Rock Legend Plays Imaginative, Unconventional Show at DPAC
Rock legend plays imaginative, unconventional show at DPAC
Every so often, rock gods will descend from their lofty perches to stand among mere mortals. The Who’s legendary frontman Roger Daltrey is doing just that with his current Use It or Lose It tour, the name of which is a sneaky nod to his fading vocal chords. It’s his first North American solo tour in 24 years, and it’s not taking place in huge arenas or amphitheatres with extravagant stage design, but instead in elegant theaters and auditoriums with little to no superfluity.
Considering Daltrey’s eminence, only a pathetically small crowd was scattered about inside the gorgeous confines of the Durham Performing Arts Center for his Oct. 28 performance. It only took seconds of Daltrey’s presence onstage at to establish that those expecting a Who show would be disappointed, but this would instead be something much more special. There would be plenty of Who songs, he affirmed; some rarities, others never before played. All of them would be his own interpretations in his own style, heavy with R&B and Celtic pop influence.
Daltrey’s style is decidedly less flashy and grandiose than one would expect from one of the most recognizable voices of rock’s consummate era.
He still drips with the same sex appeal, albeit a more dignified version, that the lithe ’60s Daltrey exuded. He craftily undid a fourth button on his white shirt as the band launched into the quasiacoustic opener “Who Are You,” a song that, in Daltrey’s own interpretation, sounds more like a simple blues song when you take away the synthesizers. The question of whether Daltrey still possessed the same epic pipes that he once did was promptly answered by the gruff refrain of “I really wanna know.” Vocal chords, he remarked, don’t age as well as guitar strings.
Yet, this show didn’t need a 24-year old Roger Daltrey to be utterly captivating and wickedly intimate. Daltrey’s use self-effacing wit and nostalgic introspection separated him from the pretense that surrounds your typical rock figurehead. His stories between songs were funny and insightful, if occasionally rambling. He preceded one of the Who’s greatest B-sides, “Pictures of Lily,” with a story of deceased bassist John Entwhistle singing the highest part of the harmony in rehearsal one day. Entwhistle’s voice dropped off, unable to regain the pitch needed, forcing them to drop the song from their live repertoire. “It was like he had finally descended,” Daltrey said. “Which is ironic, because that’s basically what this song is about; becoming a man.”
Theset was three for three on Who classics after Daltrey’s personalfavorite, “Behind Blue Eyes,” a song where he noticeably struggled withthe higher ranges. He prefaced it with a story of its origin andtreatment by other artists, throwing out a well-placed and -deserveddart in regards to a particularly wretched cover by Limp Bizkit.Daltrey’s treatment of the song encapsulated his own performance ethos;humble and slightly sardonic in opposition to the Who’s primarysongwriter, the brazen and pokerfaced Pete Townshend. Just as thebuildup to the song’s ripping guitar solo seemed unbearable, theaudience was met with Daltrey, rhythm guitarist Simon Townshend (Pete’slittle bro) and lead guitarist Frank Simes banging out the tempo ontheir guitar bodies. No melting of faces, just a little vintageRogering.
Daltreygave the audience time to re-up on beverages with two of his solotracks, though the hardcore fans were shown a different, morevulnerable side of their hero. He seemed somewhat exposed standingthere, spectacled under the spotlight, with a voice that sounded acouple of notches below where it once was. “Wake up, you bugger,” hequipped afterward before giving a nod to Taj Mahal with “Freedom Ride.”
Hepromised more rarities, one of which arrived in the form of “GoingMobile,” a song the Who never once performed live. Sung by the youngerTownshend, Daltrey stepped back and manned his harmonica whileTownshend displayed far greater singing talent than his brother everdid, one reflective of a much younger Daltrey. “I wouldn’t change ahair on his head,”
Daltrey later said of him, as the balding Townshend jibed “Go on, give us a few more.”
Amidstscreams of “Raw-jah!” from the audience, Daltrey opened up on one ofthe Who’s more reviled tunes “Squeezebox,” yet made it strangelycharming with his Celt-pop inflection. Even better, Daltrey’s voice wasback in full stride by now and he steamrolled through “I Can See ForMiles,” as the band abandoned the anti-hard-rock charade and ratchetedup the intensity. There was no trouble sustaining it, as the stagelights dropped, Daltrey undid another button and the goosebumps arosewith the intro to “Baba O’Riley.” He whipped the mic around like hisyounger self and though Daltrey’s voice will never again be peak, theline “We’re all wasted!” came as close as you’d want.
As Daltrey harkened the show’s close with a medley tribute to Johnny
Cashthat included “There You Go” and “Ring of Fire,” he reminded that hesimply doesn’t do encores and neither did the Who for their first 14years. He skipped over “Summertime Blues,” which was on the officialsetlist, in favor of another Who rarity “Red, Blue and Grey,” a songPete Townshend abhorred. “I’m Pete Townshend, Guitar Wrecker,” Daltreymocked. “I’ll look bloody stupid up there with a ukulele.”
Heclosed on a quiet note with his touching original “Without Your Love,”setting the pomp and fanfare of the Who’s catalog aside to simply paytribute to his friend Catherine James. Sure, it disappointed some thathe didn’t go out in an “Eminence Front”-filled cloud of smoke, but thiswas the real Roger Daltrey; a little less icon and a little more human.