On its face, there were a number of things working against this release. After all, Quadrophenia: Live in London arrives after the passing of two key members of the always-battling Who. Time, you’d guess, has doused much of the youthful fire from remaining members Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend. And, let’s be honest, this particular narrative was never as beloved by the public as it was by Townshend himself — selling little more than 1981’s lightly regarded Face Dances, for instance.
And yet their new Universal Music DVD, Blu-ray and CD, capturing a complete reading of Quadrophenia from July 2013 at Wembley Arena plus six more Who favorites, storms out with an impressive brio. Daltrey’s voice has appreciably aged, Townshend’s windmill has slowed. But they hold nothing back. The addition of a few smart updates to their theme of youthful upheaval in 1960s London gives Quadrophenia: Live in London a swift kick in the pants, too.
Meanwhile, the concert setting plays to this album’s innate strengths as a true song cycle, rather than a series of tunes. Even more so than the Who’s frankly overhyped Tommy, the dense and utterly interconnected Quadrophenia was meant to be digested in one sitting — as with a novel. Quadrophenia: Live in London casts an engrossing spell, without any need to dash to the turn table for a quick flip of the vinyl.
That’s not all that’s changed, as archival footage of the group via giant HD screen backdrops makes clear. The late John Entwistle and Keith Moon make ghostly, darkly touching appearances there, joining the Who again for “5:15″ and “Bell Boy,” respectively. But the Who also includes images of historical moments which would have impacted the ’60s-era mod generation along the way, connecting the dots and the years again and again.
Surprisingly vital, this third-act live take on the Who’s second rock opera ends up smashing expectations like Townshend used to smash guitars. That is to say, completely.