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Live Review: Roger Daltrey at Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre, September 15

[ 1 ] September 21, 2011 |

By Jeremy Frye; photo by Catrina Maxwell.

The Who have performed their 1969 song cycle Tommy live before (though not since their 1989 20th anniversary tour), but they rarely ever performed it in the form in which it was released. The running order got changed. Songs were omitted. As Roger Daltrey explained it when opening this second night on his new U.S. solo tour, The Who “never actually played it the real way it was supposed to be played onstage,” and at this show, he intended to “play it with the respect it deserves.”

That’s good news, but as a Who fan, this current tour seemed a little odd, and I wasn’t sure going into it how to feel. It’s fair to wonder how good it would be without guitarist, singer, songwriter Pete Townshend, who’s as integral as Roger Daltrey to what makes The Who sound like The Who. These days Pete is almost totally deaf, after years of playing unprotected in front of giant speakers, and one notorious performance on a 1967 episode of The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour, where Keith Moon blew up his drum kit just feet from Pete’s ears. Interested in holding on to what little hearing he has left, he has given Roger his blessing to take Tommy on the road without him, saying he’d be there “in spirit.”

Roger, on the other hand, had a pre-cancerous growth removed from his throat in late 2009, and has since recovered from the vocal issues which had plagued him, notably at the 2010 Super Bowl halftime show. He is interested now in singing as much as possible to keep his voice in top shape, and as he said the end of the show, he gets bored when he’s at home sitting on his ass.

So, great. Roger’s bored, and Pete said it was cool. But I still had my doubts that it would work. Tommy is so completely Pete’s vision, not to mention the fact that he sings quite a bit of it. Even when not singing lead, Pete’s voice blending with Roger is an unforgettable part of the sound. And what if the band is crap? Still, one of rock’s greatest frontmen playing at the relatively small Verizon Wireless Amphitheatre is something not to miss.

And the whole time I doubted, Daltrey was one step ahead of me. Since he couldn’t have Pete, he put his younger brother (and Who touring member), Simon Townshend on guitar/vocal duty. He’s a better looking, in better shape version of Pete, with a high-pitched voice that’s remarkably similar to his big brother. The five-piece band was uniformly good, especially Scott Devours on what Daltrey called “the sloppy drums.”

Tommy is a beloved piece of work, and its triple gatefold LP sat proudly on any self-respecting rock fan’s shelf in the ‘70s. But it’s been 42 years since its release. Does it still hold up? The truth is, it’s not my favorite Who album. It’s not even my favorite Who rock opera. That would be 1973’s Quadrophenia. The Grammy Hall of Fame said in 1998 that Tommy has “historical, artistic, and significant value,” and that’s all true, but by and large, when you listen to Tommy, you marvel at Townshend’s genius and ability to put it all together more than you…like the whole thing. Impressive though it is, the storyline is rather silly and often hard to follow.

For those who don’t know, here’s the quickest summary of the Tommy plot I can muster: Tommy Walker, after witnessing the murder of his mother’s lover by his father, is a psychosomatically traumatized, semi-catatonic boy, who later gets abused by his cousin, and molested by his uncle. After growing into a young man, he’s taken advantage of by a pimp, and given hallucinogenic drugs by a prostitute. He is a savant at pinball. Doctors can’t cure him, as his deafness, blindness and muteness are self-inflicted. While Tommy is staring into a mirror one day, his mother smashes it out of frustration, which proves to be the “miracle cure” that jolts him back into reality. Tommy becomes a guru, of sorts, taking in people into his home, teaching them to reach enlightenment by discovering a state of awareness through blinding, deafening, and muting themselves. See what I mean? Kind of silly, though I can’t deny that it’s all strung together on a glorious piece of music.

Roger and his band performed almost all of the 24 Tommy songs in their original running order, leaving out only the almost 10-minute instrumental, “Underture.” It was a duly impressive display. The band was tight, and Roger’s voice was powerful, his microphone a twirling victim of abuse for two hours. The “We’re Not Gonna Take It/See Me, Feel Me/Listening To You” grand finale was truly majestic, a moment where the older crowd’s nostalgia and Daltrey’s enthusiasm were rapturously entwined. Simon Townshend (@simont4000) himself tweeted after the show, “Atlanta, GA…That was the best performance of Tommy we’ve done yet.” The only weakness of the Tommy portion of the evening was the animated video that accompanied the performance. The images were rudimentary and unnecessary. I think everyone in attendance knew the gist of the story, and would rather have just looked at images of Roger and his band.

That’s exactly what we got for the second half of the show, an hour-long array of Who hits and Roger Daltrey solo tracks. There were no stage breaks. Rather, he ended Tommy by introducing his band, and then going directly into “I Can See For Miles.” The second half of the show was looser. Daltrey unbuttoned his white shirt and talked a lot about his early days as a sheet metal worker, which led to the other misstep of the night, his Johnny Cash medley. As much he may genuinely love “I Got Stripes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” and “Ring of Fire,” Daltrey is not a person suited to sing those songs. He brushed off the medley, calling it “a bit of fun.” It wasn’t, but I couldn’t help but be struck by how regular he seemed during this portion of the show. He talked a lot, and just seemed like a nice Engligh grandfather, which I’m sure he is. This was never more true than when he rambled on about how even girls get tattoos now, prior to singing “Tattoo.” Really, Grandpa? Even girls?

You would think he’d close the show with the biggest Who hits he could trot out, and though he did play “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Who Are You,” the last two songs of the night were “Without Your Love” from the soundtrack to his 1980 prison movie, McVicar, and “Blue Red and Grey,” a Who By Numbers, side two non-single, performed solo on a ukulele. There was no encore. At his age, he said, he’d fall asleep backstage before coming back out. Statements like that remind you that he is 67, something that’s easy to forget when you’re looking at his impressively fit, shirtless chest. You have to respect how much he clearly still enjoys performing live, and how he is so obviously not going through the motions.

Setlist:
1. Overture
2. It’s A Boy
3. 1921
4. Amazing Journey
5. Sparks
6. Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)
7. Christmas
8. Cousin Kevin
9. The Acid Queen
10. Do You Think It’s Alright?
11. Fiddle About
12. Pinball Wizard
13. There’s A Doctor
14. Go To The Mirror!
15. Tommy Can You Hear Me?
16. Smash The Mirror
17. Sensation
18. I’m Free
19. Miracle Cure
20. Sally Simpson
21. Welcome
22. Tommy’s Holiday Camp
23. We’re Not Gonna Take It
24. I Can See For Miles
25. Behind Blue Eyes
26. Gimme A Stone
27. Days Of Light
28. Going Mobile
29. Tattoo
30. Giving It All Away
31. Johnny Cash Medley
32. Who Are You
33. Young Man Blues
34. Baba O’Riley
35. Without Your Love
36. Blue Red And Grey

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  1. Scott R says:

    Very thorough and well-written review, Jeremy! Didn’t know you were a contributor here…just saw your Cheap Trick preview and enjoyed that as well. Looking forward to more in 2012. Happy New Year, Sir!

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