Roger Daltrey presents The Who's Tommy

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It was a long piece, but I knew if we could get to the “Listening to You” chorus, we’d be all right. We’d have them.
—Pete Townshend on performing Tommy

The raison d’être for Roger Daltrey’s latest tour—apart from his continued desire to keep performing for as long as he possibly can—was to present the Tommy album live in a way The Who never did: Playing the entire thing, in order, with the full complement of harmonies and keyboards and everything included on that iconic work.

Witnessing this Friday night, it became clear that there are a few problems with that approach. The original album is sequenced a bit weirdly, both story-wise and musically. And even with the dropping long, instrumental “Underture”, it’s quite long. So while you would certainly build and gain momentum through some sequences: “1921”, “Amazing Journey”, “Sparks”, “Christmas”… Or particularly, “Pinball Wizard”, “Tommy Can You Hear Me”, “Smash the Mirror”… Momentum would then somewhat be lost by the necessity of then performing a lesser track like Sensation or Sally Simpson.

(“Is this still Tommy?” Jean asked, about three-quarters of the way through.)

That said, there was still plenty to enjoy about the live performance of this opera, and it wasn’t all the expected stuff. Like, for example, seeing Roger Daltrey, for the first time (that I know of) taking on the villain’s roles in “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About”. He seemed to really relish those two roles (maybe nice to finally not be the in Tommy/victim role), and sank his acting chops into the interpretation. I can honestly say I’ve never enjoyed either of those songs more.


30 years after being under Cousin Kevin’s boot, Daltrey finally gets to turn the table

Another surprise was just how enjoyable the silly little “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” song was—possibly because it is perhaps the only giddy moment in this rather grim little opera. It was totally fun.

And the songs you expected to be great… Really were great. Last time I saw Roger in concert, the microphone twirling was very limited and approached rather gingerly. But clearly the old man’s been practicing, because it was whipping around like nobody’s business during “Pinball Wizard” and the finale. It was impressive. See:

And speaking of that finale… I’ve seen many videotaped versions of The Who leading the crowd toward what seems an almost religious experience after Roger Daltrey sings the “See Me / Feel Me” verse for the last time, and then everyone joins in on the “Listening to you / I get the music” chorus. But I’d never participated in that. And this crowd was fantastic. The second that moment came around, everyone was on their feet, rushing the stage, pumping their fists, singing along… It looked, sounded, and felt amazing. The ovation at the end was huge. Daltrey appeared really touched by it.

But how was the voice?

Last time I’d heard Daltrey perform, two years ago, the voice was not good. He’d had to cut the previous show off early, and cancel one not longer after. So I felt grateful to have seen him perform at all. But that whole show, he was singing through a thick, nearly hoarse, rasp.

It was much, much better this time out. This isn’t to say it was perfect. Despite the humidifier going, the water, the tea, the strictly enforced smoking ban in theatre, the voice did crack on some of the high notes—for example, on the See Me / Feel Me part of “Christmas”. But it sounded beautiful on others — for example, on the See Me / Feel Part of “We’re Not Going to Take It”. And in the lower ranges, there were no issues at all.

(By the way, entire tour performances are available from http://www.livedownloads.com/ and iTunes.)

The concert, part 2

The second half of the show featured a variety of songs among the now rather large catalog Roger and his band have rehearsed. And where the Tommy part had some unavoidable lulls, the second half was nothing but highlights, including (but not limited to):

  • A bluesy version of “My Generation”.
  • A lovely take on my favorite Who song, “Behind Blue Eyes”.
  • The Simon Townshend spotlight song, “Going Mobile”.
  • An incendiary version of “Young Man’s Blues” (which Roger seems to love the irony of singing, now that he is the old man with all the money), complete with some highly showy microphone twirling, and integrations of the relatively rare Who track called “Water”.

Also fun was his solo track, “Days of Light” . And on “Baba O’Riley”, when he unbuttoned his shirt” all the way (as the Toronto Sun’s [female] writer said, “it was an impressive display.” It’s not normal to get even more fit and muscular as you age, is it?), raised his arm, and his full head of hair was backlit, you were definitely reminded that this was the iconic rock God of the seventies, right there, right now, still.


