Roger Daltrey Performs 'Tommy' ... and More!
(Colosseum at Caesars Windsor, Canada - October 1st, 2011)
Tonight was always going to be a musical oddity. One of which I was very excited to be a part of. The billing was simply Roger Daltrey Plays 'Tommy’, suggesting that he would perform The Who’s landmark rock opera from 1969. Albeit without the band’s only other surviving member, Pete Townshend, their guitarist and author of this complex and much-debated work.
'Tommy' was the fourth album by The Who. A double album telling a (rather) loose story about a "deaf, dumb and blind boy" who becomes the leader of a messianic movement, 'Tommy' is to this day still billed (albeit overtly) as one of the very first rock operas.
And so tonight, here at the Colosseum at Caesars Windsor in Canada, Whooligans young and old filled the 5,000 seat auditorium. All brimming over with intense anticipation for the show and what they would behold, come 9.30pm, the lights went down and for the next two and a half hours Daltrey held us all captivated.
The stage dark, save for a white spot above Daltrey now center stage behind his mic, arms raised, the two minute 'Tommy Intro' is brought forth. Smothered in a rich, dazzling blue stage light, he and his band - Frank Simes (guitar), Scott Deavours (drums), Jon Button (Bass), Loren Gold (Keyboards) and, also on guitar, Simon (younger brother of Pete) Townshend - then lurch into 'Overture.' Now covered in a deep red light, Daltrey bangs his tambourines, all singing thus far covered by Simon Townshend. And boy, does he sound like his older brother!
After a guitar and tambourine jam/huddle center stage, 'It's A Boy' is next, and yet still no Daltrey vocals have come forth. But come '1921' he finally steps to the mic and we hear his vocal tones for the first time tonight. Already sounding rough, throaty, it's actually when he informs us all some two hours later that due to his vocal chords having had surgery on them recently that his throat is delicate these days, that I forgive him right there and then!
Moving on and after a slow lead in the clanging riff to the five minute 'Amazing Journey' allows Daltrey to give us his first mic leash swing performance of the night. As always, he never fails to land said mic in his left hand, never allowing it to hit the floor. His hoarse vocals continue, but it's more noticeable that none of the audience - save for one or two drinking souls - are on their feet. Sure 'Tommy' is not always an explosive, fast-paced concept, but gazing around me it is a very sedate viewing scene.
Behind the band a video screen constantly plays computer generated digital images to flow alongside each song. 'Sparks,' 'Eyesight To The Blind,' and 'Christmas' are all next, before the recurrent “see me, feel me” melodic strand is followed by the storytelling of 'Cousin Kevin.' Townshend then attempts to sing Tina Turner's lead in 'The Acid Queen,' but it has to be said it just doesn't work. He gives it all he's got though, but it just lacks everything that the song was vocally about. 'Do You Think It's Alright?' is next before the erratic 'Fiddle About' allows Daltrey to dig deep into his vocal depths.
The intro to 'Pinball Wizard' gets rousing applause and Daltrey does not let us down. He gives us his best high notes, growls through the chorus, and brings the juggernaut of a song home safely. The quick 'There's A Doctor' is next, before 'Go To The Mirror' and the uber-fun, bouncy, 'Tommy, Can You Hear Me?'. 'Smash The Mirror' is then followed by 'Sensation,' which allows pure, unadulterated Daltrey to ooze through its every musical pore. But, at this juncture of the night, it's obvious his voice is shot.
Standing with a humidifier directly beneath him, pumping moist air up into his face at all times throughout the show, Daltrey knows he has to carry on regardless. As if stiffening his back, let alone his resolve, he brings us a powerhouse 'I'm Free.' Backed by his rock solid tight band, the song is a definite highlight of the show. Interlude track 'Miracle Cure' is next, before the totally brilliant 'Sally Simpson' tells us a five minute story. Complete with South Park-ish video to back it, the Townshend-sung song is spot on perfect.
'Welcome's operatic vibe is then followed by a trip to Tommyville in 'Tommy's Holiday Camp,' before 'We're Not Gonna Take It' bleeds into the glorious "listening to you" finale. After a standing ovation, Daltrey speaks for the very first time to everyone gathered: "Thank you. Thank you so much. Did you enjoy that? I love doing it every night." He then introduces the band, before telling us that he now feels like playing a half hour of Johnny Cash songs!
But, for the time being, his mind is still on The Who. "I'm now gonna play some Who songs in ways I haven't for many years," he explains. "I'm gonna do them my way. Just larkin' about," he adds before the band strike up 'I Can See For Miles' and then a wonderful 'The Kids Are Alright.' With everyone now up on their feet, the best song of this set comes next in a stunning 'Behind Blue Eyes.' Bathed in blue, of course, he closes the song with a drink in hand. Explaining that it wasn't water, he opts to sing what he calls some "survival" music. "I wrote this song about my days working at a factory. When all you had to look forward to was Friday. When I used to get suited and booted and then went out with the band." The song that follows is the wonderful, gritty 'Days of Light.'
The Townshend-sung 'Going Mobile' is a crackin' track to hear live, and is followed by Daltrey explaining that the next song, the bluesy, Celtic-inspired 'Freedom Ride' was the type of song that all modern music came from. However, immediately following the song Daltrey becomes stern with the audience. He tells them he can smell cigarette smoke and 'funny stuff,' before revealing his throat operations and such. He asks whoever it is to put it out, because if it gets into his throat it will "shut me down in two minutes." Then, as he gently strums his guitar, he mutters "Bollocks to you all," but adds a sly smile too!
The near-seven minute 'Who Are You' is next (can't help thinking of CSI every time I hear this song now!), before Daltrey explains his love for Johnny Cash's music growing up, and how it inspired him as a musician. He then brings us a long Johnny Cash medley, which allows him to keep his vocals at a grumbled hush; very Cash-reminiscent, in truth. After that comes a rockin' 'Young Man Blues,' which in turn is backed by another CSI-themed track, the always-incredible 'Baba O'Riley.'
He then thanks everyone for staying with him his entire career, that he couldn't have done it without them, and reveals that the slow-paced 'Without Your Love' is dedicated to each and every one of them/us. He then tells us about the first time The Who came to Detroit to play, which the audience helped remind him was actually Southfield, and wished all the workers looking for jobs all the best. Admitting, now with ukulele in hand, solo on stage save for a bass, that this was going to be "a weird way to end the show," he gives us a beautiful, truly beautiful 'Red Blue And Grey.'
As the song ends, some of the band members come back out on stage for one more bow, and Daltrey speaks to the audience one last time. "Thank you for coming. It's been great to play for you. And I hope things pick up for you all soon." And then, in one final nod to the fact he had just played to a casino crowd, he adds, "And, be very, VERY lucky tonight!"
Review by: Russell A. Trunk
Photos by: Paul Medved, Caesars Windsor.
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