Rochester Hills, Michigan (July 5, 2018) – With temps hovering around 96-degrees at showtime, metro Detroit rock fans braved sweltering heat at Meadowbrook Amphitheatre to catch Roger Daltrey performing The Who’s iconic rock opera “Tommy” backed by the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. Accompanied by members of The Who band, (Simon Townshend, Frank Simes, Loren Gold, Jon Button and Scott Devours) the 74-year old rocker churned out classic after classic as they rolled through the entire album, on the penultimate show of the tour.
“Tommy” was originally conceived by Daltrey’s Who bandmate Pete Townshend and tells a story about a “deaf, dumb and blind” boy who rises to fame as a “Pinball Wizard.” Released in 1969, the album has long been considered The Who’s breakthrough work. receiving much critical acclaim.
As the sounds of the Detroit Symphony Orchestra tuning up waned, guitarists Townshend and Simes entered the stage to a rousing round of applause and the DSO and band launched into the opening “Overture”, the instrumental introduction to the rock opera. Although the original recording contains some orchestration, the presence of the DSO lent a depth and richness to the classic melodies. As they moved through “It’s a Boy”, with Townshend offering up the lead vocals that were originally sung by his brother, Roger Daltrey appeared, clad in a gauzy white shirt and black jeans, for “1921” inciting the crowd into another ovation.
The story progresses telling of British Army Captain Walker, missing and thought dead, returning home to discover his wife has taken a new partner. Their young son, Tommy, is witness to an altercation that ends with the murder of his father. In an attempt to protect the boy, his mother and her lover convince Tommy that he didn’t hear or see anything and not to say a word about what had happened, resulting in his becoming “deaf, dumb and blind” to the outside world.
Daltrey brought all of his charismatic stage presence, giving life to the vivid and varied characters in the following numbers, including not only the title character and his parents, but also the sadistic “Cousin Kevin“, twisted deviant Uncle Ernie (“Fiddle About“) and the mind-expanding “Acid Queen“. Known for his astounding vocal range and screams, Daltrey did not let us down, belting out every note with a strength and vigor that belies his age.
In particular, a few numbers really stood out, including “Christmas” which brought the entire crowd to their feet singing along “Tommy can you hear me?” with Tommy/Daltrey responding, “See me, feel me, touch me, heal me.” Similarly, the iconic “Pinball Wizard”, arguably the most well known track on the album, packed a punch with a stunning performance from both guitarists. The pivotal sequence of “There’s a Doctor“, “Go To The Mirror!“, “Tommy Can You Hear Me?” and “Smash The Mirror” ran the gamut of emotions as Daltrey and band brought to life the struggle to find out what is happening in Tommy’s head.
As the story peaks, the music grows in intensity lending itself well to the backing of the orchestra. At many times, the brass, string and woodwind sections, deftly led by touring conductor Keith Levenson, further enhance the familiar songs and showcase the versatility and talent of the DSO. In each city, Levenson has the challenge of teaching a new orchestra all of the music in a single quick rehearsal just a few hours before showtime. That the show tonight sounds so put-together and runs like a well oiled machine is a tribute to the skills of both the conductor and the fantastic musicians of the DSO. Daltrey’s performance weaves the storyline, orchestration and rock & roll together, pushing many of the songs to new heights through the contrasting styles of music.
Working through the climax of the story, Tommy’s rise and fall from grace as a superstar, during songs like “I’m Free”, “Sensation” and “Welcome” Daltrey and band showed no signs of slowing down, despite the almost unbearable heat. The fans were enthralled throughout the night and many appeared to be quite moved by the show right through to the final number, chanting along with “We’re Not Gonna Take It” just like the angry crowd in the opera.
After the conclusion of the album tracks, Daltrey offered a few bits of Who history and heaped praise on the DSO for their impeccable performance and learning the challenging works in such a short time and without the ability to rehearse with his band. During the show it had been noticeable that he was having some difficulties with his in-ear monitors, they kept slipping out due to the heat and sweat. While reinserting them for the encores, he offered some commentary on the benefits of using hearing aids and encouraged us to have our hearing tested. This seemed ironically funny coming from the frontman of the band once listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for having the loudest concerts, measuring an ear-blistering 126 decibels (dB) at a distance of 32 meters from the speakers at a 1976 London show.
Daltrey and the band then offered up an encore consisting of a couple of classic Who tunes, the angry and hard rocking “Who Are You?” followed by “Baba O’Riley” featuring a mesmerizing electric violin solo from Katie Jacoby. The show wrapped up on a mellower note with “Always Heading Home”, the single from Daltrey’s latest release “As Long As I Have You“.
Roger Daltrey and The Who band follow up the “Tommy” tour with a few more shows this summer in New York and California featuring classic Who hits, Who rarities and solo hits.
Photojournalist: Thom Seling
Journalist: Kate Sumbler