Roger Daltrey Performs The Who’s Tommy
Newark, NJ– September 18, 2011
Out of all of the bands I follow religiously, I would travel anywhere and pay anything to see The Who. “I Can’t Explain” how deeply they have impacted my life (haha, sorry…). Over the years, I have traveled the most to see either The Who or Roger Daltrey (Washington D.C. twice for the Who; Pittsburgh, Cleveland and Newark for Daltrey).
This past September, I traveled seven hours by car and train in order to attain enlightenment from that deaf, dumb and blind boy, Tommy Walker. While touring the rock opera Tommy, Daltrey and his band stopped at the Prudential Center in Newark, which is less than an hour train ride from where a college friend of mine lives on the New Jersey shore. I was planning on visiting her anyways, so I decided to combine trips and take a short detour to see my hero. I made sure I arrived at the venue two hours early just in case I had any travel difficulties, as there was no way in hell I was going to be late or miss this show. I had a fantastic seat – sixth row center on the floor – that gave me a perfect view.
Finally it was showtime. Without any fanfare or grand introduction, Roger Daltrey casually walked out onto the stage and greeted a rapt audience with a huge grin on his face, as if he were greeting old friends. This is why I love and admire this man: underneath his many layers as a tough guy, a rock God and a sex symbol, he is just a regular person who has worked hard to accomplish an extraordinary dream.
The first musical work billed as a rock opera, Tommy tells the story of a traumatized deaf, dumb and blind boy who connects with the world through sensations (and the game of pinball) in order to reach true enlightenment. The album is truly a case where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts – and Daltrey agrees, as he rediscovered his appreciation for Tommy this past spring and decided finally present the rock opera as the Who never did – as a complete whole.
“I rediscovered Tommy in March, just by accident, just did a one-off charity show with it and I suddenly realized how original the original work was, how unique. And it dawned on me that the Who actually never ever played it properly on stage…It was an organic thing from the band and it really does need to be respected,” said Daltrey.
Considering the heavy topics woven into the story – war, murder, childhood trauma, psychosomatic disabilities, bullying, prostitution, drugs, pedophilia, fanaticism – Pete Townshend defied the conventional form and content of rock and pop music when he composed Tommy, which was released in 1969. Ultimately, Tommy tells a hopeful story of the human condition, which is why the album has remained relevant for over 40 years. Tommy Walker is Everyman. We are all blind, deaf and dumb until we allow ourselves to drown out all of the distractions and truly connect with the world through our senses. Music such as Tommy certainly helps us to go on an amazing journey and learn all we should know.
“People have always asked me, ‘What does it feel like to have played Tommy?’ and I say to them, well, I’ve never actually seen Tommy as an individual. It’s always been, it’s about our spirits. We’re all Tommy. Tommy is the story of our human condition; it’s what we go through in life.” – Roger Daltrey
Daltrey sounded fantastic that night, thanks to a top notch physician who helped reinvigorate his voice (after vocal chord surgery to remove a precancerous growth prior to The Who’s Super Bowl performance). If you are familiar with The Who’s history, Tommy is the album where he developed his voice as one of the greatest rock singers of all time (THE greatest, in my opinion).
From the opening chords of “Overture” to the epic climax of “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” Daltrey and his band took his disciples on an Amazing Journey that Sunday night. Whirling his microphone around like a tornado, Daltrey commanded the stage as the various characters in the canonical rock opera, including the messianic Tommy, the snarly Cousin Kevin, and the lecherous Uncle Ernie. We all saw him, felt him and listened to him. As promised, the small band did justice to the original album, which was a rich yet sparse enough composition for the original foursome to recreate on stage when they originally toured it.
My highlights from Daltrey’s performance were all of my favorites from the original album: the “Overture” (blending together all of the various musical themes); “1921” (I love the call and response part of this song); “Amazing Journey” (especially the instrumental break); “Pinball Wizard” (I can’t wait to eventually learn how to play that famous acoustic guitar intro), “Go To The Mirror” and of course “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” But I loved it all, even the creepy “Cousin Kevin” and “Fiddle About.”
After introducing his band – lead guitarist and musical director Frank Simes, rhythm guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete’s little brother), bassist Jon Button, keyboardist Loren Gold and drummer Scott Devours – Roger launched into his second set. A mix of Who songs, solo tunes, a Johnny Cash medley and some charming, witty banter with the audience, had me singing, dancing and crying throughout the rest of the 2 1/2 hour show.
