Roger Daltrey Peabody Opera House October 8, 2011
Better Than: Any band you've heard since John and Keith were here.
It could have been an expensive disappointment, an awkwardly painful reminder that life moves too fast and people get old and it sucks. But in the thick of it, it was hard to think of disappointment as anything but an abstract concept, something hazy and insubstantial. 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."
Roger Daltrey, the prototypic frontman who wanted to be onstage because he "got in too many fights in the crowd" wished by the end of the night that everybody leave "with a song in their heart." Daltrey wasn't saving his voice for another day, growling through "Welcome" as Uncle Ernie and savoring the round vowel repetition in "Too-mmy" at the end of "Tommy Can You Hear Me." Ax man Simon Townshend (Pete's little brother, who looks and sounds like a younger version of his famous sibling) may have filled in some of the more challenging parts of the evening. But it was Daltrey, in "1921," who transported the crowd; windmilling his mic like a black-clad rock ninja, swinging it so it wrapped around his body only to land in his hand on just the right beat. He continued to do so throughout the evening, and it was just as awesome and cheer-getting the first time as the last.
There were middle-aged men primally free of inhibition, as if the the opening bars of "Pinball Wizard" ping-ponged their very DNA. Smooth-faced people sang along to the words they learned from their parents' repeated listens, or through earbuds and iPods.
Tommy paved the way for glam rock and is widely considered the first, and maybe best example of a rock opera. Composition wise, it bears all the markings of a Who production--machismo guitar, wall to wall riffs, killer slabs of percussion, incandescent harmonies. Storywise, its weirdness is peerless--a young boy goes deaf, dumb and blind, and nothing can cure his psychosomatic schism. Not acid or witch doctors, not molestation by Uncle Ernie, nor being terrorized by Cousin Kevin. Only a smashed mirror and the powers of poxy pinball.
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: guitarist Frank Simes, Loren Gold on synth, Joe Button on bass, Scott Devours behind the kit and a wall of Plexiglas. Simes shredded like the second coming of Stevie Ray Vaughan and volleyed licks back and forth with Townshend. Devours' drum fills on "Amazing Journey" and "My Generation" chandeliered the room. In the second half of the show, the switch to country for a wildly received Johnny Cash medley was flawless.
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, and his performance might have been aided by a number of old-man accoutrements -- Q tips, mugs of unknown healing liquids, a drying agent for the monitors in his ears, requisite bottles of water. 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. He introduced "Gimme a Stone" as about "the little man fighting the big man, which seems to be happening all over the world today." He sang "You know, nowadays/It's the old man's got all the money/And the young man/Ain't got nothin' in the world these days" in "Young Man Blues."
Even at the very end Daltrey was reluctant to leave the stage, standing alone with a ukelele ("I don't give a shit if I look stupid") for "Red Blue and Grey." "This brings back John to me," he said. "Tomorrow is a special day, it would have been his birthday. It's like they're back here. The racket that they made in their lifetimes is still echoing around in the universe, and let's hope it does for a long time to come."
Opener: Armed with only an acoustic guitar and a harmonica, Paul Freeman's dynamo performance was the perfect warm up for the main event. "My job is to get you all hot for Roger Daltrey. So are you hot?" he queried, before asking for a volunteer to come sing with him. A fearless broad named Suzanne was pulled out of the pit and onstage, and he taught her a line and she sang it beautifully, undeterred by the huge crowd.
Musically different from the headliner, Freeman played a straightforward set that was folky and impassioned in the best way possible. Backed by a rather lame, static projection of his logo and social media links, Freeman proved himself a consummate performer, from his natural stage banter to superior songwriting chops. "This is the most ridiculous thing I've ever done in my life. I wrote a song 30 minutes ago, it doesn't have a title, but I figure well, what the fuck. Bear with me and we'll give it a go." He uncrumpled his lyric sheet and placed it on the ground. A roadie ran out with gaffer tape to tape it down for him before the Peabody's air conditioning could snatch it away. The song that followed, the song he'd penned a mere half hour before getting on stage in front of 3,000 people, was easily the best song of his awesome set. Hilariously, he did a cover of the Traveling Wilburys "Handle With Care" and forgot the words.
Notes and setlist on the next page.
Quotes: "I don't do encores. That's a load of bullshit, encores."
"If we'd only send roadies to Afghanistan, it'd have been over in a month. That's what we should do."
"Of course, there's no one else in the world I'd like to be on stage with more than Pete."
He got the crowd laughing when he told them the precancerous growth that was removed from his throat in 2010 has robbed him of the ability to inhale marijuana smoke, and said he's switched to brownies.
Overheard: "I was standing there thinking, 'Why are you still singing to us?!' Wow."
"My name's Tommy. I was named after the album. I saw The Who four years ago." --Seventeen-year-old kid in the pit.
"I am blown away by this. No smoking outside? On the balcony? I am floored, I am blown away."
"I was there, on 3 December 1979 in Cincinnati, when those thirteen people were killed. Remember, they were trampled to death?" --Russ, who is "closing in" on 350 or 375 Who shows. "But that's including them solo, Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey, and The Who."
Personal Bias: 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.
Setlist Overture It's A Boy 1921 Amazing Journey 1921 Sparks Eyesight to the Blind Christmas Cousin Kevin The Acid Queen Underture Do You Think It's Alright? Fiddle About Pinball Wizard There's a Doctor Go to the Mirror Tommy Can You Hear Me Smash The Mirror Sensation Miracle Cure Sally Simpson I'm Free Welcome Tommy's Holiday Camp We're Not Gonna Take It
I Can See For Miles The Kids Are Alright Behind Blue Eyes Pictures of Lily Days of Light Gimme a Stone Going Mobile Johnny Cash Medley Who Are You My Generation Young Man Blues Water Baba O'Riley Without Your Love Red Blue and Grey