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November 22, 2012 12:10 am


Roger Daltrey (left) and Pete Townshend are touring with one of the greatest artistic works in the rock 'n' roll canon: their ambitious 1973 rock opera and album 'Quadrophenia.'



People may argue about the greatest rock band in the world, with names like The Rolling Stones and The Beatles touted with abandon.

But those in the know understand that the real spirit of rock lives and breathes with The Who.

Long live rock, be it dead or alive.

The Who, or at least half of them, are still most definitely alive, and still capable of some of the most honest moments in rock onstage--as they proved at their Verizon Center concert Nov. 13.

Love, reign o'er me, indeed. The band famed for smashing gear onstage brought their most tender yet ferocious album, "Quadrophenia," to Washington-area rock fans.

And though surviving original members Pete Townshend (he of the famed windmill guitar strums) and singer Roger Daltrey (he of the once raging voice and flowing locks) are now in their 6os, and though "Quadrophenia" deals with teenage alienation, the group made it real.

Confusion and class angst, it seems, are timeless qualities of the human condition.

Released in 1973, "Quadrophenia" is a rock opera that tells the story of Jimmy the mod, who is part of a Vespa-riding crew that fights the leather-clad rockers and takes Quaaludes. He, like many young men before and after, fails to get the girl of his dreams, and discovers that his friends and those he idolizes aren't all he thought they were.

The double-album's story helped define a rebellious path of self-discovery. A unique mix of power, rage, social observation and personal introspection, the music is marked by crescendo and retreat, the lyrics at once defiant and defeated.

Townshend has said of "Quadrophenia," even in recent interviews: "The music is the best music that I've ever written, I think, and it's the best album that I will ever write."

It's the power of the music and the honesty of the lyrics in "Quadrophenia," in the end, that helped The Who pull off the show at the Verizon Center last week. Daltrey still swings the mic in wide circles, but he's a little less of the godlike frontman than he was in the '70s, when the group defined stadium rock.

Indeed, tender is the word that best describes Daltrey these days. His voice isn't what it once was--after all, who could scream in his style for so long and expect it to survive? But where he strained to hit some notes, there was a visible dedication to the internal struggle that defines "Quadrophenia's" songs.

Daltrey, once the unconquerable lead singer, has, in a way, become an elder Jimmy the mod.

Can you see the real me? We can, Roger, and we appreciate it.

As for Pete Townshend, what can you say? He's still sincere, still focused, and still one of the greatest rock 'n' roll icons of all time.

Although not an original member, drummer Zack Starkey is phenomenal--a monster behind the kit and the only logical or even possible successor to the late, great drummer Keith Moon.

The Who once said "hope I die before I get old." But we can be glad that they're still here--older perhaps in body, but still full of the true spirit of rock 'n' roll.

Dave Smalley, former editor of the Weekender, is literally the old boss.

Copyright 2014 The Free Lance-Star Publishing Company.