Jim Walsh, Pop Music Critic
In 1973, rehearsals for The Who's "Quadrophenia« got so heated that Pete Townshend decked Roger Daltrey.
Daltrey should be thankful Townshend is nowhere near "The British Rock Symphony Featuring Roger Daltrey,« which visited the State Theater in Minneapolis Monday night. Because if ol' Pete got a load of the travesty that currently is being made of his and some of his peers' work, he'd likely hunt down Daltrey with a weapon slightly more powerful than his fist.
Backed by a heavy-handed 47-member symphony (London's Royal Academy of Music) and a token gospel chorus (the New York Boys Choir), Daltrey and five other singers -- most of whose talent lay solely in how they filled out their black leather pants (this was a rock and roll show, after all) -- waddled through almost 200 minutes of classic rock songs.
But make no mistake: this wasn't classic, and it sure wasn't rock. "Tony and Tina's Wedding,« across the street, rocks harder. Your average episode of "Teletubbies« rocks harder.
Really, a canal of Viagra couldn't save this mess, which played to a more than half-empty hall of 900, and started out with something called (I'm not making this up) "The Rebellion Suite.« The first words out of Daltrey's mouth were, "People try to put us down/ Just because we get around« from "My Generation« -- an evergreen youth anthem that Pearl Jam nailed a few days prior and which Daltrey turned into Mystic Lake Casino- or Valleyfair-worthy schlock.
At first, I thought Daltrey felt the way I did -- like he wanted to crawl under a rock. But then I realized he is the consummate pro, and a gig is a gig. Sure, he looked uncomfortable, like he couldn't wait for it to be over, or like he was pining for those halcyon days of "Ride a Rock Horse.«
But he went through the motions, because so few had paid $55 and $40 to hear him go through the motions. The sound system squished everything into one big indecipherable burp, and maybe for the best: Among the many lowlights, there was a Rolling Stones medley that made all their commercials for beer, Microsoft, the Republican party, whatever, look like high art, and an unfortunate Peabo Bryson-type who sang "Imagine« like it was "Send in the Clowns.«
The truth is, the whole thing made me nostalgic for the '60s, in that I spent most of the night wishing that I had some really good drugs to help get me through it.
At its best, though, it was more "Showgirls« than "Spinal Tap.« During "Stairway to Heaven,« a very earnest singer who could have come from the same factory that produces Minnesota's endless supply of blonde girly-girl TV meteorologists, sang with her eyes fixed on the spotlight (the "stairway to heaven,« y'know).
At that point, I was guffawing so hard I had to retreat to the spacious balcony, where Rockin' Roger and the rest of his amateur-hour participants couldn't hear me.
So, yes, it was entertaining. Mostly it was pathetic, and bad. But it wasn't just bad. It was soul-sucking bad. It was that rare event that actually took something away from you, depleted your soul, made you feel like you needed a stiff drink or a shower afterward.
Along with the sheer can't-look-away-from-the-gore factor, the one redeeming quality it presented was the heartening fact that the other 14,000 fans who attended last year's "Quadrophenia« concert at Target Center stayed away in droves. In the end, it was notable for how consistently it missed the mark, and for how completely it usurped rock's original spirit.
But give them credit. Now that the classic-rock radio format can be found on only about a dozen Twin Cities stations, it's admirable that Daltrey and company keep alive such undiscovered gems like "Hey Jude,« "Whiter Shade of Pale,« "Ruby Tuesday,« "Money,« "Penny Lane« and "Pinball Wizard.« The truly great thing is that there were kids in the audience, and this was probably the only time they'll ever get a chance to hear the music their parents grew up on.
Near the end, after mauling something or other, Daltrey swung the microphone cord at his side, whipping it skyward with his trademark lasso move. When he threw it in the air to catch it for the grand finale, the mic fell to the stage with a great pop. He looked sheepish, and picked it up. Two songs later, he tried it again, and again it fell to the stage with a great pop.
When a smattering of sympathetic "Whooooos« rose up, an embarrassed shudder went through the theater. Clearly, this wasn't The Who. It was a karaoke bar after all the booze has worn off, the lights have come up, and the participants are left with only embarrassment, their own low expectations and each other.
"The British Rock Symphony Featuring Roger Daltrey« opened Saturday in Denver, Colo., and is scheduled to be on tour throughout the summer. See it soon, because Townshend is liable to get to it first.