Still a rock god

We want to be on stage, but we don’t want to be on a pedestal. We’re like you. I’m like you. That’s what this song says to me.
— Roger Daltrey, Toronto, September 30, 2011

Since I knew that the playlist for the second half varied from night to night, I was trying not to get my hopes up about any particular song being performed. But in truth, there is one I really wanted to hear: “Without Your Love”. [Because I’m a sap!] I was not to be disappointed on that front. He did a lovely job with it.

After that, he explained that they had a strict time limit for this particular performance, and performed one last song, the lovely “Red Blue and Grey”. I was feeling slightly miffed at apparently getting a shortened show, but you know, the thing started before 8:00 (with a quite good opening act), Roger and band took the stage somewhere between 8:30 and 8:45, and it was nearly 11:00 when it was over. No breaks.

I supposed 2-2.5 hours is a reasonable length of concert for a 67-year-old man who just had throat surgery.

Our seats

Though I tried not to fret overly much before attending this concert, one thing I did wonder about a bit was just how good our seats were, really. Turns out, they were really very good. We were in the fifth row, and though not right in the center, you could see everything really well. The only problem, really, is that is not very good seats for taking pictures and video. There was always a light right behind Roger’s head, which just washed out his face on film.


One photo that didn’t turn out too badly

Fortunately, there were hundreds taking pictures and video there, so I’m not going to be deprived of that.

We did get talking to people before the show started. The guy beside us was kind of funny, as he didn’t seem entirely sure what he was about to see. And his question about how much the seat cost confused me a bit as well. Maybe he won his in a contest? But, turns out he’d bought tickets from a scalper minutes before, so that explained that. He was a very friendly American from Florida, who’d last seen The Who perform around 1979.

And the people in the row in front us of turned out to be from Waterloo as well. But they’d bought their tickets on Tuesday! This Tuesday! Ticketmaster, I bought my tickets the day they went on sale. Why did these people get better ones, four days before the show? (They said it wasn’t from a reseller or anything.)

[Almost forgot about some lady behind us—apparently not such a big fan—who was nearly freaking out at having been told how long the show would be. Kind of funny.]

Anyway. The important thing is I was really close to Roger Daltrey again, and in fact, even managed to go stand right in front of the stage by evening’s end. (Even though we didn’t make eye contact this time.)

The band

The set list was actually somewhat similar to that of the 2009 Use It or Lose It tour, but it sure has acquired a professional sheen on this tour. In introducing his band, Roger said that they were “the best band I have ever played with.” Now, I don’t know if he’s including The Who among the bands he has played with, but there is no denying he has assembled a fantastic group of musicians here. They provide beautiful backup harmonies throughout, and completely solid musical accompaniment.

I also kind of met them before the show. As I was asking Jean if he remembered seeing what was likely Roger Daltrey’s limo drive past us when were walking over to the Orillia show two years ago [he didn’t], a big limo bus pulled up to the stage entrance of the Sony Centre. So we ambled over to see who would get off. Clearly, we did not meet Mr. Daltrey, or even the young Mr. Townshend. But we did see the keyboard player, and the drummer, and musical director and lead guitarist Frank Simes was particularly nice with all the fans.


The famous-only-by-association Frank Simes


Our buddy Frank on stage

The crowd

I’ve already mentioned them a few times, but it was a great crowd. (The place looked sold out to me; I don’t know if it actually was.) Mostly boomers, of course, but a number of them brought their teenage kids, so that made for a nice younger contingent. I could sense (and hear, in all the singalongs) a real diehard Who crowd. Jean, who didn’t have such a constant laser focus on the man onstage, spent more time actually looking at the crowd and enjoying how much they were enjoying it.

And I’ll leave the last words to Jean.

You know, I didn’t hate that. I didn’t hate that at all.

It’s really high praise.

