I wanted to start by explaining why I’m doing this.
First of all, it’s just to get off my ass. Because singers with a fat ass… You don’t want that.
Secondly, it’s to keep the vocal chords lubricated. But it’s not like a guitar—you can’t just add new strings.
Finally, I just want everybody to have a bloody good time!
— Roger Daltrey, 5 November 2009 (quote probably not exact, but you get the gist…)
I’ve given up trying to figure out exactly what it is about Roger Daltrey, but let’s just say, I was really looking forward to this concert. Wanting anything that I can’t 100% control always feel a bit dangerous to me, and my mind skittered over all the possible occurrences that could prevent me from attending (weather, illness, death, fire), until it seemed almost almost miraculous that I’d ever gotten myself to any concert anywhere.
In the weeks leading up, H1N1 became the main focus of my fretting, and the difficulty of accessing the vaccine led me to shielding myself (and Jean) with an elixer of hand sanitizer and vitamin D, hoping that would keep the virus at bay.
I’d also been following the tour virtually since it began in late October. The digital age has changed everything, hasn’t it? After each show there were not only written concert reports but lots of photos and quite a bit of video. And reports were generally rapturous, until… the Cleveland show.
Chicago, by all accounts, had been a huge triumph. Cleveland was the next day, 2 days before the Orillia concert (with a day of rest in between). And in Cleveland, his voice gave out. And he had to cut the show short.
This was so not what I was hoping to read before my show. And if I’d been operating on fairly low-level neurosis before, it now kicked into high gear. Having managed to keep both Jean and I free of not only flu but also colds and food poisoning and any other ailment that could possibly keep us bedridden, I was now gripped with the fear that laryngitis would force a cancellation of the Orillia show.
“You should have been sending Roger Daltrey the hand sanitizer and vitamin D,” Jean pointed out.
The night before the concert, there was no cancellation notice on the Casinorama website, and then I decided, I didn’t want any more news. From anywhere. Since I had to work the first part of the day, and since I have to use the web to do my work, that was trickier than you might think, but I managed.
We got away at exactly the time we’d hoped to (3:00) and although it was a fairly wacky weather day, switching rapidly from sun to rain to hail to light snow and back, the drive went really well. At our check-in at the Day’s Inn, just down the road from the Casino, it was clear that the concert still wasn’t cancelled. It finally felt safe to just get giddy about the whole thing.
When I would mention this event to people, the reaction would either be, “Who’s Roger Daltrey?” (and it’s very difficult to resist the temptation to just say, “Yes, that’s right” to that comment), or the comment that it was a bit sad he was playing a Casino.
I’m not going to comment on that aspect, but this is was playing a Casino (versus the smaller music clubs he was otherwise performing at on this tour) meant:
- No Meet’n’Greet, first of all. At every venue on this tour (including some of the other casinos, actually), you had the option of buying very expensive tickets that gave you both good seats and a pre-concert meeting with Roger Daltrey. And from reading reports of these short encounters, he’s apparently very sweet, very generous about ignoring the “he will only sign one thing” rule, smells great, and is smaller (shorter, thinner) than you’d think.
- Cheaper ticket prices. I don’t know the economics of these things; I just know that Orillia was one of the cheapest stops on this tour.
- On-site amenities. Ten restaurants on site. While these may not be the best restaurants ever, some are pretty good, certainly better than anything on offer at a hockey arena. And an attached hotel, although because Roger Daltrey was staying there, room prices were jacked up to $450. And up. (Maybe they think rich people won’t bother him.)
- No tour merchandise. Normally I don’t give a flying flip about overpriced tour merchandise, but this time, I did want the damn T-shirt. Now I’ll have to order it online and pay shipping. Which is sort of irritating.
- No opening act. I don’t know if that’s a general rule at Casinos, or just because his opening act on this tour are apparently only 18-years-old, and therefore not allowed into an Ontario casino, but there was no opening act. As I hadn’t heard anything too incredibly wonderful about them, I wasn’t too sad about that.
- No teenagers. You have to be 19 to attend concerts at Casinorama. And since The Who still has a surprising number of teenage fans, it’s too bad their youthful presence and energy was absent.
It apparently wasn’t a sold out show, but let me tell you, it had to be pretty close to that. (The venue holds 5000.) That was a big crowd. Age skewing toward baby boomer, I’d say.
The announcement that photography was strictly forbidden was not enforced and was completely ignored by everyone.
Our seats were excellent, at least in terms of sight lines. We were in the seventh row, very close to the center, so pretty much in line with the lead guitarist. The stage was raised enough that you could see over the heads of tall people. There were large screens on either of the stage, but we didn’t really need them. What was less excellent (per Jean) was that the seats weren’t the most comfortable ever, and they were packed pretty closely together.
But one other aspect of casino shows that I discovered is that those of us in the good seats are allowed to go stand in front of the stage, if we want. I hadn’t realized that we were allowed to do that, though, until I saw a bunch of other people doing it. “I want to go stand there,” I told Jean (who’d previously told me if I “rushed the stage”, he was leaving). “You go,” he said. “I’ll watch your stuff.”
