Review by Suzanity
After Atlanta, spent a couple nights in a cabin on a hill, just a short walk through woods to the beach. Quite a treat for me to have woods and ocean so close together, enjoyed it to the full. Spent a whole afternoon on the beach, bundled up against November, watching the waves. Exactly the meditative break I needed; made some new friends, wish I could have stayed. But then, maybe sometime I can go back.
Pulled into Greenville a few hours before the show, just time enough for a very long shower, a short nap, and a cup of coffee. I needed to get town-clean again! After the simplicity of the cabin, average luxury of a hotel room seemed overwhelming and it was the next day, the next hotel before I could really adjust. That second hotel, the Biltmore in Greensboro, was a treat; a former brothel (yes, really) turned boutique, it used to have a still in the basement and one way or another has been in continuous operation for over a century. Restoration beautifully done, rates reasonable, breakfast great, and I'd highly recommend the place to anyone traveling in the area. In the lobby is the largest geode I've ever seen in person, about two feet across, filled with amethyst.
The two shows of this loop are linked by contrast. There's several ways to measure the quality of shows, and we all have our favorites; I tend to not so much call a show good or bad as to evaluate where it falls on a couple of different spectrums. One of these runs from technical perfection on one end to complete abandon on the other. From where I was watching, Greenville was more about abandon, Greensboro had less fuckups. Still plenty of passion, but less expressive, more dedicated to offsetting the gaffes of the night before. Funny thing is, I don't mind gaffes; I like abandon and a sense of fun. I'll forgive a lot as long as those are present, as they were on both nights.
Post-Quad setlist reflected one change from Atlanta: Pinball Wizard instead of The Kids Are Alright. Visuals for that featured a pinball that sometimes looked like the earth, sometimes like a Magic 8 ball, and at times had those wonderful Tommy birds in orbit. I was a little close to the stage to get the full effect, but hey, I'm not complaining! The sharks are gone from Won't Get Fooled Again, replaced by sort of giant pixels of color and images of surveillance cameras, the dreamy but menacing hypnosis of swimming predators replaced by a more pointed message, something like: we see you, Big Brother. Watch us all you want; we're watching you right back.
I am the Sea: Greensboro, watching Roger get set to kick things off with that initial snarl, got a sense of the realness of all this, the utter serious intensity. He nails it; off we go.
The Real Me: it always takes a couple songs to really get going, though this song has such good bones it can hold up to almost anything. Always one of my favorites. Bit distracted in Greenville trying to get pictures for a new friend; I don't usually bother with that, preferring others' more professional efforts and the images in my head, but this was a promise. Unfortunately, I mistyped the fellow's phone number in my cell phone and couldn't forward them. If you're reading this, man, contact me!
Quadrophenia: Wedding of visuals and music. Superb.
Cut My Hair: Pete really in character as the archetypical snotty teen, here and in comments between songs, which were often very, very funny. For instance, after 5:15 in Greenville, he referred to himself and Roger as graverobbers and worse: "Vampires! Yes, we're vampires!" Raising the dead--sort of. In Greensboro, he talked about John's soul "flapping around Vegas looking for cocaine." Some fans might have taken this amiss, but it really didn't bother me, especially after Pete included himself in the joke: "Well, that's where I'll go when I die!"
Punk and the Godfather: I've done a little talking with my former selves, too. It usually works out pretty well. I often learn a thing or two in hindsight, and some of those past mes could use the encouragement!
I'm One: This always brings up memories of a handsome, badly damaged friend at a party long ago giving a rare display of his massive but tragically hidden talent. His spontaneous performance of this song still rivals anything I've heard on album or stage. Pete tops him of course, but barely.
The Dirty Jobs: Always great to see Simon shine! It's good to have different voices for this and Bellboy, as they're the only two outside characters. While the rest of album features the classic four voices of dreamer, lunatic, tough guy and romantic, those four voices are all in Jimmy's head. The drama of the album comes not from a conventional plot but from conflicts and overlaps and conversations between these voices, from the increasing chaos between them. This escalating crisis is conveyed not only through lyrical content but in the way some lines are repeated and echoed in different songs, swapped around both on album and on stage. The beauty of this is, it doesn't matter who sings what; the voices aren't actually different characters like in Tommy. Everyone's Jimmy; in a sense, Jimmy is everyone.
