Roger Daltrey (photo: SarahJayn Kemp)
I walked into the Fox on Thursday just as opener Leslie Mendelson was cutting into a charming rendition of “Blue Bayou.” I’m not usually a two-acoustics, bare-bones kind of a girl, but Mendelson absolutely killed this one. I think one of the greatest crimes of modern country-pop is that this Orbison-penned lament set to music was ever allowed to be covered by Linda Ronstadt. Ronstadt’s stamp on the song was too hopeful, as if she actually believed she’d get back to that fabled bayou one day. If Orbison’s original is a sobering cup of black coffee, drunk alone, Ronstadt’s version is a powdered beignet. It’s simply too sweet. Mendelson managed to evoke more of the authentic spirit of the song while adding a new depth of tentative strength — like she’s not too sure herself when her moxie will wear off.
Moxie was something that seemed to be in short supply in the crowd, though. Save for a group of followers who Daltrey deemed “lunatics” in the front row, people were pretty subdued. Everyone at this show looked like they have more knowledge of hedge funds than is offered up solely by the Wikipedia definition. There were polo shirts — a lot of polo shirts. I don’t there mean were short-sleeve pique cotton shirts with collars. I mean there were persistent schools of middle-aged white men in Ralph Lauren swimming through the crowd. I kept hoping for more of the crowd to cut loose, but…they didn’t.
Almost all of the energy that night was wrapped up on the stage. 74-year-old legend Roger Daltrey did the heavy lifting in terms of contributing to the emotional uplift of the evening. He roared onto the stage with a tambourine in each hand, ripping into “Overture” and “Pinball Wizard” from Tommy. I’ve been hearing Tommy since I was a kid, and I always love it. As with all of the songs he performed that night, Daltrey did not stray one hair away from the Who sound. Most of his songs were “covers” of Who material, and normally I feel a little let down when a live performance is so predictable. When it’s the Who in your ear, though, who can be disappointed?
Daltrey hasn’t lost a whiff of his spunk, even though his stories of drug use and song craft are now shuffled between cautionary tales of hearing loss and affectionate allusions to his wife and children. This man called AC/DC “karaoke” with Axl Rose at their helm, so I believe he and I agree on some deep, internal level about how the world should be run. This belief I have was only furthered when he dedicated “Another Tricky Day” to Rex Tillerson and Donald Trump, Jr. His tongue was so far in cheek while “dedicating” that one that I thought I spotted it worming a hole through his skin, bursting out of his face in measure with the delight he took in hearing of Little Donny’s soon-to-be-dissolved marriage. The idea of potentially less procreation from that bloodline made him near-giddy on stage.
One of the highlights of the show was “Behind Blue Eyes.” The thing about the Who sound is that it is all about the breakdown, and they do it so well. It’s never just a breakdown. It’s a downright beatdown. It’s this orchestrated chaos; jabbing and weaving. It’s the most beautiful knockout to ever grace the mat. In “Blue Eyes,” Daltrey slayed. His voice has held up well over the years, even though he claims to not be able to hear it anymore. “Who Are You” definitely brought out that ravenous Daltrey who was positively chomping at the mic, but in “Blue Eyes” he sang us a lullabye just so he could rattle our cradle. I think that’s so fascinating — the ability to keep us with him.
The other moment that struck me was “Dreaming from the Waist.” This song is all about Pete Townshend. It’s his voice; his energy. If we’re ever asked to procure a piece of music that is most Townshend-esque for some kind of musical time capsule, this one would have my vote. It’s wise beyond its youthful spirit, and melancholy without being a downright drag. Through the help of some excellent touring musicians, Daltrey’s show evoked Townshend’s essence to the stage. It was lovely.
Daltrey is the kind of vocalist that rock and roll needs now. It’s largely gotten too soft, too wimpy, and too one-sided. His sound is unapologetic — it bites it’s way through the air to the audience. Even when he’s being sentimental or sweet, he’s unassailable. His show at the Fox proved that sound isn’t dead, we’ve just got to keep showing up and listening.