Roger Daltrey Performs 'Tommy': Concert Review
Forget the borderline bombastic notion of “rock opera”: Tommy is the Who’s greatest album -- which automatically puts it among rock’s greatest albums. To hear it played live in its entirety, sung by Roger Daltrey, is that rarest of opportunities for the hard-core fan.
And despite the weighty absence of Tommy progenitor Pete Townshend, Wednesday’s show at the Nokia Theatre in Los Angeles was, in a word, outstanding. Clearly enjoying himself, Daltrey led a crack five-piece band through the 1969 tour de force, keeping the grayed and graying crowd on its feet as the tale of the sensory-deprived pinball wizard-turned-brief messiah unfolded.
The hook of this seven-week North American jaunt is that the Who never performed the double LP in its entirety; there always were song omissions, even on the original tour that spawned the revered Live at Leeds. (Leaving out Tommy’s 10-minute “Underture” is forgivable but unfortunate.) So this was no mere Daltrey solo show.
Less than two years removed from throat surgery -- and 19 dates into the tour -- Daltrey was in solid if imperfect voice. It was on Tommy that he cemented the power singing that would become his trademark, and after missing a bit on the belting in “Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker),” the 67-year-old pipes dutifully responded for the loud parts of “Welcome” nearly an hour in.
Daltrey deployed his microphone tosses, dual tambourines and dramatic poses, and his band, including Pete’s much-younger sibling Simon Townshend -- Daltrey twice referred to him as “my brother” -- drilled the music as video played on the screens. The footage enhanced the Tommy story rather than heavy-handedly trying to tell it: Images were appropriately creepy (“Cousin Kevin”), trippy (“The Acid Queen”) or skeevy (“Fiddle About”).
Simon sang Pete’s parts, including “Acid Queen,” in a voice often uncannily reflecting the original’s. He also deployed his brother’s signature mannerisms and guitar moves but wisely resistd the windmills. And drummer Scott Devors channeled Keith Moon’s pounding and wild fills with aplomb. His work reminded of how the drums are all but buried in the Tommy mix; that was famously remedied in the Who’s follow-up album: 1971’s Who’s Next.
In the only switching of the album’s track list, “I’m Free” was moved up a couple of slots to follow “Sensation.” An animated film visualized the “Sally Simpson” story verse-for-verse. No mere throw-in, the song humanizes the newly godlike Tommy’s followers; even out of context, it would have made a great single.
Ending with the iconic “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” the Tommy performance was more than simply memorable; it was an experience. Daltrey saluted the album afterward, telling the crowd, “It’s a classical work, and I’m so glad I found it again because I hadn’t listened to it in 30 years.”
If Daltrey and Pete Townshend tour together again, here’s hoping that Tommy gets more than token attention.
Speaking of a Who redux: Daltrey teased the idea toward the end of the 145-minute intermissionless show: “I don’t want to tour if it’s going to make him deaf,” he said of Townshend, who has battled tinnitus and hearing loss for decades. “But you never know — next year, when the economy picks up … we’re not going away.”
Daltrey and company followed the main event with an hour-plus of Who classics, deep tracks and covers. After not addressing the crowd during Tommy, the singer was affable, mildly profane and often funny: Before playing a Johnny Cash medley, he said, “The guy who did my throat gave me strict orders to sing something low toward the end of the show.” He also sincerely thanked the crowd for attending during tough times (the 7,100-seat venue’s balcony was closed) and gave call-outs to his late bandmates Moon and John Entwistle, chuckling as he referred to them as “those two buggers.”
There was no shortage of musical highlights during the post-Tommy set. But like a sequel to, say, Raiders of the Lost Ark, it was enjoyable and sometimes grand but ultimately anticlimactic.
It’s a Boy
Eyesight to the Blind
The Acid Queen
Do You Think It’s Alright?
There’s a Doctor
Go to the Mirror!
Tommy Can You Hear Me?
Smash the Mirror
Tommy’s Holiday Camp
We’re Not Gonna Take It
I Can See for Miles
The Kids Are Alright
Behind Blue Eyes
Days of Light
Pictures of Lily
Johnny Cash medley (I Got Stripes/Folsom Prison Blues/There You Go/Train of Love/Ring of Fire)
Who Are You
Young Man Blues
Without Your Love
Blue Red and Grey