First the good news. Take half of the Who, after being ravaged by the demise of its mighty rhythm section, Keith Moon and John Entwitsle. Then divide the remaining Who two in half, leaving only singer Roger Daltrey, concluding his first solo tour in approximately 20 years. Then do the math and see what remains. The answer? Probably the best representation of the Who's essence since Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend opted to refuel the band's legacy nearly a decade ago.
Although Daltrey promised at the outset to toss some surprises into his set list, in fact, the set was everything a Who fan would crave. There were rarely performed early gems such as "Pictures of Lily," I Can See For Miles," "Squeeze Box," "Blue, Red and Grey," and "Tattoo" alongside the prerequisite standards, like a bluesy "My Generation" and the omnipresent anthem "Baba O'Riley."
Despite his insistence this wasn't to be a Who show per se, the singer interspersed the proceedings with anecdotes about the band's early days. (Although in giving nods to Townshend and Entwistle, there was, surprisingly, nary a mention of legendary drummer Keith Moon.) He also took the opportunity to recruit guitarist Simon Townshend -- Pete's obliging brother -- to sing some of the songs Pete himself eschewed in concert.
That said, few of the songs Daltrey's performed throughout his still-fledgling solo career made the cut. Still, among the highlights of these few selections were a stirring version of the rocking "Days of Light," from his 1992 Rocks in the Head LP, and a fragile "Without Your Love," from the McVicar soundtrack. Other odds and sods were tossed in as well, but considering he's tallied a dozen or so solo albums, the show was noticeably light as far as his individual repertoire was concerned.
Ah yes.... Now the bad news. A great set list demands a performer who can carry the songs effectively. Unfortunately for all his charisma, attitude, and star power, Daltrey's voice was clearly shot early on. Plagued by a cold and other failings throughout the tour, at this juncture, his once-mighty roar struggled to rise beyond a rasp. "I'm afraid my voice didn't get out of bed this morning, but it will come," he promised early on.
Sadly, it was a no-show throughout. To accentuate the negative, Daltrey made repeated reference to his vocal failings, complaining of mucus and then demonstrating his predicament by spitting a gob on the stage. Later he demanded a hot beverage, and even predicted his own performing demise one day soon as a result of marijuana smoke wafting towards the stage from errant audience members.
"Baba O'Riley" had to get a second start when Daltrey clearly mangled his first attempt, and the delicate "Blue, Red and Grey," featuring Daltrey accompanying himself on ukulele, became the ultimate test of endurance -- both for the audience and the performer. Unable to summon the melody from his choked-up larynx, he made several game attempts to get through before stumbling repeatedly. "Bollocks," he declared with disgust while nearly giving up prior to summoning Simon Townshend to help him make it through.
Fortunately for all Daltrey's failings, he had a more than able five-piece band that deftly replicated the Who's original dynamic thrust. Guitarists Townshend and Frank Simes, bassist Jon Button, keyboardist Loren Gold, and drummer Scott Devours -- a sensational Keith Moon reincarnate -- showed their mastery of the mod squad's catalog with a pyrotechnic show that revived the original quartet's incendiary displays.
And while Daltrey himself clearly wasn't up to the task, admirers of his rock-god persona still had ample cause to swoon in awe. At age 65, he's as svelte and youthful-looking as ever. Dressed simply in jeans, round-rimmed shades, and a white shirt which eventually opened all the way to reveal his still-buff chest, he kept his trademark mike-swinging to a minimum but still held the stage like venerable performer he is.
Irrepressible as ever, he tossed a number of F-bombs into his freewheeling remarks and repeatedly admonished those stage-side who insisted on chatting while he was delivering his ongoing commentary. "Well you please shut up!" he hissed off-mike to the persistent talkers before strumming his guitar and singing "You're an asshole" in obvious disgust.
Ultimately though, it was the betrayal of his own mighty talent that got the better of him. Gamely wading through nearly two dozen songs in approximately an hour and a half, the show ended awkwardly after his attempt at offering a homage to his fans with the heartfelt "Without Your Love." Summoning the band to take their bows, Daltrey reluctantly strode off stage, the house lights rising to signal there would be no encore. It was a bittersweet retreat after an evening of tarnished memories.
Personal Bias: Considering the Who is my favorite band of all time, giving anything less than a stellar review to a rare solo performance by its lead singer may be the most difficult journalistic endeavor I've ever attempted.
Random Detail: As a songwriter, Daltrey never contributed very much to the Who catalog, logging even fewer contributions than bassist John Entwistle. However, archivists may want to investigate the following Daltrey-penned Who originals: "Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere" (the Who's second single, co-written with Townshend), "See My Way" (Daltrey's contribution to A Quick One), and "Here for More," the B-side to "The Seeker."
By the Way: His frequent references to his pre-music career as a metal worker seemed clearly intended to reinforce a sort of working-man persona, and by extension, his sympathy for those victimized by today's economic downturn. Whether or not he can really relate is up for debate, but it's nice he made the gesture.