With Moony and the Ox now playing in the great gig in the sky, and with Pete Townshend hors de combat due to severe hearing problems, it’s left to vocalist Roger Daltrey to keep the flame of the Who’s music alive and burning.
This tour’s main selling point is the fact that the Who’s seminal rock opera Tommy will be performed in it’s entirety. And given the fact that Tommy was the album where Daltrey really found his voice and opened himself up to the audience by inhabiting the persona of Tommy Walker – the deaf, dumb and blind kid who becomes a new messiah through playing pinball (no more ludicrous a plot than found in many a grand opera) – it’s an appropriate choice.
After a low key introduction, during which a remarkably spry Roger Daltrey stated that the show shouldn’t been confused with a Who gig, there being no Pete Townshend alongside him on stage – the Who’s guitarist has given the tour his blessing via an online posting – the band launched into Overture. The first voice we heard didn’t belong to Daltrey, but to Simon Townshend, Pete’s younger brother and second guitarist with the Who’s touring band, whose timbre and vocal intonation sound eerily like his big bro on It’s A Boy.
Daltrey’s first vocal foray, following a bout of tamborine bashing, began as the familiar notes of 1921 echoed around the Sage’s sold out Hall 1 auditorium. Daltrey’s voice has fared a lot better than many of his contemporaries – he’s still capable of the raw blues power he displayed during Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker) as we’ll as more delicate and subtle vocals on the likes of Amazing Journey and during Tommy’s famous See Me Feel Me leitmotif. Even during the instrumental Sparks Daltrey remained the centre of attention with his first display of his trademark move of swinging his microphone round by its cord in a series of complex choreographed manouvres, while a series of images created by art school students were projected onto a giant video screen above his head.
In their pomp the Who played Tommy as a four-piece, but here Daltrey has enlarged the sound of the piece so it’s more akin to the studio version of the rock opera. Augmented by keyboards and a second guitarist, Daltrey’s band, No Plan B, is lead by guitarist Frank Simes, who thankfully plays Townshend’s guitar parts without attempting to ape Pete’s copyright windmill technique, and does a pretty fine job of it too.
Jon Botton basslines are not as complex as those of John Entwistle, except perhaps during Sparks when he really shines, but then there is Simon Townshend’s guitar to fill out the sound. Scott Deavours’ drumming is suitably powerful and Moon-like, while Loren Gold not only plays the keyboard sections found on the original Tommy album, but also plays synthesised brass parts, replicating the genuine horns that Entwistle played on the album.
By the time of the Listening to You coda that brings Tommy to it’s climax even the traditionally reserved Sage audince was on its feet and singing along. The odd “senoir moment” from Daltrey, the result of getting to grips with a new monitoring system that he’s trialling and that he hopes will allow Pete Townshend to play on stage once more, can’t diminish the overall impact of the piece.
Many artists would have ended their set then and there, but Daltey then proceeded to play a fairly lengthy non-Tommy set containing many Who classics, including Who Are You, Young Man Blues, Beyond Blue Eyes and Baba O’Riley.
Such is the backing-vocal talent within his No Plan B band that Daltery was even able to play a couple of songs that hadn’t featured in Who sets for many years, not since John Entwistle’s voice mutated from angelic soprano to gruff bass-baritone in fact. An incredibly catchy Pictures Of Lily and the wonderfully psychedelic I Can See For Miles were show highlights.
On this showing there’s no doubt that, even at the age of 67, Roger Daltrey still sings a mean pinball.