In the most recent issue of Rolling Stone, Pete Townshend explains that a full-scale production of “Quadrophenia”—the epic 1973 album that The Who plays in its entirety during a 36-city tour that debuted Thursday night at BB&T Center in Sunrise—actually presents less wear and tear on his rock-ravaged body.

“When I do ‘Quadrophenia,’ I don’t have to do quite so much of the antics,” Townshend, 67, told the magazine. “It’s more controlled.”

So why, then, did the guitar legend abruptly set down his axe and exit the stage midway through the encore song “You Better You Bet”—and never return, leaving bewildered front man Roger Daltrey to close the show one song later with a half-hearted romp through “Baba O’Riley”?

The official Twitter explanation from fellow Who guitarist Simon Townshend was that the sound monitors were “too loud,” finally taking a toll on his older brother, who has severe hearing issues from years of touring.

But anyone with seats close to the stage could see that Townshend was beside himself over the opening-night glitches that he, especially, seemed to be experiencing. Throughout the evening, Townshend gestured and, at times, fumed at his off-stage crew due to sound issues and problems with his guitars. That left some attendees positing on the band’s Facebook page that the reason their guitar god bolted early had nothing to do with hearing—it was just a good old-fashioned rock tantrum.

Either way, the surreal conclusion and occasional technical snags took nothing away from an otherwise spirited rendering of “Quadrophenia,” the 17-track rock opera composed by Townshend. Whereas Roger Waters’ staging of Pink Floyd’s “The Wall” earlier this year was more about the spectacle, “Quadrophenia” was about the music.

Townshend and Daltrey would not address the crowd until the soaring “Love Reign O’er Me” closed the “Quadrophenia” set—and brought the house down. But instead of keeping the audience at arm’s length, the lack of interaction had the opposite effect. Even with a 10-piece band in tow, The Who managed to create an intimacy to the performance, one enhanced by the sound effects—rain, crashing waves, train whistles—heard throughout the original double album. It felt, at times, like the crowd was eavesdropping on rock at its most majestic.

Daltrey, who looks amazing at age 68, doesn’t bother with the crushing, high-octave vocals that defined The Who’s signature sound back in the day. But two years removed from laser surgery to remove a growth on his vocal chords, Daltrey’s voice— from the opening lyrics of “The Real Me, ” through the classic “5:15” and into encore hits like “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Who Are You”—seemed stronger and more consistent than it did during the band’s last visit to Sunrise, in 2006. 

As for Townshend, angered or not, he remains one of rock’s most mesmerizing on-stage guitarists. He’s still good for the occasional windmill, but it’s just as fascinating to watch him prowl the stage and command a song like someone half his age. He no longer splinters his guitars in two, a staple of his early performances, but Townshend is just as passionate about his music today as he was when The Who burst onto the scene nearly 50 years ago.

Don’t believe it? Just ask his technical crew.


SET LIST

I Am the Sea

The Real Me

Quadrophenia

Cut My Hair

The Punk and the Godfather

I’m One

The Dirty Jobs

Helpless Dancer

Is It in My Head?

I’ve Had Enough

5:15

Sea and Sand

Drowned

Bell Boy

Doctor Jimmy

The Rock

Love, Reign O’er Me

ENCORE

Pinball Wizard

Behind Blue Eyes

Who Are You

You Better You Bet

Baba O’Riley