When the Who chose to play its 1973 rock opera, “Quadrophenia,” in its entirety on this winter’s North American tour, the band invited speculation as to whether it’s following the recent trend of musicians doing tours based around an album from their back catalogs.
Guitarist Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey say, however, that the reasons they’re bringing “Quadrophenia” back to the concert stage (The Who also played the entire rock opera on a 1996-97 tour) are far more artistically driven.
“We’ve been trying to find something we could do together, Roger and I, for awhile,” Townshend said in a press conference. “We’ve gone off in slightly different directions. Roger’s been working with a new band. I’ve been developing new music and writing a book about my life (the newly published ‘Who I Am’). So we’ve really struggled to find something to do this time. In a sense, ‘Quadrophenia’ for us this time was something we both felt we could get together on and look at again … We’ve been anxious to work together before we drop dead.”
During press conference, the two founding members of the Who fielded a wide-ranging set of questions, most of which related to “Quadrophenia” and its lasting impact on rock.
“Quadrophenia” tells the story of a boy named Jimmy Cooper and his struggle to find his identity among friends and family, all set against that backdrop of early ’60s Britain. It was a time when two cultures — the mods and the rockers — were clashing and battling for supremacy.
It was also a time when the Who was getting started and Townshend was growing out of his period of teenage rebellion (against his parents and various forms of authority) into adulthood. The mod-movement died out around 1965. But the Who always has been identified with the mods, in part because of the link “Quadrophenia” provided to that period and because the story of Jimmy was seen as having parallels to the lives of Townshend and his bandmates.
For his part, Daltrey feels “Quadrophenia” resonates today — nearly 40 years after its release — because its themes and backdrops are similar for the youth of today.
“What I find really interesting now looking back on our lives, on our period, which is where we wrote it from, is how much of the historical significance of it and the events going on at the time are appropo completely to today. They’re not exactly the same events, but the same situations, enormous change,” Daltrey said.
“What’s great about doing it now is it’s still a work in progress,” he said. “We might even get it into some up-to-date modern show, very different from what we had in 1997. And I don’t know how many years I’ll be able to sing this music. My voice is great at the moment, so I’m just going to explore the possibilities.”
Touring “Quadrophenia” also makes sense because this outing, the Who’s first tour in four years, was preceded by last year’s release of a “Quadrophemia” box set and documentary film on the creation and making of the album, “The Who: Quadrophenia — Can You See the Real Me? The Story Behind The Album.”
Townshend said he views “Quadrophenia” as an important album for the Who in ways that go beyond its music. It also played a key role in reconnecting the group with its fans.
“In 1972-73, we had a really fantastic period of success, and what we needed was we needed to find our reflection in our fans,” the guitarist said. “And that’s kind of what that (‘Quadrophenia’) album came to be about. We just went into the studio, recorded the songs. The band was in peak condition, I have to say, as kind of a recording machine. The songs were good. Everything fell into place. The mix worked out very well. But looking back at it now, it’s easy to see what was actually great about it was the fact that it actually allowed us — we weren’t trying to be mods, we never felt like we were mods in the first place — but we reconnected with our audience. I think we really did.”
During the past decade, the Who has settled into a lineup of Townshend and Daltrey joined by drummer Zak Starkey and bassist Pino Palladino. For the current tour, they will be joined by guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete’s brother), musical director/keyboardist/backing vocalist Frank Simes, keyboardist Chris Stainton and keyboardist/backing vocalist Loren Gold.
Townshend said the current band has given him something of a new lease on life within the Who.
“I’m not saying what I do now is better than what I did then, but I do feel freer to explore (anew) what I did as a musician back then, but also to find new things,” Townshend said.
IF YOU GO What: The Who with Vintage Trouble When: Sunday, 7:30 p.m Where: Verizon Wireless Arena, 555 Elm St., Manchester, N.H. How: Tickets are $129.50, $82.50, $59.50. Call 603-868-7300 (Ticketmaster) or visit www.verizonwirelessarena.com/.