Helpless Dancer: Have always loved the furious intensity of this song. Pete drops and softens his tone on "lesbians and queers;" could be taken as disrespectful to the song, respectful to possible audience opinions, or either way to the persons referenced. I just take it as a funny note, mildly sarcastic and in keeping with the persona he adopts for this set.
Is It In My Head: This one still clearly calls up that time over twenty years ago when, yes, "Quadrophenia saved my life," or at least kept me going long enough to find the things that would offer me the option to save it. Hey there, former self. Good to see you, but please don't hang around. From here out, intensity is relentless and goes without saying.
I've Had Enough: Tommy is about the focusing and growth of consciousness; Quad is about consciousness shattering. This is where things begin to get truly serious, and Jimmy begins to really break apart.
5:15: Monumental, both nights. The long break is one of those places where Pete and Roger actually play off each other; this is beginning to seem more natural and friendly. Roger's vocal improvisations great and getting better: take me up, take me higher, coming down, then: "I hear thunder." Oh. Hell. Yeah.
Sea and Sand: In Greensboro, Roger seemed to concentrate very hard to avoid the lyrical gaffes of the night before. He even used a stand like Pete's, discreetly set back by his water and tea (or whatever's really in that mug...), serving a similar purpose, a little refresher to keep things going. As he said about "senior moments," at this point it's allowed. It worked; only goof of the night that I recall was the final line of this song before it flies off into "I'm the face." I don't recall him ever hitting it live; leaving it out could almost be considered a performance norm rather than an error. After all, singing isn't just about hitting notes and remembering words, it's about timing, and beyond that, phrasing. The timing on this particular line is brutal; it comes in just a shade later than you'd expect but can't come even a split second after that, and there's no second chances.
To be fair, as best I recall in live performance the band itself also leaves out that silence, that hesitant indication of insight between "sand" and the instrumental vamp that seeks to negate it and leads into "I'm the face if you want it." That turn, that moment is very tricky but when it works is a perfect example of the play of insight and denial permeating this work on every level, not just the lyrics. Exquisitely written; probably tortuous to perform.
Drowned: nothing accidental about Pete singing this one, either night. Images in my mind overshadowing those on the screens: the beach, another cabin I visited by a lagoon, the footbridge across it. Waves and more waves, tide pools building and evaporating, slow shift of colors toward sunset, footprints in the dunes, shells that become signs. Less prevalent the second night, but still there. Think some of those colors might be permanent.
Bell Boy: Roger takes back control of the crowd, then cheerfully hands it over to the screens. Maybe someone more alert to these things could tell me if that's a performance vocal taped with the visual, or the album version skilfully dubbed over. Sounds too clean for performance to me, but the matchup is really well done.
Doctor Jimmy: The most potentially problematic line of the album, especially for a female fan, lurks here: "I'll rape it." "First in" is a little difficult too, but for me slightly less so. The aggression there aims more at the boyfriend than the girl herself; her virginity is treated as a prize to be stolen from its expected claimant. An annoying and objectifying perspective, but not uncommon or directly threatening. Rape threats are another story. I tend to deal with it here by seeing this more as bravado than actual threat. Singing that line isn't necessarily a declaration of intent; it can simply support the project, the exploration of personal shattering going on here, a shattering so intense it breaks down even the strongest boundaries of culture and conscience.
This song is the one I most identified with back in the day, that struggle with a ferocious alter ego, the terrible joys of indulging it, the way conscience slithers in and taps you on the shoulder, brings guilt that robs you of pleasure without taming the beast inside. It takes a lot more than guilt to do that; the looming crisis that can is exactly what you look over your shoulder hoping not to see, a tsunami of consequence that will drown you in ways you can't swim through.
It's not just Mr. Jim (or Hyde) Jimmy's afraid of. Those instrumental interruptions to Hyde's rant indicate fear of something else: of a softer side, the Romantic. Jimmy's hunted and haunted not just by nightmares but by daydreams, and they're catching up with him.
Another song that's monumental both nights, Roger doing an especially fine job getting the shades and trumpets of emotion across.
