Revealing the many sides of The Who on the Quadrophenia and More tour

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The Who’s Quadrophenia focuses on a young man who struggles with four personalities, each represented in performance by a member of the band. The second rock opera by Pete Townshend, it was first performed in 1973. In 2012, for the band’s latest tour, Roger Daltrey re-envisioned it as the story of the band and those who have experienced the last half century with them. “This show is a fabulous, intimate look at The Who,” says the band’s longtime production designer Tom Kenny, who has also worked with the likes of George Harrison, David Bowie, Jimmy Page, Robert Plant, Eric Clapton, David Byrne, and on a wide variety of TV productions in the US and worldwide.

The visuals were created by Daltrey; producer and content director Colin Payne, of The Media Machine and a team including Dan Hardiker and Neil Hetherington, of Zeroh, as well as Chris Rule and Des Murphy. “Overall, Roger drew two conclusions: firstly, the need to move away from a narrator and guests on stage (usually featured in productions of Quadrophenia). Secondly, the desire to focus not just on the personalities of the original band members, but to add a new twist, the dimension of time: The Who now on stage and The Who then on the screens,” Payne explains. The mixing of the past and present is expressed dually through archival footage of the band and historic footage. “We referenced all the excellent postwar footage put together by graphic designer and music video producer Aubrey Powell for the previous shows but crucially were given total access to the entire Who archive,” he says. The archival footage includes Townshend smashing guitars during ‘Helpless Dancer;’ The Who in an earlier incarnation as the High Numbers in ‘The Punk and the Godfather;’ and a wide range of historic news footage. Factories appear during ‘The Dirty Jobs,’ WWII headlines run during the instrumental ‘Quadrophenia,’ and a montage that includes content related to Princess Diana’s death and 9/11 is used in ‘The Rock,’ Payne says. “It made total sense to use footage that tracks the development of the band, very much along the journey we see in Quadrophenia itself: the pull of youth, growing through difficult periods, questioning, fighting, exploring, celebrating, deeply emotive, angry, and loving: these really came through the films we saw.”

While the visuals for Quadrophenia are thematic, the approach to the songs in the hits section is distinctly different. “We view this section as a constantly evolving, live experience, we have banks and banks of cool visuals, which we can adapt and VJ along with the band, depending on song choices, mood, and energy,” Payne says. “We can follow and enhance and, in this way, the video can become as flexible as any of the musicians.”

Robert Collins, who handles front of house audio, has worked with The Who before and with Daltrey and Townshend on solo projects. He says simply, “I just love mixing.” To mix The Who, he has a DiGiCo SD7. “It’s a brilliant desk,” he adds. “Unlike most digital consoles, it’s very musical, and for me it mixes like an old analog desk.” For the PA, a d&b audiotechnik J-Series line array is provided by Eighth Day Sound Systems, of Cleveland. There are 18 front cabinets, 12 side fills, and six J-Series subs. The main hang has a mixture of J8 and J12s with J12s on the side hang. There are also three B2 subs on each side of the stage, and the back stage hang if used, is loaded with Q1s. Although Collins could have gone heavy on the subs and loud overall, he chooses not to. “Subs are overused, and generally we tend not to go that heavy with the sub sound,” he says. “I and the band want a really big sound but not a really loud show. And that’s the art of it.”

Once the Quadrophenia sequence is over, the band gives the audience some of its favorite songs. “Unlike other bands, The Who always plays their hits, so everyone can enjoy themselves,” Kenny notes. As the show ends, Daltrey and Townshend perform a touching and intimate song called ‘Tea & Theatre’, the two passions of English gentlemen. It is just another personal moment of a very personal show that traces the history of the musicians on stage and the collective history of the audience as well. Kenny, who is out with the tour, leaves the front of house to head off with the band. “Isn’t it a good bit of fun?” he asks with a smile.

With acknowledgement to Lighting and Sound America, Sharon Stancavage for the editorial content and Richard Termine for the photographs.

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