Gabe Echazabal, Tracy May
Creative Loafing Tampa Bay, 01-11-2017
The perfect antidote for a grueling start to another work week is a rock and roll show. But when you’re lucky enough to start your week with a night out hearing legendary Who frontman and belter Roger Daltrey do his thing, well, that’s no ordinary week.
Kicking off a mini-solo tour cheekily titled “A Quick Run (While Pete’s Away),” a play on words harkening back to the Who 1966 mini-epic track “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” Daltrey isn’t one to remain idle while his longtime bandmate Pete Townshend is engaged in other projects. Having taking residency in Clearwater’s Ruth Eckerd Hall since last week for rehearsals, Monday’s night’s surprise-filled Daltrey show was the first of a run that will take the 73-year old singer around the Sunshine State before heading to upstate New York for a pair of shows.
After a brief, enjoyable performance from show opener Leslie Mendelson who, along with band member Steve Mcewan, treated fans to a sparse, acoustic set, Daltrey and his stunning band wasted no time in kicking things in high, electrified gear.
With a stack of white sheets of paper in hand, Roger jovially joked about having to carry his lyrics with him and his wanting to keep the band ready in case “Pete [Townshend] wants to do anything next year”. The bulk of the five-piece band Daltrey brought with him doubles as part of the traveling roadshow that makes up the current touring lineup of The Who so, it seems, Daltrey’s motivation was keeping the band sharp…but after the first number, it was clear that the still fit and sturdy singer still loves fronting a high energy rock and roll band himself.
The night’s 90-minute set got off to a jaw-dropping start with an incendiary reading of the “Tommy Overture.” No longer sporting the long, blond curly locks of yesteryear or an open-chested shirt, Daltrey, clad in simple white shirt and black jeans still looked and sounded spectacular. Furiously bashing a pair of tambourines together, he seemed downright thrilled to be doing what he loves. And boy did the crowd respond in kind; fans who looked to be of the age to have seen The Who’s unforgettable 1969 Woodstock performance in person constantly and spryly rose from their seats to shower Daltrey and his band with a bevy of standing ovations and the response seemed to fuel Roger to keep things chugging along splendidly.
Brightly colored, piercing lights lit up the stage and the hall while the band perfectly supplied the firepower that is needed to supplement Daltrey’s commanding voice. Sure, he can’t hit the high notes he used to, and the guttural screams aren’t as explosive as they used to be but, damn, can this guy still sing.
Pleasing fans early on with loud, supercharged versions of “Pinball Wizard” and “I Can See For Miles” early on set the pace for the performance. Joking that he’d just returned from South America where The Who supported Guns ‘N Roses and played to massive stadium audiences, Daltrey joked that playing in the cozy theater felt like he was “back in my front room.” Feeling comfortable and at ease seemingly gave Roger the freedom and the flexibility to sail through some numbers that aren’t typically part of a Who setlist nowadays. The band’s rarely played 1982 single “Athena” was a total surprise as was the pop gem from the band’s 1981 Face Dances album, “Another Tricky Day,” which was introduced with a topical dedication: “This one’s for Donald Trump. But there’s no criticism from me…I’m English,” he coyly added. The song was plagued with some minor setbacks; lead guitarist and The Who’s touring keyboardist and musical director Frank Simes ran into some wonky feedback from his guitar pedal board and Roger had a few lyrical flubs but they both recovered nicely and professionally and sailed right along. In my eyes, a small price to pay for the opportunity to hear one of the absolute greatest rock and roll singers of all time dive into such rarely heard material from a concert stage.
Simon Townshend, brother of Pete, was plagued with own share of sound problems but quickly resolved them by the time his spotlight moment, a rousing version of “Going Mobile” from the classic Who’s Next was a dead ringer for his brother’s performance, came about. “He’s really every bit as good as his brother,” Daltrey gushed when introducing Simon. Pretty impressive testimonial from the man who has stood alongside the elder Townshend for the better part of 50 years on a rock and roll stage.
Crowd favorites and crowd pleasers like “Who Are You” and “Baba O’Riley” meshed with more obscure material like a stunning rendition of Daltrey’s 1973 solo hit, the Leo Sayer-penned “Giving It All Away” as well as “It’s Not Enough,” a standout from The Who’s fine 2006 album, Endless Wire. The real wow moments came when Daltrey delivered an absolutely magnificent, heartfelt version of “How Many Friends” from the underrated 1975 Who album, The Who By Numbers. And, oh yeah, pounding versions of “Young Man Blues” and “Summertime Blues”, two covers the band crushed on its explosive 1970 concert album Live At Leeds were pretty stellar too. And from the buzzing that still rings in my ears, it’s evident that the band had no qualms about keeping the volume nice and high. But really, isn’t that the only way to hear Who songs performed.
Humbled and openly pleased with the night’s proceedings, Daltrey gave a quick verbal insight into the Teen Cancer America trust he’s helped organize and gave insight into the importance of such an organization. He drew some pretty hearty hollers that stemmed from local pride when he mentioned the work the trust has done with Bay area hospital Moffitt and sang the praises of all the good work they do.
Ending with an as of yet unreleased tune, a plaintive ballad titled “Heading Home,” Daltrey said his goodbyes and left the crowd who’d already starting filing out of the rows with his normal farewell: “Be lucky, be happy, be healthy”.
And lucky indeed is what I and many of those in the nearly sold-out audience felt at the chance to see this absolute rock and roll legend in this small, intimate setting still delivering the goods in grand fashion.