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The Who, or what's left of them, dust off Quadrophenia for their Nashville debut

Who's First



"Too loud!"

That's a complaint that a great many sexagenarian concertgoer has shouted when leaving a show early. And it's what Pete Townshend — who'd once hoped to die before getting old, but got old anyway — recently reportedly proclaimed in Sunrise, Fla., where, during the penultimate song on the second date of The Who's current Quadrophenia and More Tour, he prematurely left the stage. The famously mercurial auteur didn't even bother to smash his guitar in a visual, visceral gesture of his frustration ... probably because it would have only made things louder. Instead Townshend simply laid his ax against his amp and casually ambled offstage. His band — of which frontman Roger Daltrey is the only other surviving member — seemed not to notice, launching straight into (and completing!) a Townshend-less show-closing "Baba O'Riley." Not since Elvis Presley keeled over on the john has rock 'n' roll seen a sadder sight.

Self-fulfilling his more morbid hopes and dreams isn't the only the thing Pete Townshend failed to do in his youth. He never made his mark on Music City. That's right: Over the course of The Who's decades-spanning amazing rock 'n' roll journey, the band never played Nashville. That makes this week's appearance at Bridgestone Arena a rare Who debut, with the band taking its 1973 epic concept record Quadrophenia to the stage.

Colloquially known as The Who's other full-scale rock opera, Quadrophenia tells the dense, aggressively British tale of Jimmy — an alienated, amphetamine-addled young mod driven mad (on a Vespa) by the turbulence of the times. Under the weight of riots, unemployment and an unstable family life, Jimmy develops a four-way split-personality disorder. Along the way, the double album features some of the band's most ambitious (and best) music — from the anthemic, infuriated indictment of bad psychologists "The Real Me" to the sweeping closer epic "Love, Reign o'er Me" and the glammy, horn-replete powerhouse "5:15" — but few of their commonly known catalog staples.

Townshend's decision to bring his longest-playing, hit-devoid, least-accessible and most-challenging magnum opus back on the road seems totally counterintuitive — driven by longstanding pride in the project. By Townshend's own admission, the original 1973 Quadrophenia Tour never matched the power or garnered the praise of the preceding Tommy Tour. And when the band first revisited Quadrophenia during a 1996 and 1997 reunion outing, the inclusion of guest vocalists, computer animation and a narrator arguably crowded and encumbered the music itself. The 2012 version of the show eschews such bells and whistles, with Townshend taking what looks like one last shot at fully realizing the album in the arena-sized setting it was written for.

On Quadrophenia, the four voices in Jimmy's head represent the four distinct personalities in The Who. Seeing as how two of those inimitable musical characters — and rock's all-time most singular rhythm section, bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon — are dead, Townshend's decision to dust off the record and revisit it with sonic stand-ins is also a little ironic.

The Who's current touring lineup features famed Entwistle understudy Pino Palladino, Pete Townshend's younger brother Simon Townshend on guitar, ace session keyboardists Chris Stainton and Loren Gold and musical director Frank Simes. But the backing band's main attraction is 47-year-old wunderkind drummer Zak Starkey. Son of Ringo Starr and godson to Keith Moon — who gave the stick-wielding son of a Beatle his first real drum kit — Starkey is heir to Moon the Loon's drum throne. On it, Starkey — who's been with the band since 1996 — dazzles with the best chaotically percussive Moon impression money can buy.

Casual, Quadrophrenically-unenlightened Who fans fear not: The "and More" encore portion of the Quadrophenia show still boasts Who classics like "Behind Blue Eyes," "Baba O'Riley" and, to the delight of CSI: Miami die-hards, "Won't Get Fooled Again" — set-list selections that for many rock fans might alone be worth the price of admission. Especially since Pete Townshend has, since leaving Florida, made it through all the band's shows with his well-greased windmill arm intact.


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