Excerpts from tour reviews

Calgary Herald:
For the most part, [his voice] was strong, it was sure and it was very much the instrument the rock world has come to cherish, enshrining it, deservedly in the Hall of Fame. And, as a performer, he’s still very much got it, swinging his mic effortlessly, like a loop of licorice, and once Tommy had been put to bed, offering some engaging, mainly good-natured between-song banter.
And the five-piece backup band he assembled for the tour made him look that much better; themselves, incredibly talented, tight and proficient, with Townshend shining brightly throughout the night and doing nothing to lessen the good family name and tarnish the music of The Who.
In fact, the same could be said for Daltrey and the entire evening itself. Cynics, be damned.

Edmonton Journal:
Saturday night’s recreation of the 42-year-old double album was an impressive feat. That Daltrey and his band were able to hold the crowd’s attention for just over an hour, with only a few recognizable cuts scattered throughout was testament to their musical prowess.
The five-piece that Daltrey selected for the task were well up to it. Daltrey was, satisfyingly, exactly as you would have remembered him, twirling his microphone or banging a couple of tambourines together. While vocally slightly shaky at points he still nailed it, showing remarkable chops for a man who can now collect senior’s pension back home in Britain.

The Orange Country Register:
There’s a very fine line to tread with an enterprise like this: you want it to sound as faithful as possible while somehow packing in fresh punch. It’s difficult to satisfy both of those drives, yet Daltrey and his group handled the task commendably. They were as exacting as needed (the haunting chorus of voices that grows maniacal on “Cousin Kevin” was exceptionally re-created) but also brought renewed passion to the material, particularly during those warty old anthems “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me, Feel Me” (whether during “Go to the Mirror!” or “We’re Not Gonna Take It”).
Clearly a man who could belt like few others did 40 years ago would no longer have such elasticity and thunder left in his voice at 67. But by summoning greater fortitude than you get from Elton John (another legend who has suffered similar issues), Daltrey still proved capable of reaching the big notes.

Lumino Magazine:
Once Daltrey stepped up to the mic, however, all doubt was removed—his recovery from throat surgery was an unheralded success. He’s not the dynamic, roaring Daltrey of old—but for a rock vocalist pushing 70, he was certainly in fine form.
From the soaring highs of “Acid Queen” to the gruff pedophile “Uncle Ernie,” Daltrey brought Tommy to life in a marathon performance. With a well-selected group of musicians backing him, at times you could certainly not believe that this material was now over 40 years old.

Kansas City Star:
Although Daltrey’s voice isn’t as strong today, in many ways he’s a better vocalist. Improved phrasing and delicate attention to nuance make Daltrey more expressive than ever.
This isn’t to say he doesn’t sing with authority. “Eyesight to the Blind” featured a tough blues growl, while “Smash the Mirror” and “Young Man Blues” were as forceful as the original Who recordings.
In an evening filled with highlights, the best moment was a potent reading of “Young Man Blues,” which featured Daltrey’s signature microphone twirling and incorporated the Who rarity “Water.” The immortal “Baba O’Riley” concluded a generous set that ran well over two hours.

Riverfront Times:
It could have been an expensive disappointment, an awkwardly painful reminder that life moves too fast and people get old and it sucks. But for almost three hours at the Peabody Opera House, the show was galaxies removed from disappointing. As a wise man in the audience put it, the show was — all of Tommy plus everything else you’d want — “fucking phenomenal.”
No one can replace the late John Entwistle, or the rapacious style of Keith Moon, or the inimitable and now nearly deaf composer Pete Townshend, but Daltrey has found the only five guys in the world who can do justice to the legacy left by his erstwhile bandmates.
You got the idea that 67 year old Daltrey has approached his senior citizenship with a sense of mortality firmly in place. It can’t be easy when two of your best friends are gone, and the third is simply too damaged to continue. So the man who was once considered just a pretty face with a damn fine head of hair carries on while the others can’t.
There may be gravel in his voice, the top of his range may be kaput, but his voice was strong, sweet, and still wonderfully powerful.
Pretty face and rock statesmen are now his modes. By “Pictures of Lily,” Daltrey’s black shirt was all but unbuttoned, showing off a swath of tanned, whittled chest.
Overheard: “I was standing there thinking, ‘Why are you still singing to us?!’ Wow.”
A) Universe willing, I have a handful of decades left in which to see concerts, and I am perfectly okay with this being the best concert I will ever see. B) I was a chorus girl in my hometown production of The Who’s Tommy, by Townshend and Des McAnuff in 2004. It ruled. C) Thanks to a megafan with an extra ticket to the pit, I got to watch the whole thing from the second row. D) I cried like an idiot. E) My father told me after the show that apart from being born, getting him tickets to this show was the best thing my brother and I have ever done for him.

