Roger Daltrey, Royal Albert Hall, London
Monday 28 March 2011
If Tommy was made of bricks and mortar it would be Grade I listed by now. The tale of the deaf, dumb and blind kid with messianic tendencies is heritage rock, as safely establishment as the Albert Hall itself.
The two are also similar mixes of glory and of-their-time problem-elements. The Victorian venue still has acoustics that make you wonder where the lifeguards and changing rooms are, while the 1969-vintage pioneering "rock-opera" still has "Fiddle About", a jokey song about paedophilia that tonight, of all nights, you think they might have omitted. That's because Roger Daltrey's performance of The Who's magnum opus is part of a week of shows raising money for the Teenage Cancer Trust (Absolute Radio is the radio partner), of which he is patron, and which has raised millions over the last decade.
The Who singer and his American band give the piece a faithful reading, with Pete Townshend guesting to thunderous acclaim on "The Acid Queen", the composer's voice less reedy and more powerfully gravelly than it has often seemed. A few songs later, the fact that he's in the building makes a Townshend- less "Pinball Wizard" feel curious, but it's churlish to complain when, as Daltrey explains, tonight was arranged at late notice to fill a gap in the TCT season, and his band are more than competent.
The stand-outs, "I'm Free", and "See Me, Feel Me" and the anthemic climax of "We're Not Gonna Take It" are rousing. Daltrey's voice is in good shape, and his trademark mike-whirling gets increasingly ambitious as the evening enters post-Tommy party mood with its rare outing of "Pictures of Lily" and a return to the stage for Townshend on "Baba O'Riley".
One is left with a pleasant feeling of skew-symmetry: although Tommy long ago lost any cultural relevance it may have for teenagers, tonight, at least, it had a profound pertinence to one particular group of them. And that rocks.
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