The Who play Quadrophenia at Target Center, 11/27/12

Categories: Last Night
Photos by Steve Cohen

The Who
Target Center, Minneapolis
Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Parsing out the good and the bad from the Who's performance at Target Center has an added gravity to it. Here's a band that has spent nearly 50 years shaping the structure that we call rock 'n' roll today -- not only the speaker-puncturing antics of a live act, but also the ongoing meta approach that leads to titling an album The Who Sell Out and letting their humanity be just as much a part of the pageantry as the music itself.

Eventually our heroes' humanity catches up with them. Guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend is 67 and nearly deaf. Lead singer Roger Daltrey is 68 and has to fight to get the notes out at times. The rock opera Quadrophenia is 40, but its theme of split personalities gains more relevance daily as our lives become further divided into social media quadrants. Keith Moon and John Entwistle aren't celebrating birthdays any longer, but the Who carried on Tuesday without forgetting them.

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Slideshow: The Who at Target Center 11/27/12

The stage motifs for the Who's performance were pretty simple by today's ever-expanding stadium standards. On a rectangular stage -- no moving parts or catwalks or fire-breathing cannons -- it was Daltrey, Townshend, guitarist Simon Townshend, bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Zak Starkey, and a supporting cast of multi-instrumentalists handling keys, brass and the extra touches that Quadrophenia requires. Occasionally, there were some flourishes and strobing with the lights, and some topical backdrop came from the video screens positioned around them, but mostly this was a showcase of what the surviving Who can still do.

Launching right into the rock opera's opening numbers, "I Am the Sea/The Real Me," Daltrey showed he was still willing to acrobatically twirl his microphone on its cord -- perhaps a little slower and with more concentration than in years past, but still. With a white dress shirt under his blazer that gradually seemed to unbutton to reveal a still-chiseled physique, Daltrey has maintained his frontman appearance. As for his singing, it was a long night of vocal chin-ups that occasionally didn't quite clear the bar.

Photos by Steve Cohen

The bearded Townshend, clad in a red-and-white checked button down, did his best to shake off the years to windmill and beat up his cherry-colored Strat, and even got a few choice hops in as "Quadrophenia" got underway. For "Cut My Hair," he took over the lead vocals. With eyes closed and arms gesturing, he growled through the universal tale of the clashes between parental expectations and youthful desires.

His lyric "I work myself to death just to fit in" proved poignant since both departed Who members Keith Moon and John Entwistle's rock 'n' roll livestyles sped their deaths. Their contributions to Quadrophenia were lovingly added via the video screens. "5:15" was the departed bassist's moment to glisten via one of the most complex and inventive bass solos ever created. Meanwhile, Moon got his moment on the screens in a rare singing role for "Bell Boy." In both cases, there was no pause in the mounting flow of the story -- as quickly as these images of their fallen brothers appeared, they were replaced by more vintage newsreel and crashing waves. The show had no choice but to go on.

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