So after the opening number (“Who Are You”), I did. And there I stayed. Right up close to Roger Daltrey.
So how was his voice, after all that? Well, not so hot, really. Pretty hoarse. Actually, I can let him tell you:
The thing is, I barely noticed that. I was actually sort of stunned, afterward, listening to the video Jean that had taken, to hear how hoarse he was actually was. It just didn’t sound that way to me at the time.
I can point out that it became clear pretty fast that standing right up close to the stage does not give the best auditory experience of the event. For example, I was still pretty much right front of the lead guitarist, most of the night, and where from my seat the guitar just blended in with everything else, from closer up it sometimes drowned out other instruments, like the harmonica.
I could certainly hear Daltrey sing, though. But it’s like I couldn’t really assess the quality of what I was hearing.
Or, quite possibly, I was just too excited to be seeing him up close to care what he sounded like.
At any rate, the voice also forced the show into being a little shorter than it usually is, with Jean and I both sort of stunned when they were wrapping it up. Which of course was a little disappointing, but if the worst you can say about a show is that you wished it had been longer, that’s pretty good.
The set list
I made no effort to retain exactly what was played in what order, but it certainly was mostly Who, with just a side order of Daltrey solo. And of course, some of the big hits were done: a very exciting “Who Are You” to start; great harmonies on “I Can See for Miles”; a very fun “Squeezebox,” albeit without the hip thrusting that apparently accompanied the “In and out” chorus back in the day; and a truly rousing “Baba O’Riley”, featuring full shirt opening and the night’s only incidence of microphone swinging.
As I knew would be the case, there was no “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (great song, but I’m actually kind of sick of it anyway), nothing from Tommy (the girl in front of me who kept piping up “Pinball Wizard” all night obviously didn’t get that memo), nothing from Quadrophenia. He explained that they’d tried to drop “Behind Blue Eyes” as well, but the protesting there was too great. So instead, they’d rearranged it, and presented that version. It reminded me of the way he’d done in it in his wonderful 1994 Daltrey Sings Townsend concerts, with the “When my fist clenches, crack it open” part rendered nearly a capella:
I was surprised to hear “My Generation,” but this was the “My Generation Blues” version (as featured on the Maximum R&B video), and it segued, through another song that I forget, into a fantastic version of “Young Man’s Blues”—giving one to ponder on how the once young and hungry Daltrey is now transformed into “the old man—who has all the money.” Nothing accidental about that song choice.
But another thing he wanted to do on this tour was bring out some of the more neglected songs in The Who’s canon—like “Pictures of Lily,” which had been dropped along with Entwistle’s vocal range; “Going Mobile”, sung by Simon Townsend (yep, Pete’s little brother, who does sound very much like Pete); and one of my personal favorites, “Tatoo.” They also indulged a request for “The Kids Are Alright,” despite Townsend commenting that it might have been better if the band had learned the song first, and some debate about what key it was actually in. Keeping in mind the wonky state of my brain and hearing that day, the song really sounded great to me.
From the solo oeuvre we got a couple of very fun numbers from his quite good Rocks in the Head album: “Walk on Water,” dedicated to President Obama (“Those Americans don’t know what they want, do they? First they love him, and now… I mean, give him a chance!”), and “Days of Light,” which he explained harkened back to his days as a sheetmetal worker, a pretty crap job that made the weekends all the sweeter: the “Days of Light.” And a couple numbers I didn’t know, but still enjoyed.
As the set list hasn’t exactly been fixed on this tour, I don’t really know what numbers normally performed were left out in the abbreviated set. I think “Naked Eye” has made a number of appearances, and we didn’t get that. Nor did “Boris the Spider,” which would have been cool to hear him do. And he has done the beautiful “Without Your Love” a few times, but I suspect that one would have been beyond him this night.
(YouTube of “Without Your Love” at New Jersey concert, 4 days later. He sounds great. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=AN_9lsa5xHY)
Except for the afore-mentioned Simon Townsend, I don’t think anyone in his band is well-known. But they did do lovely vocal harmonies and quite a credible job of re-creating the Who sound. There was a drummer, a bass player, and a keyboard player. To my surprise, Townsend didn’t play lead guitar, but accoustic. As well as handling all the Pete vocal parts in the songs. The dude I was standing in front of most of the night, apparently recently named band musical director, ably handled the lead guitar parts.
It should be noted that Daltrey also played guitar on a lot of numbers, as well tambourine and harmonica. And ukelele.
The glitches reported on some earlier tour dates were not in evidence this night. No forgotten lyrics. There was only one request for monitor adjustment: “It sounds all horrible and basey. Or maybe that’s my voice.” (Someday I’ll have to find out just what a monitor is.) No complaints about excessive cool, drying air (it was hot in there). No giving up on songs partway through. He did seem to have to keep readjusting his earpiece; that’s about it.