St Louis Today:
Daltrey captivated the audience for more than two hours, without a break. Not that anybody wanted one.
Daltrey is a compelling performer, his sinewy voice shaded with unexpected sweetness. He played most of the characters, from a growling Uncle Ernie, full of menace, to the tender, psychically damaged child begging somebody to “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.”

Kent Sterling:
For a cat at the ripe age of 67, Daltrey’s presence and voice are virtually unchanged – except the voice is now much stronger than during any show I’ve seen in over a decade.
The biggest surprise was the lack of ego expressed by Daltrey, who certainly must be hearing the tick-tock of his career clock. Daltrey acted as though he was simply the singer in another very good band, and that was a classy thing to do.
Despite my overt affection for The Who and its music, I never much cared for Daltrey. He was a pretty piece immersed in an angry, ugly, and riotous four-man mob. Last night, 31 years after seeing The Who, I finally came around to liking Daltrey.

Toronto Sun:
While he’s still not singing like he used to in his heyday, he definitely had his moments on such Tommy standouts as Pinball Wizard, Sensation, I’m Free and We’re Not Going to Take It, along with Who classics like I Can See For Miles, The Kids Are Alright and Baba O’ Riley, the latter featuring him unbuttoning his shirt all the way (it was an impressive display).

Ottawa Citizen:
“Pete said he looked f———stupid with a ukulele, so here I am,” Daltrey said, proving that ego is not a mandatory characteristic for a rock legend. In all, it was an excellent concert.

The Montreal Gazette:
Daltrey’s band ran with the Pete Townshend songbook and played everything with volume, edge and empathy for the songs. And if the attack wasn’t exactly Live at Leeds, Tuesday night’s version of that album’s Young Man Blues did the song full justice. As the band navigated its stop-start left turns, Daltrey ferociously twirled the mic by its cord, slyly raising an eyebrow to the fans each time he caught it.
Surprises were few. One was the fact that the youthful-looking Daltrey, at 67, might be the only rock star of his generation to open his shirt and get away with it. Another was his band’s effortless nailing of Who classics, some expected, others deeper into the catalogue.
Daltrey, still showing the occasional struggle to hit a high note or two after throat surgery two years ago, nevertheless sang beautifully as needed and with rock fury as required. The coda in Go to the Mirror!, where he sings “What is happening in his head?/ Ooooh, I wish I knew ..” couldn’t have been sweeter, while Smash the Mirror was all gravel.
The second half of the 2 and ½-hour set was even stronger, with Daltrey playing acoustic guitar and leading his band through the obvious (Behind Blue Eyes, Baba O’Riley), the obscure (Pictures of Lily, Tattoo) and even non-Who material (Days of Light from his 1992 album Rocks in the Head was a joyous rediscovery).
As he threw in the Pinball Wizard chord riff on the uke, however, he smiled broadly.
He had, after all, reclaimed his role in one of rock’s most enduring catalogues.

