It’s easy to get cynical about a band who’s been around significantly longer than you’ve been alive brushing the dust off their collective shoulders and heading out on tour. Motivation gets called into question (why bother with the road so late in their career if not to cash in on their earlier success and hawk a bunch of $40 T-shirts?). Smirks and pointed looks are exchanged when a frontman who is pushing 70 plays a good-sized chunk of the show bare-chested, clad in a rather snug pair of jeans. At times it can seem a little silly, and perhaps a touch of that cynicism is warranted, but when it comes to the nostalgia circuit, you could sure do a lot worse than The Who at Gwinnett Center in Atlanta, Ga.
After a strong opening set by Vintage Trouble (who seemed right at home in the arena setting), the band—which now consists of founding members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend as well as bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Zak Starkey and Townshend’s brother Simon on guitar and backup vocals—played through Quadrophenia in its entirety before appeasing more casual fans with an encore that included hits like “Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “The Kids Are Alright” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”
Were there hiccups? Sure. Daltrey missed a cue after seemingly getting tangled in the wiring of his in-ear monitor (prompting Townshend to ask “What the fuck is going on over there?”), and some technical issues caused Townshend to muff a guitar solo. But as a whole, it was an incredible showing by one of the few groups of their generation who genuinely seem willing to shake things up on tour.
Contemporaries like The Beach Boys and The Rolling Stones have fallen into the jukebox-of-hits pattern with their live shows, but The Who are to be commended for being bold enough to trot out the dense concept album. Dearly departed members each got their moments to shine via video projections—John Entwistle turned in a stunning bass solo on “5:15,” and Keith Moon drew some of the night’s most enthusiastic cheers when he appeared to deliver his vocal parts on “Bell Boy.” This wasn’t a “hologram Tupac” scenario in the slightest—the projections were worked into the set tastefully, and the sound was seamless enough that you’d swear Moon and Entwistle were actually in the arena.
Besides their fallen bandmates, The Who used their light show to illustrate the Quadrophenia tale with the shots of Brighton Beach, mods and rockers you might expect, but perhaps most importantly, to remind us of where they’ve been. Watching early footage of Daltrey twirling microphones and Townshend smashing guitars and then glancing back to the action onstage to see plenty of the same—no smashed instruments, but a healthy amount of enthusiastic windmilling from Townshend—it was clear that age hasn’t slowed them down much yet.
Daltrey in particular was in great form, his voice showing virtually no weakness on soaring tracks like “Love Reign O’er Me.” And when he let loose with that undeniable scream on “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” it was more than enough to send the crowd into its own yelps of ecstasy.
Near the end of the Quadrophenia set, the video screens played a montage that felt almost like a crash course on 50 years of history. Footage of Vietnam, Richard Nixon and the fall of the Berlin Wall was intercut with scenes from 9/11, Occupy Wall St. protests and even a “Free Pussy Riot” sign. Whether intentional or not, the message seemed to be “these guys have been around for all of this,” and if this current tour is any indication, they won’t be leaving us anytime soon.