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There was a sense of real anticpation for this one. Maybe because The Who hadn’t performed Tommy since 1989. Maybe because no one quite knew if Roger would be performing the iconic rock opera with or without its mastermind, Pete Townshend.
There have been so many questions flying around concerning the future of The Who. How bad is Pete’s hearing? Would The Who ever tour again as a band? Would they ever, indeed, play together for the occasional gig? Roger assured the audience in Bournemouth, just a few nights before, that there would definitely, definitely be more Who gigs. But,if so, given Pete’s ear problem, when, what, why, how and where? If not, would Roger and his touring band go on the road and, if so, when, what and where?
The gig in Bournemouth gave a clue but not an answer. Roger had put together a sh**-hot band, John Button (Bass), Scott Devors (Drums), Loren Gold (keyboards) Frank Simes (guitar/musical director) and the wonderful Simon (little bro of Pete) Townshend.
Daltrey had a big idea concerning Tommy, to take it back to where it had started, to perform it in a way which allowed the work’s musicality to shine, with parts on all instruments that were crystal clear plus rich harmonies. He also wanted to have the work reinterpreted visually, to create a Tommy for now. Students from Middlesex University submitted some great visuals which were wrapped up technically into a multimedia performance by Colin Payne, Laura Carr, Rona Innes and a stunning team from Universal Visual Artists, all of whom donated their time in aid of Teenage Cancer Trust.
A packed Royal Albert Hall witnessed something special. Roger and his band were everything they were meant to be. The music glowed as instruments and voices blended. The visuals did their work, opening up new ideas in the audience’s mind about what Tommy means today.
And then something rather amazing happened. In walks Pete Townshend, wearing a Gibson J200 acoustic like a tommy gun, bringing the diehard Who fans to their feet, naturally, as he slashed and burned his way through the Acid Queen, his voice and guitar balancing danger and control in the way that only the godfather of punk can. And then he was gone as quickly as he’d arrived and Roger continued where he’d left off.
Tommy concluded, Roger and his band went into a few additional songs. Who classics were bookended by a song Roger had written way back when, the happy and high energy ‘Days of Light’, and the Billy Nichols classic ‘Without your Love’. As in the Tommy section of the show, in these last few songs, the vocal harmonies were a delight. Roger told a story about how the late great John Entwistle, whom he described as the world’s loudest bass player, was able to sing a high falsetto with the voice of an angel, until, on one particular morning after a long night before, his voice quite suddenly decided to descend to profound bass depths. That, according to Roger, was the end of harmonies by The Who. Roger then went on to dedicate a performance of ‘Pictures of Lily’ to our brave soldiers in Afghanistan.
Two final delights of the evening were saved up for almost the end – the arrival onstage of classical violinist Charlie Siem and the reappearance of Pete Townshend for a fairly surreal rendition of Baba O’Riley, which surely must have left Who fans with the same unanswered questions about the future of the ‘Oo. Did it leave such questions? And, if so, why, how, where, when, what?
Above all, Who, Who Who?!