop band. So there is an irony in the fact that when I decided we needed to reconnect with that vitally important and colorful period of our career and our lives as young men trying to pursue a dream of becoming famous and respected, I realized I would need a double album. I'm pleased to hear about artists who uphold the album as an art form."
"The digital medium is only starting to lend itself to (long form) work, so I expect to see more of it," Townshend continued. "It was once thought that new music fans had a low attention span, but what they reveal is immense commitment to researching what touches them most deeply, and as the Internet gets faster they can find what they seek more quickly. Once a connection is made, it can be extremely deep and long-lasting. This is really just another echo: This is how it was back in the '60s: singles first, then albums. Maybe the preponderance of singles on the Internet has made the album feel special again. Maybe the old way of listening to music -- in longer sittings -- is finding its way back into vogue?
When asked what songs from the album are Townshend's favorite to perform live, he said that he enjoys playing all of it, in that it's a unique piece of work. He did share, however, "The real high point for me is always the final song, 'Love Reign O'er Me.' Roger and I now stand almost alone together, representing not only the original band, but also its Mod audience, and of course, all our other early fans. We are connected by it, in what is the most clear-cut prayer for redemption, and it feels like an acknowledgement that rock music has managed to deal with the highest emotional challenge: spiritual desperation."
Granted, when Quadrophenia comes to a close, that's not the end of the show. Townshend and Daltrey return with the band to perform a selection of the band's tunes from other chapters in its history and acknowledge a long and storied career. With the current tour, however, The Who is once again celebrating one of its most classic albums and a brotherhood that, even despite previous rifts, continually binds Townshend and Daltrey together as musical soul mates and icons of rock from another era.
The Who will perform Quadrophenia in full (as well as more hits from the band's career) when it arrives at BOK Center on Thursday, Feb. 14. Tickets are still available and range from $39.50 to $129.50.
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