The Rock: Love Reign O'er Me isn't the resolution. This piece is. The two instrumentals serve as gates in and out of crisis. By bringing all the themes together, reintegrating, reversing by echo the shattering that begins with Quadrophenia, without a word The Rock says fuck you to death itself. I'm one, all right, and you will not get through me.
And that is how it saved my life: by reminding me that anger and defiance have survival value. It's okay to feel them, to say fuck you sometimes. You can get past the shattering.
Love Reign O'er Me: marred in Greenville not so much by Roger's error as by his reaction to it. He seemed a bit swept away that night, and it was fine to see, though it took a toll on accuracy. In Greensboro, though, this was a sheer bolt of focus and passion. Bravo.
This song isn't so much resolution as that post-coital moment of bliss, the sublime cosmic afterglow that really seals the deal. The ocean smoking a cigarette--then rising to roil again.
Introducing the band, Pete also gives Roger and his creative team full recognition for putting together the visuals. Then he says "And I just wrote the fucking thing."
Well, there is that...
But writing is a solitary art, with its own dangers and compensations. The aim of performance is to bring what's written to life, not supplant it. Sort of like the journey from head to page, the journey from page to stage is gonna change things. What it doesn't change is the way performance depends on writing, nor the reality or authorship of what's been written. You could say that writing often gets overlooked; you could also say that every time a work is performed, its writing and its author are absolutely flaunted in a way no print version ever could do: performance is a writer's highest praise.
By the way, Roger's shirt stayed open in Greensboro. Same outfit all three nights; if it ain't broke, don't fix it. I don't tend to notice Pete's attire as much, since it's not part of the show the way Roger's is. But he's also looking good on this tour.
Baba O'Riley: especially effective in Greensboro. Nailed it.
Roger's shooting-up mime just after "they're all wasted" continues to gain realism and accuracy. About a year ago I saw him tap up a vein; now he's also tying off with the mic cord. What was a brief joke is becoming a bit sinister and disturbing, a way to wordlessly underscore a point Pete has made in interviews: that lyric doesn't celebrate drugs. It comments on the damage they can do.
Pinball Wizard: After Roger's tour last year, must confess I'm a bit Tommied out; liked hearing The Kids Are Alright better, though that's just me. This is a crowd pleaser and never unwelcome.
Behind Blue Eyes: not sure if I noticed this here or during Quadrophenia, but it strikes me harmonies are much more than just a lead vocalist's safety net. They also enact the idea that this is a communal effort, and about the music, the work, bringing the written art(i)fact to life. It's not all about stardom, and once any of us, onstage or off, tries to make it about that, the whole effort suffers.
Who Are You: always lots of fun, though if you really listen to the lyrics, it's fun built on a fairly terrible experience. All the bravado in the world can't really make passing out in a doorway a good thing!
Won't Get Fooled Again: Think it was here, in Greensboro, that I noticed a nice little moment where Roger and Pete weren't only playing off each other, but to each other, and both appeared to enjoy it. Very sweet, as was their closing side-hug in Greensboro, Roger briefly leaning his head on Pete's shoulder, Pete tousling Roger's hair. They snarl, they make up, and I love to see them get along.
Tea and Theatre: In Greenville, a prime senior moment, but they pulled it off anyway; if you didn't know better, you'd have thought they were just drawing it out for effect; made a plus out of a minus as only they can do. Great version in Greensboro, and I'm so glad they're closing the show with this again.
No preshow gatherings to speak of either night, but fun post show both nights, talking over this and previous shows, well into the deep and glorious past. Always fun to hear the stories of longterm fans.
Met up with a friend from home in Greensboro; such a relief to have someone else navigate strange streets and have my back. He'd driven up separately, though, so the return drive was all mine. All nine hours of it, including Atlanta, that beast of a city, with the setting sun full in my eyes.
Have to add a little something about these guys. Didn't think another warmup act could come close to Paul Freeman, but these guys do. Very different style from him, so no point comparing or worrying who's better; let's just say two tours in a row now have had opening acts very much worth showing up for.
The name is well chosen: their sound is pure vintage, and that lead singer in particular sure does look like trouble, in all the best ways.
My friend from home was very impressed with them, so after the show he bought a CD and got it signed and we hung out a little and talked. They're great guys offstage as well, and should have clear title to all the breaks they're certain to get from here. Enjoy the ride, baby, ya'll deserve it.