I’ve always enjoyed Daltrey’s selections of Who songs to perform – he always includes a carefully considered combination of expected anthems and obscure or surprising tracks, often with alternate arrangements. Stuttering and scatting through the slow groove of “My Generation”, Daltrey howled through a feverish version of Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues, ” with Simes shredding along. It was hot in the arena after that one. Some may chuckle at the irony of 67-year old Daltrey singing about not dying before he gets old and lamenting the problems of a young man, but that was no old man shaking and shimmying on stage.
Daltrey’s solo career was also highlighted by “Days of Light,” from his terrific 1992 album Rocks in the Head as well as the the Leo Sayer tune ‘Giving it All Away” from his first solo album. Daltrey warned that the latter was “a bloody high song,” but he hit those notes! Blown away, I shouted, “That was awesome, Roger!” after the song ended. To counteract those high notes, Daltrey’s performed a brilliant medley of Johnny Cash tunes (“I’ve Got Stripes,” “Folsom Prison Blues,” “There You Go,” “Train of Love” and “Ring of Fire”) that highlighted his voice’s resonant and soulful lower register.
“Johnny Cash was where I started when I was fifteen years old, bashing out bits of tin all day with a load of guys, making up a rhythm, and Johnny Cash rhythms were great to bang bits of tin to. So I’m just gonna do a medley for Johnny, because he means so much to me, his music and the man himself…” – Roger Daltrey
I was so engrossed in the concert that I forgot to wonder where my favorite Who song was. All of sudden, bathed in light, a bare-chested Daltrey froze with microphone raised while the first power chords of “Baba O’Riley rang through the arena. Epic.
You’d think the show would have ended on that climactic song, but no, Daltrey followed with an unofficial three-song encore.
“This is a song that really sums up the way I feel about you, my audience, and the people that have supported me and the Who all these years. We never want to be part of you, we are you, you are us. And this one says it all: “Without Your Love.” – Roger Daltrey
The song that actually brought me to tears was “Blue, Red and Grey,” which Daltrey performed alone on ukelele, with stand-up bass accompaniment. It’s one of Townshend’s most beautiful songs, my opinion, appearing on The Who’s 1975 album The Who By Numbers. I love how The Who can be both loud and soft, beautiful and ugly – that makes great Rock ‘n’ Roll. Anyways… I was not only touched because of Daltrey’s beautiful delivery of “Blue, Red and Grey” and my own personal relation to the lyrics but also because of Daltrey’s nostalgic attachment to it.
“I love this song mostly, not only the sentiment of it, but I love it because John Entwistle did the silver band arrangements that accompany this song. And it just conjures up a memory of a time that I grew up, which is same as in this country, you know, the steel belt and all those places, the coal mines, they all had silver bands, they all had their communities. And it’s a kind of blue-collar working class thing and when I hear it every time, I just think, ‘Where the f*** did it all go?’… China!” – Roger Daltrey
The group finally left the stage after squeezing out one more powerhouse song – the crowd favorite “Naked Eye.” All in all I spent a fabulous night in Newark with Roger Daltrey, which I will never forget, thanks to an official recording of the concert I was able to download a few days later. Preserved live music is the best souvenir ever – it’s an audio slice of history. Thank you Roger for an amazing memory!
Roger Daltrey rose from blue collar roots in the working class suburbs of England, discovered Rock ‘n’ Roll and successfully dedicated his life to music. All the while he has retained a passion for music, an awareness of personal and cultural history, an appreciation for everyone who has enabled his success and love for the audience that has stood by the Who over the last half century. I hope that when I’m 67 years old, I possess the same character traits that I see in Daltrey: passion, fearlessness, strong work ethic, optimism and an overall appreciation for life. I hope I’m as successful a writer/archivist/historian as he is as a musician.
I also hope the Who embark on the rumored Quadrophenia tour next year… I’m ready for another amazing journey.
Set List & Videos
I recommend watching Roger Daltrey perform Tommy in its entirety HERE! (I love YouTube!)
Set One – Tommy
2) It’s a Boy
4) Amazing Journey
6) Eyesight to the Blind
8 ) Cousin Kevin
9) 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
18) I’m Free
19) Miracle Cure
20) Sally Simpson
22) Tommy’s Holiday Camp
23) We’re Not Gonna Take It (includes See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You)
1) I Can See for Miles
2) Behind Blue Eyes
3) Gimme A Stone
4) Pictures Of Lily
5) Giving It All Away
6) Johnny Cash Medley
7) Who Are You
8 ) My Generation
9) Young Man Blues
10) Baba O’Riley
11) Without Your Love
12) Blue, Red and Grey
13) Naked Eye