Roger Daltrey At Sony Centre in Toronto, on Friday
After leading them through a ploughman's performance of the 1969 conceptual rock album Tommy, the throaty sexagenarian singer praised his sidemen, relative nobodies that they were, as the "most fabulous band I've worked with ever in my life."
Wait, he said that? Roger Daltrey, all respect, but you must have been momentarily daffy, if not deaf, dumb and blind, boy.
Daltrey, of course, fronted the Who, a "nice rock 'n' roll band from Shepherd's Bush, London," as they were introduced at the Isle of Wight Festival in 1970. Or were we trying to forget that time, a year when the band first toured Tommy, injecting it with an exhilaration and fury onstage that the double-LP lacked.
On this current North American tour (which previously made stops in Montreal, Ottawa and, on Saturday, Windsor, Ont.), Daltrey shares the stage with three who-dats and a guitarist named Townshend – Simon Townshend, the younger, less accomplished brother of Tommy mastermind Pete. The siblings share a high, nasal tenor voice and an ability to briskly strum an acoustic guitar, common traits established on Acid Queen and Pinball Wizard, respectively. How do you think he does it? Genetics.
Blood relatives and the microphone-swinging front man aside, the show at the Sony Centre seemed almost an arbitrary enterprise. Daltrey wrote none of Tommy; his decision to tour the dynamic song-cycle as a solo act commemorated no anniversary. It was presented stem to stern, from the bold Overture to the resolving We're Not Gonna Take It, with the grey-curled Daltrey exhorting "put in your earplugs, put on your eyeshades" while wearing in-ear sound monitors and shaded spectacles.
And, oh, this was no spectacle – no choir, orchestra or special-guest spots, just a keyboardist who recreated the French horn parts synthetically.
The story (of a boy traumatized by events and family members into an autistic-psychotic pinball-playing savant-messiah figure) was performed in fairly unadventurous fashion, less grand than when the Who freshly and crisply played it here at Exhibition Stadium in 1989.
Some observations: The beginning of It's a Boy – "Captain Walker didn't come home; his unborn child will never know him" – had to it a bluesy, acoustic-Zeppelin feel. Daltrey's thick growl was strong enough, but limber as a lead pipe. The band handled the ornamental buh-buh-buh-buh backing vocals on Christmas finely. Psychedelic-age imagery accompanied the score on a screen above stage. The crowd reacted strongly to the "see me, feel me" conclusion – getting excitement at the feet of original Tommy singer.
Those enthused with the movie or Broadway adaptations of Tommy (or the Who's raw and wild performance of the piece on the Isle of Wight DVD), might have yawned at a run-through that was uplifting, but with little in the way of zip, edge, innovation or thunder.
The concert's stronger second half felt more natural, with selections culled from Who classics and chestnuts, along with a sprinkling of Daltrey solo tunes (including Days of Light, a spryly-rocked ode to the singer's early days of working with sheet metal during the week and playing the clubs of the weekend).
The crowd, strongly of a bifocaled generation, stood up for I Can See For Miles and never sat down. A cover of Taj Mahal's Freedom Ride connected the dots between Southern and Celtic music; Who Are You was stripped down and wily; and Mose Allison's Young Man Blues seemed a note-for-note homage to the Who's Live at Leeds rendition.
A one-song encore saw Daltrey strumming a ukulele for an endearingly shaky-voiced try at Blue, Red and Grey, a touching ditty off The Who By Numbers from 1975, with the unapologetic line ..."but when they sleep, I sing and dance." Those are words written by Townshend, but they felt genuine coming from the 67-year-old former rock star, especially compared to the Tommy business. See him, touch him, feel Roger Daltrey - Blue, Red and Grey drew his audience the closest.
Roger Daltrey's Tommy Tour continues to Vancouver, Oct. 27, Edmonton, Oct. 29; Calgary, Oct. 30; Saskatoon, Nov. 1, and Winnipeg, Nov. 2.
The set list
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
Who Are You
My Generation Blues
Young Man Blues
Without Your Love
Blue Red and Grey