Roger Daltrey, Live at Ravinia, Highland Park, Illinois, June 23, 2018
Setlist: Tommy (whole album except for instrumental “Underture”)
Who Are You
Always Heading Home (new solo song from Roger Daltrey)
Players: Roger Daltrey (vocals), Simon Townshend (backing vocals, guitars), Frank Simes (guitars, backing vocals), Loren Gold (keyboards), Jon Button (bass, backing vocals), Scott Devour (drums), Chicago Philharmonic Orchestra (conducted by Keith Levenson)
Roger Daltrey’s performance of Tommy was truly a once-in-a-lifetime event. One of the benefits of being a younger fan of progressive rock is the thrill of seeing many of the classic prog and classic rock bands on their 40th and 50th anniversary tours playing their classic albums. I’ve seen Ian Anderson perform Thick as a Brick, The Moody Blues perform Days of Future Passed, B. B. King doing a greatest hits show, Dennis DeYoung doing greatest hits of Styx, Kansas doing greatest hits… next week I’m seeing Yes for the first time, and I’m seeing the other Yes (Anderson, Wakeman, Rabin) in September. I’m proud to add Roger Daltrey of The Who to that list. And he played the greatest rock opera of all time! It was a fantastic evening, to say the least.
From the beginning to the end, this show was extremely exciting. Tommy is such a classic album, but I never realized what a big following it and The Who had. Ravinia was packed both in the pavilion and on the lawn. The crowd was mostly older. It seemed like most people in the pavilion were in their 60s, but there were younger faces in the crowd. The crowd was relatively well behaved, although I’ve been spoiled by Chicago Symphony Orchestra crowds at Ravinia (as well as true progressive rock crowds at other venues. Prog fans are much like classical listeners).
The overture made a perfect warmup for the crowd, which erupted when Daltrey took the stage a few minutes in. I was wondering how his voice would be, especially since he is 74. The first lyrics came out, and he sounded fantastic. He was self-deprecating regarding his voice later in the show, but I think he sounded great. He sounded a little different for some parts, but he still has amazing power in his voice. He had no issues belting. For the very high bits, he had Simon Townshend sing. I didn’t know this at the time, but I just discovered over at The Who’s website that Simon is Pete Townshend’s younger brother, and Simon sang on Tommy when he was nine. How cool is that?! He sounded exactly like a young Daltrey, so it worked out perfectly.
Once the album began, there was no stopping the band. They went right through the entire album without an intermission, and Daltrey didn’t stop to talk to the audience until after Tommy was over. Musically, the band was excellent. They played truthfully to the album. The orchestral arrangements worked very well. Sometimes orchestras can feel tacked on for shows like this, but it worked perfectly. In fact, the show may have been better musically than the album. It was certainly fuller.
My only issue with the music was the choice to cut out the ten minute “Underture” from the middle of the album. I really enjoy this all-instrumental song on the album. It gave the original band a chance to demonstrate their chops, and I think it could have done the same for this touring band. The drummer and bassist could have had solos, or the band could have played it just like the album. Either way, I think it was a missed opportunity to skip over that part. That is the only thing I would have changed about the show.
I don’t have any particular highlights from the Tommy set because I enjoyed all of it. If you’re a fan of the album, you would have enjoyed it too. “Pinball Wizard” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It” were crowd favorites. As soon as “Pinball Wizard” began, the crowd jumped to their collective feet. Several times throughout the show, Daltrey spun his wired microphone around his head and body. The crowd certainly loved that, and it was great to see that he is still a showman at heart.
After they finished Tommy, Daltrey finally started speaking to the crowd. Humorously, he called out some jerk for smoking weed (non-smoking venue). He said pot smoke really bothers him and screws up his voice. Then he told the guy, “up yours, buddy.” He said a few other things to the guy, but Progarchy is family friendly. Ha. Needless to say, I thought it was hilarious. I didn’t smell it, but the smell of weed makes me ill, so I know how Mr. Daltrey feels. I’m glad he said something.
After Tommy, the band played a couple of hits. “Who Are You” was a big hit, with the crowd singing “who who, who who” back at Daltrey. It was great, and the guitarists had a chance to shred a little. They then played “Baba O’Riley,” and I’d be willing to bet that you’ll never hear a better live rendition of that song. Wow. The easily identifiable twiddly bit in the beginning and throughout the song was done by the violin section of the orchestra rather than by keyboards. I was thoroughly impressed with that. Daltrey’s voice was great on the song, and the rest of the band was having a blast. They had a female violinist come to the center of the stage for the violin part at the end of the song (after the song, Daltrey pointed out that Keith Moon was the one who insisted on adding that bit). She was grinning from ear to ear while playing, as was Daltrey. I reckon she will remember that for the rest of her life. Very few people can say they’ve played the violin section to one of rock and roll’s most famous songs live on stage with Roger Daltrey. It was awesome.
Daltrey then introduced the band, and he was incredibly gracious in doing so. He specifically credited guitarist Frank Simes with being a big inspiration and encouragement to keep touring after all these years.
After introducing the band, Daltrey talked a little bit about the final song they would play. He said he wrote the song, “Always Heading Home,” years ago, but it is just now being released on his latest solo album, As Long As I Have You. Instrumentally, only a cellist and the keyboardist stayed on the stage with him. Before he started singing, he said it was an incredibly hard song to sing, since it has a bit of a “choir boy” pitch to it, and he said it is hard to get into that after singing “Baba O’Riley.” He said if he made it past the first line, he would be fine. Well, he made it past that first line and the rest of the song without any issues. He was able to sing in the higher register without problems, and the laid back song was great. Most concerts don’t end on a quieter note like that, but it is clear that Daltrey isn’t like most musicians. He does his own thing. The concert didn’t have an intermission, which was a testament to his stamina. The band didn’t do a traditional encore where everyone leaves the stage and then comes back. Frankly, it was kind of refreshing to have everything in one go.
It was truly an honor to see Daltrey perform Tommy. The show was great, and I’m happy I had the opportunity to catch one of the few shows on this tour. If you get a chance, definitely see this show. If you’re in the Chicago area, he is playing Ravinia again tomorrow night (June 25), and there may still be tickets. It is definitely worth seeing.