There are several scenes in Ken Russell's film adaptation of the rock opera "Tommy" in which Roger Daltry, as the lead character, is so enraptured that he holds this look of sheer wonderment on his face.
Attendees of Thursday's (2/28) WHO Cares Benefit for Teen Cancer America & Memorial Sloan-Kettering saw the same inspired glow in photos of Daltry visiting teens at the renowned cancer hospital, which were projected throughout the intimate theater fundraiser featuring Elvis Costello & The Imposters, and of course, The Who.
The sold-out crowd at The Theater at Madison Square Garden was rewarded for supporting the cause, which Daltry and surviving bandmate Pete Townsend promote with great conviction, with a couple of inspiring sets.
Costello opened and closed with covers, revving up a mostly high-energy set with Sam & Dave's "I Can't Stand Up For Falling Down," and wrapping up about 45 minutes later with an homage to his co-headliners, an equally energetic "Substitute."
In between Costello packed his set with hits and classic cuts from his first three albums, at times delivering them back-to-back with rapid-fire intensity. Transitioning into his own material at the top of the show, he churned out "High Fidelity," "Mystery Dance," and a frenetic "Radio Radio" before easing into the shuffle and backbeat of "Everyday I Write the Book."
While that monster hit was hyped with a funky R&B groove, the Reggae flavor of "Watching the Detectives," with its Farfiza-fed breaks, was equally well received a few minutes later.
"Alison" slowed things down, giving Costello a chance to slip on his crooner persona, however briefly, before rocketing to the conclusion of his set with "Chelsea," "Pump It Up," and "(What's So Funny 'Bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?"
After an interminable 45-minute break, the lights went down and a rare, present-day chance to see one of the greatest arena bands in the confines of a small theater commenced. And it didn't take long for any lingering hostility over the length of the break to melt away.
With a cymbal crash from drummer Zach Starkey, the familiar blat of the opening synth line and a the first of many windmills from Townsend, the band launched into "Who Are You." As Daltry strummed an acoustic guitar, he seemed to struggle a bit with the vocal pitch, perhaps signaling the need to tweak his monitors a bit.
The Who flashed back to their early days, segueing into a stripped-down version of "The Kids Are Alright" before tapping into arguably one of the best rock albums of all time with "Behind Blue Eyes," from "Who's Next." The band also paid tribute to both its precedent-setting rock opera's first with "Pinball Wizard," from the aforementioned "Tommy," and a triple-play from "Quadrophenia."
A horn-driven "5:15" gave Townsend a chance to prowl the stage ripping extended guitar solos and trading licks with bassist, Pino Palladino," and "Drowned," was Daltry's chance to rest his voice while contributing some great harmonica work to the arrangement.
The break probably helped The Who's frontman through a breathtaking "Love, Reign O'er Me," as he worked his way up to the powerful crescendo and delivered every high note spot-on pitch.
Rounding out the set, the band jammed through a breezy "You Better You Bet," and wrapped with the double-barreled punch of "Baba O'Reilly," and "Won't Get Fooled Again."
Having recently reviewed The Who's "Quadrophenia" Tour, it was interesting to note the subtle differences and heightened energy level of the band in a more intimate venue, and when its members can mete out their energy in a more encapsulated timeframe.
Townsend even referred to the difference in approach for this one-off show, telling the crowd that he had to "learn how to talk again," in between songs, because the current tour plays the roughly 90-minute "Quadrophenia" with virtually no breaks or chatter.
Daltry was all business toward the end, however, reminding audience members that teens and young adults are typically the most imperiled victims of cancer because they tend to diagnose it in later stages, and are more susceptible to rarer forms of the disease. He and Townsend also implored doctors and researchers to tap into the tragically large number of teen cancer victims to help accelerate efforts to treating this often forgotten demographic.