It was billed as a solo performance, but it was so much more. Who knew? Outside Whoville, that is.
Going above and beyond the call of rock star duty, Roger Daltrey went the extra miles (and miles) before a not-quite-sold-out crowd at the Paramount Theatre (1,870-seat capacity) in Denver on October 20.
It was a given that the powerful voice behind The Who would deliver a collection of classic rock ‘n’ roll tunes. But a few friendly folk tales and a certain Mile High Malady provided some unexpected drama from one of the iconic figures of His Generation.
The charismatic lead singer through thick and thin, fame and fortune, and life and death has learned a thing or two about himself during a career that goes back to 1962. He started a skiffle group that guitarist Pete Townshend eventually joined, and it officially became The Who in 1964. And during this “Use It Or Lose It” solo tour of North America, the cherished Golden-Throated God of one of the most successful and influential groups still standing – more than four decades after the British Invasion – aims to prove he can still make it on his own.
While his 18-song, nearly two-hour set was peppered with nine numbers made memorable by The Who (none of which he wrote), this was no nostalgic act meant for a Las Vegas lounge.
Sure, two of the opening three numbers were mainstays of the group’s primeval past (“Who Are You” and “Behind Blue Eyes” were also on the setlist during The Who’s last Denver stop, at the Pepsi Center in November 2006), yet Daltrey adventurously veered from greatest hits ground at times. And he made it clear at the outset there was no outside influence, that he and his five-main group, which included that other Townshend (Pete’s younger brother Simon), would perform “Who songs that I like to sing.”
So that meant bringing refreshing ditties such as “Squeeze Box” and “Red, Blue and Grey (both from 1975’s often overlooked The Who By Numbers) out of mothballs. And sometimes sounding like the neglected brother of the family, Daltrey used the occasion to perform material from a prolific, if not necessarily lucrative, solo career that has produced seven studio albums and a couple of compilations.
The blue-collar bounce of “Days of Light” (one of seven songs he co-wrote on his last studio release, 1992’s Rocks in the Head) stood out. Introducing another number from that album, he boldly challenged Americans by saying, “The next time you vote for president, ask yourself this question: ‘Who’s Gonna ‘Walk On Water’?”
It also gave him the chance to unleash any pent-up emotions and tell his side of the sibling-like rivalry he had with Pete Townshend, The Who’s only other surviving full-time member after the deaths of drummer Keith Moon in 1978 and bassist John Entwistle in 2002.
Before tackling “A Second Out,” which appeared on his Moonlighting anthology, Daltrey related to a rowdy audience, using a mocking tone to imitate Townshend, “I’ve written a few songs in my time. And one time, Pete said, ‘Well, I don’t want to write these fucking songs anymore; you write them.’ So I said, ‘Well, I’m not the best songwriter, Pete, I’ll do my best. … So I came to write six or seven songs, and this is one of them. And I played them for Pete, who said, ‘They’re crap.’ So I’m going to play this ‘crap’ song for you.”
Daltrey has pledged to be ready when Townshend decides to reunite for another tour, and says he is using this time to get himself and his voice in shape for that eventuality. “The object of this exercise is to get this old fart off his ass,” the 65-year-old said, laughing at his personal dilemma.