Roger Daltrey resurrects Tommy at triumphant show in Newark

Roger Daltrey gave a terrific performance of Tommy, other songs from The Who, and a few tunes from his solo catalog at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Sunday night, September 18th.

By John Curley

Roger Daltrey has pulled Tommy, the “deaf, dumb, and blind kid” of rock opera fame, out of the mothballs this year for a tour that attempts to recreate the sound of the original album. When Daltrey took the stage on Sunday night, September 18th, at the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey, he spent the first five minutes of the show talking about different aspects of Tommy. For the 70 minutes that followed, Daltrey and his five-piece backing band (which includes Simon Townshend, Pete’s younger brother, on guitar and backing vocals) brought Tommy back to life. Performed in its full version (save for the instrumental “Underture”), Tommy brought forth a great reaction from the crowd. And that reaction didn’t seem to be just nostalgia for Daltrey’s and The Who’s past glories. Tommy still packs a wallop today, 42 years after the release of the original studio album.

The Prudential Center, home to the NHL’s New Jersey Devils, is a cavernous venue. Even though the top deck of the arena was not made available for seating at the concert and was covered in black curtains, the place still seemed enormous. It is to Daltrey’s credit that he made the arena feel intimate, telling stories between songs and even getting the crowd to sing along during a medley of songs written by Johnny Cash. And the 67-year-old Daltrey was in fine voice, save for a few of the high notes.

The Tommy portion of the show featured numerous highlights, particularly “Amazing Journey” and “Pinball Wizard.” Most of the crowd was on their feet cheering loudly when Daltrey and his band concluded Tommy with “We’re Not Gonna Take It.” Without taking a break, Daltrey and his band plunged right into the next part of the show, which featured solo material and other songs by The Who. While the material performed from The Who’s catalog contained some of the usual suspects (“Who Are You,” “Baba O’Reilly,” and “Behind Blue Eyes”), there were also some nice surprises, such as “I Can See For Miles,” “Pictures Of Lily,” and a cover of Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues,”, a song that The Who performed quite memorably on their legendary Live At Leeds album. Daltrey also did a wonderful job accompanying himself on ukulele on The Who’s “Blue, Red, and Grey,” a touching song that was performed by Pete Townshend on The Who’s By Numbers album. The performance of The Who’s “Naked Eye” that closed the show seemed to be a surprise to everyone, from the crowd, many of whom had started to file out of the arena (and stopped in their tracks when they realized that the show wasn’t over) to Daltrey’s band, most of whom were not on stage when the song started. Simon Townshend, the last to return to the stage, sprinted to his position just in time to sing his bit. It was a bit shambolic, but it worked. The crowd was in awe.

The Who’s former co-manager, Chris Stamp (brother of actor Terence Stamp), was in attendance at the Newark show, a fact which Daltrey discussed from the stage. Stamp was involved with The Who during the genesis of Tommy along with fellow co-manager Kit Lambert, which Daltrey mentioned. Daltrey added with a laugh that Stamp was also involved with kicking him out of the band for a few weeks in 1965 for fighting with the other members of the band.

Daltrey’s performance lasted about two hours and 30 minutes, no small feat given his age and the physical demands of the show. (Daltrey still whips the microphone around by its lead in the same fashion that he did when Tommy bowed in 1969.) The Tommy portion of the show was accompanied by a series of images that were intended, Daltrey said, to bring Tommy into the 21st century. The images were created by students at London’s Middlesex University. (More can be read about the students’ creation of the images for Tommy at http://www.mdx.ac.uk/aboutus/news-events/news/tommyperformance.aspx.) And some kudos should be given to the sound crew. Arenas are usually terrible venues for rock concerts because the sound tends to get swallowed by the vastness of the venue. But the sound at Daltrey’s Newark show was crystal clear. Every word that Daltrey sang or spoke throughout the show could be heard. He was never drowned out by his band or the crowd.

There are rumors circulating that Daltrey and Pete Townshend will tour as The Who next year, performing Quadrophenia, the other rock opera in their catalog. A boxed set of Quadrophenia is due for release later this year, so it makes sense. But statements denying a tour have been issued by The Who’s camp.

Paul Freeman, a Welsh singer-songwriter, was the opening act. Freeman was not mentioned in the advertising for the show, and more than a few people in the crowd seemed annoyed when it was he, and not Daltrey, that took the stage at the announced 7:30 p.m. starting time. But Freeman, performing solo and accompanying himself on acoustic guitar, quickly won the crowd over. One of the highlights of Freeman’s 30-minute set was a spirited cover of The Traveling Wilburys’ “Handle With Care.” And Freeman’s own tunes are worth checking out.

The set list for Roger Daltrey’s performance in Newark was as follows:

Overture
It’s A Boy
1921
Amazing Journey
Sparks
Eyesight To The Blind
Christmas
Cousin Kevin
The Acid Queen
Do You Think It’s Alright?
Fiddle About
Pinball Wizard
There’s A Doctor
Go To The Mirror
Tommy, Can You Hear Me?
Smash The Mirror
Sensation
I’m Free
Miracle Cure
Sally Simpson
Welcome
Tommy’s Holiday Camp
We’re Not Gonna Take It
I Can See For Miles
Behind Blue Eyes
Gimme A Stone
Days Of Light
Pictures Of Lily
Giving It All Away
Johnny Cash Medley
Who Are You
My Generation (Blues)
Young Man Blues
Baba O’Riley
Without Your Love
Blue, Red and Grey
Naked Eye

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