First saw The Who on their second farewell tour during the opening run of four shows at Giants Stadium back in 1989. It was fantastic...so good I bought tix for another night of that run. Since then I've caught a show on most of their US tours (including one of their six nights on the second - after the original - Quadrophenia tour run at Madison Square Garden in 1996). Without reviewing my ticket stubs, I believe last night(November 14, 2012)'s stop in Brooklyn was Who show number seven for me.
Would my first visit to the newly opened Barclays Center be lucky number seven and continue the run of great shows?
Sadly the answer was no.
Hopped on the train in Poughkeepsie and met up with my buddy Kevin (the biggest Who fan I know). Good ride down to Grand Central where we grabbed the #4 Subway to the Atlantic Avenue-Barclays stop. From there you get off the train, jump on the escalator and you are at the Barclays entrance. Gotta love this set up!
Barclays itself is quite nice. Super friendly and helpful staff in abundance. Lots of food choices if you're hungry (including Juniors Cheesecake - nice!). Maybe I need to investigate more, but the beer selection was limited. Standard Bud, Bud light, Coors and Heineken I believe. Some beer carts have Brooklyn Lager. Prices were typical. Our seats were the last row on the left side - you can see the view from the pics. Went with the cheapest seats - $53 including all charges...pretty cheap for an arena show.
Overall the actual arena area was nothing special - but the ease of getting and leaving there and food choices if you're running late and want to eat make it quite nice, but enough about the venue...
We did run a little late and got in a couple of minutes after 8:00pm (showtime was 7:30pm) so we missed opening band Vintage Trouble who's set ended as we were getting to our section after stopping for a beer.
We settled in and at 8:30 on the dot the lights dimmed. The beach/sea video used throughout the performance came up on the video screen and as the "I Am The Sea" was played on an otherwise unlit stage to audience cheers.
Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and company then kicked in to "The Real Me" and the audience was up on it's feet rocking, this was then followed by the instrumental song "Quadrophenia" and the trouble with the show began.
Throughout the song, which is something of a prelude with teases of the songs to follow, the audience started to sit. Let me add that much of this review regarding the audience does not apply to those on the floor, most of whom did stand for the entire show. I'm describing my section which was typical of most of the above floor sections of this near sold out show.
This song also gave a hint that it appeared much of this audience did NOT want to hear Quadrophenia in it's entirety, but mostly just wanted to hear "Love, Reign O'er Me", the closing track from the album. This song is teased right at the end of the song "Quadrophenia" and garnered a large cheer and people jumping up, only to sit down 20 seconds later when they realized The Who were not actually playing the song at this time.
The next song, "Cut My Hair" lost the majority of the rest of the audience with everyone just sitting politely. I thought "The Punk and The Godfather" would get them back as while not a "hit", this song gets substantial play on classic rock radio (or at least on WPDH - the local Poughkeepsie "Home of Rock n Roll"), but overall it was as if the excitement had been sucked out of the room. There was decent applause between songs but no electricity at all in the room.
This continued for the first 10 (of 17) songs of Quadrophenia.
I think part of the problem is that Quadrophenia is not necessarily "singles" friendly, but I know when I saw the band perform it in 1996 it was stellar and the crowd loved it. Was the band lacking?
I say somewhat here. In '96 you not only had the band, but also had the special guests (Billy Idol, Gary Glitter) who's appearances here and there throughout did add another level of excitement and cheers that would have helped immensely here. And let me repeat that...it was 1996...this is 16 years later...Pete is 67 and Roger is 68 and I'm sad to say this is the first time I've seen age (mostly in the case of Roger) having an effect on a Who show.
There was an oomph missing to many of the tracks. It would come back here and there...for instance I thought "The Dirty Jobs" was very strong and it woke the audience up a little - but most of the audience didn't know it so they could only get so excited.
This was just the wrong tour for most of this audience to attend - other than Kevin, no one sitting around me knew any of the songs that don't get radio play.
Back to the age issue. I don't think this was an issue for Pete. Pete was very strong both on vocals and guitar, particularly in the second half of the show, and Roger can still sing - but some of the songs just seemed too much of a vocal work out which we'll get to in a bit.
I wonder if the issue with Roger was the main reason for doing a "Quadrophenia" tour as opposed to a Greatest Hits tour as Roger has nothing to do during much of this part of the show. There are numerous 5 and sometimes almost 10 minute stretches where there are either no vocals or Pete (or Simon Townshend) is handling the vocal duties.
