As Roger Daltrey and an outstanding band that included Pete Townshend's brother Simon ripped through a start to finish performance of Tommy, my mind kept wandering from the excellence of the music performed by who was there to the guy who wasn't.
"It's arguable that Tommy was not Pete Townshend's greatest achievement as a composer, but beyond dispute is his role as a musical genius and his place on the Mount Rushmore of rock and rock visionaries. What he did with Tommy is lay the groundwork for punk and glam rock. Queen does not exist without the seeds sewn by Townshend.
The Peabody Opera House in St. Louis was the site of last night's performance, and the crowd was damn near as good as the band.
It might seem a hollow exercise to see and hear the front man of a band whose other three parts expressed music with furious virtuosity so unique that The Who likely is the only rock outfit in history whose singer was its least important part, but the show was excellent, and for those snobs who love to wax rhapsodic about the late John Entwistle, the late Keith Moon, and the hearing challenged Townshend“ this show was a direct assault on their obliviousness to Daltrey's gifts.
For a cat at the ripe age of 67, Daltrey's presence and voice are virtually unchanged - except the voice is now much stronger than during any show I've seen in over a decade.
Tommy is still indecipherable. I know that Townshend has explained it, and Daltrey embodies him, but I still couldn't tell you exactly what the hell is going on. A kid is born, is harmed, overcomes the loss of sight, sound, and ability to speak, becomes a hero to the disenfranchised, and then regains his ability to see, hear, and speak. Alrighty then.
What I know about Tommy is this: the songs are great, and the performance is cool. That's why the Peabody and the people who packed it last night danced, sang, and clapped.
The second half of the show was even better. Daltrey explained after the rock opera wrapped that he and the band would embark on the "fucking about" part of the show. They played the great songs from The Who catalogue that feature some of the most beautiful and angry harmonies ever performed, and the crowd sang with as vigor as Daltrey. I've been to a lot of shows where the crowd is reluctant to go out on a limb and forget about what people might think of them if they do something a little strange - "like dance and sing. Not this show, and I hope that's something about St. Louis that isn't restricted to a rogue Daltrey show, but is a habit.
There are a lot of things to enjoy about living in Indianapolis, but going to concerts was not one of them. The crowds always behaved as though they were being watching by some omnipotent monitor to grade them. A mistake free experience is the goal. That's not what concerts are though - not the great ones. The great shows are messy and transcendent, filled with moments of camaraderie and bliss. A oneness develops between the band and crowd, and the second half "the fucking about" part of the Daltrey show was all of that.
The biggest surprise was the lack of ego expressed by Daltrey, who certainly must be hearing the tick-tock of his career clock. It would be natural for a 67 year old guy who fronted the most dynamic rock band in history to want that floodlight centered on him throughout the show - even during guitar solos - when surrounded by people few would pay $3 to see in a local bar - but he didn't. Daltrey acted as though he was simply the singer in another very good band, and that was a classy thing to do.
Despite my overt affection for The Who and its music, I never much cared for Daltrey. He was a pretty piece immersed in an angry, ugly, and riotous four-man mob, and the version of The Who that exists in my mind and ears. Last night, 31 years after seeing The Who, I finally came around to liking Daltrey. Seems like a decent guy who knows he's damn lucky to have found his place as the voice of the music that defines great rock and roll.
Where the tour goes from here is information I'm not interested in enough to research and share, but if Daltrey and his band are on the docket to play in your town, it's worth the price of the ticket and then some.