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Live review: Roger Daltrey at the Orpheum Theatre

October 18, 2009 |  7:03 pm
Roger_daltre-3 The Who's 65-year-old frontman flourishes as a solo act in the intimate confines of the historic downtown L.A. venue.

What's the difference between hearing Roger Daltrey perform the Who's music when he's fronting the legendary band versus hearing him play those same songs solo? With the Who, you get Daltrey's voice, one of the Olympian wonders of classic rock; with Daltrey alone, you get an entire human being.

Daltrey spent a generous amount of time sharing of himself during a nearly two-hour show Saturday at the historic Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles, the fifth concert on his first solo trek in nearly a quarter-century. Creating that level of intimacy can be difficult when the juggernaut that is the Who is in motion and playing to capacity crowds in 18,000-seat sports arenas.

Justifiably, Pete Townshend always has been considered the heart and mind of the towering British quartet because of the remarkable body of songs he's written since the beginning. But on Saturday the 65-year-old Daltrey made it clear what he's given Townshend in return for such grandly emotive source material: an expressive instrument capable of channeling feelings from primal rage to the joy that comes from spiritual liberation.

For the record, a Townshend was there: Pete's younger brother, Simon Townshend, who looks, and more significantly, sounds, a great deal like his older sibling, played guitar in Daltrey's backing band, which also included Jon Button's free-range bass and Scott Devours' Keith Moon-inspired drumming.

Reports from previous shows had indicated that the singer's set relied predominantly on the Who's deep catalog, but for L.A., Daltrey split things about half and half. He touched down on the early "Pictures of Lily," an ode to a young boy's struggle with raging hormones, in addition to material from what is arguably the band's finest moment, 1971's "Who's Next": "Baba O'Riley," "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Going Mobile."

The emotional evolution that comes with age was most striking in the phrase of "Behind Blue Eyes" in which he sings, "My love is vengeance/That's never free." What sounded like a threat nearly four decades ago emerged Saturday as a sorrowful confession for such a primitive impulse.

Interestingly, there was nothing from "Tommy," though Daltrey did offer up the Who obscurity "Naked Eye," a strong treatise on self-deception that's long been one of Townshend's favorite subjects.

Unexpected song choices made for some of the most revealing parts of the show. Daltrey delivered a straightforward reading of the Johnny Cash hit "Ring of Fire" and a pair of numbers from the 1998 concept album/song cycle "Largo," a multi-artist project coordinated by members of the band the Hooters.

Daltrey wasn't part of that project, but he chose to sing "Freedom Ride" and "Garth Largo," performed on the album by Taj Mahal and the Band's Garth Hudson, respectively, because he said they brought together his longtime love of Celtic and folk music with the rock that's been his bread-and-butter for nearly 50 years.

As those years have rolled by, Daltrey's voice has gained sonority, while appearing to have lost a bit of range. He struggled with notes at the top of the scale and had to take three stabs at "Blue Red and Grey," a tune from 1975's "The Who by Numbers." He sang accompanied by his own ukulele strumming and some nicely restrained keyboard work from Loren Gold. A rock deity with a more fragile ego might have given up after a failed first attempt, but Daltrey simply explained that taking a day off before the Orpheum show left his vocal cords not quite supple enough for the song's higher notes. Even after muffing it a second time, he came back to it once more at the end of the set.

When he successfully scaled the passage that had tripped him up previously, a wave of elation rippled through the audience. Daltrey demonstrated in that moment that while rock godhood has its benefits, connecting human to human ultimately is the more profound experience.


Photo credit: Gary Friedman / Los Angeles Times