Let’s get the shallow stuff out of the way first: up close and in person, Roger Daltrey looks really damn good. He’s growing the hair out a bit (and there’s certainly still a lot of that), he seems to have dyed it blonde again, he’s tanned, he’s fit and muscular, his face still unremarkably unwrinkled. I’m about ready to drop the “for his age” qualifier from the “he looks really good” comment. (He’s 65.)
And, he seems to be having a great time on this tour. I have recordings of his 1985 and 1994 solo tours, and a lot of DVDs and recordings of Who tours over the years, and I have never heard him be as verbose on stage as he has been on this one. He was funny and charming and entertaining… yeah, kind of sexy.
In introducing “Tatoo”, for example, he explained that he wanted to do this song because it illustrated how much had changed, culturally, since the era in which it was written (1967). Back then, he said, only men got tatoos, and only a certain kind of man at that—a criminal sort, really, that he’d decided he didn’t want to be, and therefore remains untatooed to this day. (The song, by the way, is all about the singer and his brother deciding to get tatoos as a mark of their manhood.)
But now, Daltrey continued, it’s women who get all the tatoos. “And they get them in these places… That you couldn’t imagine you’d want a tatoo…”
Later, he talked about working with The Chieftains, and convincing them to do a Who song in return for his singing a couple of their songs. Their version of “Behind Blue Eyes” got picked up by radio and led to the album being a great success and them winning a Grammey.
“But I didn’t get a Grammy,” Daltrey complained. “I wanted one, too! By the time I finally get one, they’ll be called the Grannies.” (Now doesn’t the fact that The Who have never won a Grammy just make you think that there’s something terribly wrong with the Grammy’s?)
And after “Baba O’Riley,” he explained how he didn’t do encores. “We never did them in the Seventies,” he said. (And agreed that “smashing all your gear” was a good way to avoid them.) “But if we had, I could have used that 10 minutes to have some fun. But what good is 10 minutes to me now? That’s bloody useless. Now I need a whole evening! Sometimes two!”
My favorite part
Standing in the “pit” was generally a congenial experience, but there was one guy who kind of getting on my nerves. It was a little bit that he was just standing there instead of joining in on the singalongs and clapping, a little bit that his height occasionally interfered with my sightline, but it was mainly that as a people got tired of standing and moved back to their seats, he didn’t move over closer to Roger. Instead, he just left space there. And because he was beside me, that meant that I couldn’t move over closer to Roger.
Until finally… For the last three songs, he did get out of my way. Now I was more in between Roger and the lead guitarist instead of just in front of the guitarist.
Then Roger started in on his Johnny Cash medley (much to the delight of some dude behind me who’d been asking for “Johnny Cash” all evening, only to get weird looks from everyone around him). He explained that he was kind of worried about attempting these with his wonky voice, and that he might have to stop if it seemed too brutal. But he did want to pay tribute to this great singer.
And then he looked at me. I mean, right at me. And he smiled. And of course I just beamed back at him.
Then he said that if he got through it, the last number would be “Ring of Fire”, and he’d split the audience into men and women. And he’d have the women sing the chorus on their own, “because that’s really sexy.” And then the men would sing on their own. And finally we’d all sing along together.
So he did get through them (and sorry, I’m not enough of a Johnny Cash fan to know what songs he did), and he got to “Ring of Fire”, and he said, “Now all the women,” and he looked right at me again, through the whole chorus. And know what? It’s both intoxicating and intimidating to be singing about your “burning ring of fire going down down down and the flame getting higher” while Roger Daltrey is looking at you.
YouTube video of Roger’s Johnny Cash medley from Atlantic City. (I could only wish he’d been this sweaty and shirtless when I saw him…)
“Blue, Red and Grey” is this lovely little ballad on The Who’s underrated Who By Numbers album. Pete sings it, and Roger said he’d tried for years to get Pete to do this song in concert, but Pete refused, feeling he’d look like completely idiotic standing there with his ukelele.
Whereupon Roger, now alone on the stage, posed with his ukelele.
Even when in good voice, this one is challenge for Roger to sing—it’s in his upper range, it requires you to go from low to high notes in a beat. But I know he’s been performing it all tour and I’m delighted he attempted for us as well.
It was certainly a struggle for him. As his voice broke on the upper part of the second verse, he commented, “Makes it rather poignant, doesn’t it?” “You sound wonderful, Roger” somebody shouted, and as he did a fairly credible job on the last verse, the applause was very warm.
While we didn’t spend a lot of time talking to other people there—we aren’t very good at that—from what I overheard, it wasn’t just me who really enjoyed this concert. (Jean said it “wasn’t completely awful.” That’s actually pretty good, from Jean.)
So as to goals of this tour:
- Fat ass avoidance—check!
- Voice exercised—check! (I’ll trust this particular workout won’t have done any lasting damage.)
- Having a bloody great time—check and check!
“He made me who I am. I owe him a lot and I love him.” — Pete Townsend on Roger Daltrey
(All photos and video by Jean.)