Palm Beach Post:
“Take a seat. It’s going to a long show. This is a f*****g rock opera. It’s going to be long” – Roger Daltrey on opening night of his North America tour of Tommy at the Seminole Hard Rock Live in Hollywood.
Daltrey wasn’t kidding. For the next hour and 10 minutes the lead singer of The Who and his band didn’t even stop for air. Performing the complete album of Tommy from start to finish, Daltrey took the audience through an audio orgasm backed by subliminal visuals. But it wasn’t the visuals that put me over the edge. It was Daltrey and his band with a truly amazing, mind-blowing; over-the-top performance that puts Daltrey back on top and into 2011. Hard to believe it’s been 42 years since its original release.
Daltrey is definitely the key component but without the band, songs from the album Tommy and other The Who hits just wouldn’t cut it. The band was so punctual, their timing so implicit, their lead-ins so imperative that the band becomes a huge part of the success of this show. As much as we would have loved to witness the original members, 40 years later this combination was a close as it gets.
I see a lot of shows and this has been the best show of 2011 and a must see for anyone, ranking right up there with Roger Waters’ The Wall. It wasn’t so much the visuals that outstand the audience but Daltrey’s high energy and strong vocals as he moved through song after song. It’s hard to believe Daltrey had surgery on his vocal chords back in December of 2010.
I am so thankful I had the opportunity to experience it. I was not the only one. Everyone at the Seminole Hard Rock was up on their feet, the applause almost deafening especially after they played “We’re Not Gonna Take It”, the final song of Tommy. As Daltrey swung the microphone in tempo with the song just as he had done years before, you couldn’t help but rise out of your seat and sing along to “Listening to you, I get the music, Gazing at you, I get the heat. Following you, I climb the mountains, I get excitement at your feet.”
Excitement was the feeling of the night.
Daltrey, who is 67, claimed he had a few “senior moments” with the lyrics but to the audience he never skipped a beat. In fact, his vocals were so solid and strong, the band so tight with all the instrumentals you could have closed your eyes and been listening to The Who perform live back in 1969.

Palm Beach New Times:
The truth is, Roger still looks remarkably vibrant these days, still tousle-haired, tanned, and boasting a youthful flush that belies his age. Ever agile, he’s still a confident frontman, able to twirl a microphone without fumbling it and wail away on harp, competently strum a guitar and even pick away on ukulele when he has to. If his voice doesn’t quite pack a youthful bluster or muster the bravado it once did, it still comes close to hitting the high notes and expressing an undiminished authority. Besides, any lapses are more than made up for by the way he tempers his tone with sentiment and sensitivity. The Tommy track list and its added material span more than two hours and demand both force and nuance, traits that Daltrey still seems to possess.
That’s fortunate, because it was apparent that those who filled the nearly sold-out auditorium were devoted Who fanatics who expected no less. And on that score, Daltrey didn’t disappoint.
If Daltrey and his deaf, dumb, and blind boy alter ego are no longer as inseparable as they once seemed, he proved he’s still adept at slipping back into character. And for him, it’s a lot less awkward than it would be for any of us who might opt to reclaim our former selves from 40 years before. Unlike our old bell-bottoms and tie-dyed T’s, in Daltrey’s capable hands, Tommy still wears well.

Isle of Man.com:
ROCK legend Roger Daltrey put on a stunning performance at the Villa Marina in Douglas last night (Thursday) that will stay with everyone who was there for quite some time.
In fact, even though it is the morning after I admit I still haven’t recovered from just how good it was.
One thing that was perfectly clear to me was just how much Roger – and his band – love their jobs. They played for two hours 40 minutes and performed with the enthusiasm of a band just starting out.
In fact the passion coming from the stage was so impressive that if any young rock band wanted to see how you put on a show then they should have bought a ticket for last night’s concert.
If I thought the Tommy section was enjoyable, I was completely blown away by the time I left the Villa. Roger – who has been a rock star for more than 40 years – is in fantastic shape and good voice and seems friendly and down to earth. The gig was a true rock and roll masterclass and an absolutely pleasure to watch.

Isle of Man Today:
WHO legend Roger Daltrey brought his Tommy tour to the Villa Marina yesterday and what a night it was.
His vocals were as good as I have ever heard from him, not bad for a guy of 67.
Roger had been on stage for over two and a half hours for what was a fantastic performance of Who classics.
A true legend.

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