A meticulous performance of controlled power and measured musicianship saw Roger Daltrey roll back the years, all 42 of them, as he lead a crack band through The Who’s 1969 opus, Tommy, at the Academy.
In his first Bournemouth show since the album’s original release, when The Who warmed up for the Isle of Wight Festival with a date at the Pavilion Ballroom, Daltrey returned to road test his band ahead of the much-feted Teenage Cancer Trust gig at the Royal Albert Hall on Thursday.
Of course, Tommy has been played live many times before, albeit in various altered states from orchestral readings to a stage musical and by The Who themselves, but rarely has it been tackled with such reverence. Daltrey’s band of sympathetic American session players, augmented by Pete Townshend’s brother Simon, expertly recreate the original album with precision and skill; as the singer gamely delivers the lion’s share of the vocals (wisely leaving John Entwistle’s soprano parts for the higher-voiced Townshend).
The show revels in the subtle tones and crafted layers of the original Tommy. It was only The Who’s fourth album. In an amazing four years they’d progressed from the speedy R&B urgency of 1965’s My Generation, through the proto-psychedelia of A Quick One and the full-blown pop art cantata of The Who Sell Out to arrive at a point where absolute confidence in their own ability – coupled with a necessary dose of arrogance – had convinced them they could deliver Pete Townshend’s synesthetic vision of a rock album that could paint pictures and be played by a band acting like an orchestra.
It’s there in the intricately woven Overture, through the choral interludes of 1921 and the stirring finale, We’re Not Gonna Take It, which knits a euphoric symphony from two of Townshend’s finest songs – See Me Feel Me and Listening To You.
With a soundcheck that lasted nearly two hours, Daltrey obviously put the work in for this performance and was clearly irritated by some of the harmonies that didn’t quite come off. It’s a measure of his notorious perfectionism though and although we wouldn’t have it any other way, it didn’t actually matter because there was so much love between stage and crowd that he probably could have read the phone book and got away with it!
Rightly sharing the roundly deserved plaudits of the audience with his band, Daltrey noticeably relaxed into the second portion of the show – a chance to revisit some Who gems and indulge a few of his own tastes. Days of Light recalls his rock ’n’ roll teenage; while Freedom Ride plays to the rootsier sounds he makes with Charlie Hart (ex-Slim Chance), Danny Thompson, and long-time Who cohort Billy Nicholls, whose sentimental Without Your Love from the McVicar film soundtrack closes the show.
But for many, the real highlight must have been Daltrey’s loving resurrection of a brace of rarely-performed Who classics, Pictures Of Lily and I Can See For Miles, as well as more staple material like Baba O’Riley and Who Are You? They may lack the raw power and spontaneous energy of The Who in their prime – only a fool would try to ape that in any case – but this more measured, disciplined delivery reminds fans of every vintage just how good the songs were in the first place.
Daltrey makes for a personable host. Fit and lean, he banters with the loudmouths in the crowd and goes so far as to suggest he could still punch well above his weight. I don’t doubt it. There’s always been aggression in this music and no matter how fastidious the presentation of it is, scratch the surface and it bites back.
A full two-hour show and no encore… as the man with the biggest mic swing in the business says: “What more do you want from me? I’m a f***ing pensioner!”
Review by Nick Churchill, Photos by Steve Cook