TED (a.k.a. The Who) / Me'Shell Ndegeocello
Madison Square Garden New York, NY
July 20, 1996
For six nights at Madison Square Garden, 90,000 Who fans were able to fulfill a lifelong dream - to see the epic Quadrophenia performed live, in its entirety, by the three remaining members of the band. Aside from the Prince's Trust concert in London, these six shows were the only scheduled performances. At Pete Townshend's request, the show was simply billed as Quadrophenia. "The Who" was not mentioned at all in the billing, or on the tickets. As far as Townshend's concerned, The Who is dead. For that reason (also to avoid typing all three of their names over and over), I'm going to refer to the band as TED (Townshend, Entwistle, & Daltrey) for the rest of this review.
Due to his well-publicized tinnitus problem, Townshend only played acoustic guitar during the performances. "To play the electric guitar, or rather to be comfortable playing, I have to play it loud," said Townshend in a radio interview. "Because of my ears, I physically can't consistently expose myself to loud noises. But the acoustic guitar . . . well you can feel that without having to turn it up, feel it vibrating against your chest and resonating in your head. So consequently, I'm a lot more comfortable with the acoustic these days."
Townshend's skill and prowess on the acoustic enhanced things tremendously. Along with Townshend, lead vocalist Roger Daltrey and bassist John Entwistle, there were eighteen people on stage at any given moment - including four backup singers, a horn section and two keyboardists. There were also two additional guitarists - Geoff Whitehorn on lead and Townshend's younger brother, Simon, on electric rhythm. Jodi Linscott did an excellent job on percussion, and Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr's son) was outstanding on the drums. The late Keith Moon (The Who's original drummer) gave Zak his first drum kit, and his influence was readily apparent.
British actor, Phil Daniels provided narration between the songs. Daniels played Jimmy (the story's main character) in the film version of Quadrophenia. For those not familiar with the complex story of a mod kid with four personalities, the narration tied things together. Also appearing onstage with TED were two 'special guests' - Billy Idol and Gary Glitter. Idol was perfect in his roles as Ace Face and the bell boy. He had the attitude and the swagger to boot. Dressed in leather with poofed up hair, Glitter looked ridiculous as he stumbled through his lines and missed his cues.
The lights went out as the ocean sounds of "I am the Sea" filled the air. Images of waves crashing against the beach appeared on the video screens. The waves changed into video clips of The Who smashing their equipment on the Smothers Brothers show, and other early footage. Daltrey screamed, "Can you see the real me, can ya... CAN YA?", the stage lights came up and TED burst into "The Real Me". Entwistle's fluid bass runs on the song were phenomenal. On the album's title track, the crowd got it's first taste of Starkey's drumming capability.
Townshend's first lead vocal of the night came on "Cut My Hair". He hit all his notes and even embellished on a few of them. When the song came to an end, a reporter appeared on the screen, talking about violence between 'rival gangs of mods and rockers'. As the news report faded, the band kicked into what was one of the most exciting songs of the evening - "The Punk and the Godfather". In addition to another stellar performance by Entwistle, this was also the first appearance of Gary Glitter. Unfortunately (or fortunately, as some would have it), there were several instances where you couldn't hear him at all.
The technical problems continued into "I'm One". There were several points toward the end of the song where Pete's guitar was inaudible. Simon Townshend took over lead vocals on "The Dirty Jobs". Decked out in his uniform, shades and hat, he looked cool and sounded great. Whitehorn got a chance to show off a bit on this one, adding a solo to the end of the song. One of the most intense and inspired moments of the show came during "Helpless Dancer", with Roger and Pete trading vocal lines back and forth.
"I've Had Enough" saw the return of Glitter, but this time, the comic relief made up for it. When it got to the point where he was supposed to sing "but things ain't quite that simple", he just stood there looking dumbfounded, then suddenly blurts out "SIMPLLLLE!". Billy Idol made his first appearance of the evening as Ace Face, the leader of the mods. The highlight of the song was when the four vocalists took turns singing the "I've had enough of living..." lines on the chorus. It was a nice touch, and added a new perspective to the song.
"5:15" was played with unmatched freshness and vitality. Entwistle's soaring bass solo on the song was spectacular. His ability and technique never cease to amaze me. Idol returned to the stage on "Sea and Sand", reprising his role as Ace Face. Townshend stepped back into the spotlight for a blistering solo acoustic version of "Drowned". After this, it no longer mattered that he wasn't playing electric. Idol came back again - this time in Keith Moon's bell boy role, completely outfitted for the part (including luggage).
"Dr. Jimmy" was undeniably better than any other performance of the song I've heard. Daltrey hit notes he hasn't hit since recording the album, including the high note on the line "the stars are falling..". It was as if he had been saving his voice for the end. From the start of the piano and drum intro to "The Rock", it was easy to anticipate the monumental finale just minutes away. Carin's complex synth string arrangements were everything they should be, and Whitehorn's solos were grand and majestic.
As the sounds of the storm emanated from the stage to signal the beginning of "Love, Reign O'er Me", the lights on the audience flashed in synch with the lightning on the screens. This song has always been a vocal workout for Daltrey, and his voice never sounded better. In all the times I've seen or heard The Who live, I had never heard him hit all the notes in this song on stage. Until tonight, that is. In an amazing feat of vocal acrobatics, he hit the final falsetto note and then proceeded to hold it for the full duration to end the set. Following a brief standing ovation (actually, the crowd was on it's feet throughout the entire show), the band played a rousing finale of "I'm the Face" as Roger re-introduced the guests.
After a short break, TED returned to the stage. Townshend walked up to the microphone and said, "We had a few little, kind of, technical problems tonight, and the promoter of the show has decided to give you all you money back... No, what the promoter has decided is that WE should give you your money back by coming out and playing you a few extra tunes." After an energetic "Behind Blue Eyes", the rest of the band left the stage to Townshend and Daltrey. They did a cool, stripped-down acoustic version of "Won't Get Fooled Again", performed with amazing energy and conviction. It was clear that they were having a great time onstage together. Once again, Townshend got to stretch out on the acoustic, with an extended solo at the end of the song.
The band came back after that for a roof-raising version of "Magic Bus", featuring Roger on harmonica. The biggest surprise of the night, though, was when Daltrey picked up an acoustic guitar and started playing "Naked Eye". He sang and played the first verse by himself, then was joined by the band for the rest of the song. As Townshend stepped to the microphone to sing his verses, his voice was at its peak. It's really amazing how well Townshend's and Daltrey's voices have held up over the years. They've never sounded better.
Me'Shell Ndegeocello turned in a brief, but impressive 30 minute opening set. Mixing funk with jazz, rhythm & blues, and a bit of rap, her songs were provocative, and on occasion, spiritual at the same time. She had a tight band of musicians onstage with her, and performed songs from both of her CDs. The guitar work was particularly impressive on several songs, especially on her hit "If That's Your Boyfriend (He Wasn't Last Night)" and "Ecclesiastes: Free My Heart" from her latest CD. While she was an unlikely candidate to be an opening act for a group like TED, she put on a good performance.
I went into this concert with high expectations, and it surpassed every one of them. It was refreshing to see that bands like TED are still capable of exhibiting such a degree of sheer power and brilliance onstage. The only way this could have been better is if Keith Moon were still alive. Without a doubt, the best concert of the year.
|© 1996 Steve Marshall|