At an hour into the show, as The Who was performing "I've Had Enough", it was obvious that's how much of the audience felt. Let me note that it didn't help that there was absolutely NO interacion with the audience at all, not even a "Hello Brooklyn" when they came out. The Who would not acknowledge the audience until after Quadrophenia was complete.
I turned to Kevin as "I've Had Enough" was ending and said if anything will get them back into it, it would be the next song "5:15" with it's horns and plenty of airplay. This song would prove to be a bit of a turning point in the show.
Much of the audience did recognize the song and were into it, but then it started going into an extended outro and John Entwistle appeared on the video screen playing along with the band which turned into him playing a video bass solo jamming live with Zak Starkey on drums. I have to say it was very cool and the audience LOVED it and went nuts. It was the first time in the show since the opening that everyone was fully engaged.
At this point in the show, Pete stepped up his game partly because more of the remaining songs allowed for him to play power chord guitar God.
A strong "Sea and Sand" followed into "Drowned" and the audience was definitely more into it, but were slipping. Next up was "Bell Boy" were the video screen was another hit.
Roger sang the verses and then during the spoken parts, Keith Moon appeared on the video screen to perform with the live band on stage. Like with the video of the Ox in "5:15", the audience loved it and went wild.
We were now getting towards the end of the the main Quadrophenia set with another tune that gets some good airplay, "Dr. Jimmy." This also had the advantage of riding the Moon wave from "Bell Boy." I have to say this was one of the biggest songs Daltrey had issues with all night - I literally thought he might pass out and not make it through the song - he looked in pain trying to keep up and get the vocals out (although it did sound okay). "The Rock" was next and then the lights all went down and the big hit on the album, "Love Reign O'er Me," started.
This was another one Roger seemed to strain through to the point he took about a 1 second attempt at the final "LOOOVVVVVVVEEEEE" scream at the end and just gave it up - but the audience knew this one and as it closed out "Quadrophenia," they stood and cheered wildly. Out of the previous 90 minutes (which is exactly how long this portion of the show lasted), it was what they came to see (along with the 40 minutes to follow).
After this many of the stage lights came up and the band FINALLY addressed the audience for about 5 to 10 minutes while introducing the band.
The band would not leave the stage at all, it was now into the "Other Hits" part of the show.
They kept all of the audience on their feet through "Who Are You" but then suprisingly everyone started sitting down again for "Behind Blue Eyes". Both sounded fine, but that was the problem - I've seen them perform these and most of the remaining songs at every Who show I've ever attended and these did seem to have something missing. They were good, but not great.
Pinball Wizard was next and to me the best song of this set.
Then it was the one two punch of "Baba O'Riley" into "Won't Get Fooled Again." Everyone was up for these and they were again good versions and I'm guessing if I didn't have 6 other times seeing them to compare them to I would have liked them much more. The audience loved screaming "It's only teenage wasteland" in Baba and I didn't hold much hope for Roger to do what I consider the best rock scream in any song ever at the end of "Won't Get Fooled Again", but while he might have had some issues earlier in the show, he saved up and nailed that scream!
At this point the rest of the band left the stage, and as they've done of late, Roger and Pete end the show with "Tea & Theatre" which I think is a beautiful way to say goodnight.
So overall, I'm always glad to see The Who, but if this turns out to be their last tour, I wish they had not picked "Quadrophenia" and went with a career spanning show instead. At the same time, I knew what I was buying a ticket for and was glad to buy it (and let me strees - I LOVE the album "Quadrophenia") - I just don't understand why so much of the rest of the audience reaction was so tame when you go in knowing this. But again, out of the two hours and 10 minutes, about an hour was bonafide hits and that alone could be worth the price of admission. Perhaps they were thinking, to steal from the Stones who I'll see again in a month, that this could be the last time for The Who.
So it was a show of maybe's for me...maybe if I was young and just discovered the Who and loved Quadrophenia in particular and never saw them before and this was my first show of theirs...maybe, I think probably, I would have loved this show (if I was in a more excited section especially or on the floor especially). But of the seven times I've now seen The Who - it's the first time I left not loving it and thinking at times the band was going through the motions.
or maybe it was just a bad night.