Roger Daltrey (The Who) @ Showbox SoDo, Seattle, WA 10.12.09
Confession: I'll completely admit that I've sometimes been that annoying naysayer/music snob who has watched a lot of bands and given up on them 3 or 4 records into their career when they (to me) lose their sparkle. The guy who turns his nose up once his favorite band stops playing to 85 people at some hole in the wall that reeks of piss and Pabst and starts actually *gasp* playing venues that have luxuries such as "PA systems", "sound guys", and "working plumbing".
So, for me to walk into the Showbox Sodo and see 65 year old Roger Daltrey play a bunch of 30+ year old songs? You can imagine that little smug, self-righteous devil on my shoulder was whispering some things in my ear. I heard a few jokes about broken hips and a few chuckles about rock dinosaurs, and I tried to let those thoughts evaporate.
Just as that little devil was starting to impede on the potential enjoyment of the evening, I realized something. I was seeing ROGER EFFING DALTREY. THE SINGER FROM THE WHO. THE GUY WHO SAT IN FREEZING COLD HEINZ BAKED BEANS FOR THE SELL OUT COVER.
ROGER EFFING DALTREY: THE ONLY ROCK AND ROLL HALL OF FAMER WHO IS ALSO PART HORSE.
So, naysayers, have your fun, but seriously, how can you call Roger Daltrey a rock dinosaur when he is PART HORSE? You can't. There's no such thing as a rock dinosaur/horse combination. I know scientists, and they have confirmed this, too. He is the true exception.
So, when Roger Daltrey saddled up to the stage and started into "Who Are You", we knew the answer to the question. We're the people whose faces you are going to melt tonight, and we're going to sit back and let you do your thing, because you're Roger Effing Daltrey. You've been in the game for 40 years, and we aren't going to yell out requests, because you're going to laugh at us, because you know what you're doing. We are going to sit back and watch this and go "Holy wow."
After having read some reviews of previous Daltrey shows, I was curious as to how heavy the set would lean on his solo material. Personally, I'm not familiar with any of Daltrey's solo records, so I was a little wary. That said, the few songs he played from his solo releases were strong contenders in the set. After "Who Are You", "Pictures of Lily" and "Goin' Mobile", Daltrey slowed the set down with "A Second Out", and started to warm up to the crowd and truly feel his set. Daltrey is an astounding performer who lacks any sort of real grace in what he does; he belts things out far better than he croons or emotes. More than anything, he is still the sheet metal worker from small-town England, as he alluded to multiple times in the evening.
Sound problems were also alluded to multiple times in the evening, as Daltrey apparently couldn't hear anything in his front monitors. He threw a bit of a tantrum after "Second", tossing a really awkward wrench into the works by not only playing *gasp* a solo number, but also having a hissy fit with the monitor techs. You could feel the crowd start to get a little restless during this moment, and I started to get nervous that there was going to be a "I'm too old for this shit" moment. Thankfully, someone apparently did something meaningful in the wings, and the band went into "Tattoo".
Unfortunately, Daltrey's lack of patience and lack of monitors for himself led him to belt "Tattoo" far too hard. It was the first of quite a few sloppy moments in the set. I heard a few folks around me cringe and mention "He shouldn't be trying to sing this". It wasn't awful by any means, and actually, it was somewhat refreshing to see Daltrey push himself terribly hard, even if the results were a bit froggy and flat. Seeing a rock god fall just a little bit shows you that, even 40 years later, they are still human.
Daltrey had a lot of amazingly funny, human moments in the set. He is naturally suited to the frontman position; equal parts cocky and self-effacingly humble. There were some serious Vh1 storyteller moments in the set; laughing about the trouble the band had gotten into in Seattle back in the day ("Ask us about what we haven't done here"), and Daltrey's reminder that this was his show, and he was going to play the songs he wanted to play. He addressed a few folks in particular that were dead set on yelling out song requests (especially before his solo material) by playfully suggesting the audience kick their respective asses. That's one way to go about it. Daltrey was completely charming, down to earth, and hilariously funny in his storytelling and his banter. You got the sense that he was an old friend who wanted to sit down and chew your ear off for a few hours with tales that he never got bored of telling.
After the heaviest chunk of his solo material in the set, Daltrey was back with "Squeeze Box". I looked over in the wings and noticed a bespectacled man who bore a striking resemblance to one Eddie Vedder, watching Daltrey command the stage with a shit-eating grin. Sure enough, after "Tamborine", Daltrey's band started playing some relaxed chords, and Daltrey started in; "Waiting...watching the clock, it's 4 o'clock...". Before anyone realized it was happening, Vedder was out with an acoustic guitar, all goatee'd and flannel shirted, dueting with Daltrey on "Better Man". What I could see in between the sea of digital cameras and iPhones was awesome. I hadn't even thought that Vedder would be back in town (how long do Pearl Jam tours last these days? Wasn't he here two weeks ago?), but it was pretty special and one of those "Holy shamoly, is this SERIOUSLY happening?" moments. The crowd pretty much lost their minds, and Vedder tried to slink offstage before Daltrey coaxed him back onstage to trade verses on "The Real Me" (a song Vedder and company had played both nights at their recent Key Arena stint). Vedder howled and shrieked, and it was pretty magical to watch two generations of rock royalty bat a song back and forth together like a cat toy.
Daltrey was still having trouble with his monitors and finally got some in-ear monitors to go through "I Like Every Minute" and "Walk On Water" (more of his solo songs) before launching into a blistering "Young Man's Blues/Shakin' All Over". Although the hired hands were great (one of which was Pete Townshend's brother Simon on guitar), hearing this raucous mashup of classic Who tunes was the one moment of the set where I was truly longing for the Ox's stoic, dour presence on the bass, Moon the Loon's crazy faces and out of control drum fills, and Pete wearing that white jumpsuit and windmilling his arms like crazy. Alas, that longing was blown out the window when "Baba O'Riley" started. Daltrey, still a stout workhorse of a man, belted it perfectly. "Out here in the fields / I fight for my meals / I put my back into my living!" Truer words have ne'er been sung. Working class hero Daltrey still does put his back into his living.
When Pete Townshend's "Don't cry..." vocal part came along, brother Simon stepped up and handled it beautifully, while the crowd roared "it's only TEENAGE WASTELAND!" at a deafening volume. I got goosebumps.
The song ended, and Daltrey introduced the band, and playfully joked that he thought encores were "bullocks and fucking ridiculous. I'll stop playing when I want to stop playing!" I thought it was pretty great to hear a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame member bucking rock traditions and questioning them, even when they had built a 40 year career of helping define those traditions.
After a loose set of Johnny Cash covers strung together in medley, Daltrey introduced Bernt Bodal (CEO of American Seafoods and bass player in Host) on bass, and got Vedder back out on stage with him for his final number of the evening, the Who classic "Bargain". Bodal's bass cut through the mix, and it was awesome to see that this wasn't just some goofy contest winner they were bringing up on bass. Vedder rolled around behind Daltrey, waiting for Roger's cues to come up and get his throaty rasp on the blown out "The best I ever HAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAD!" moments of the song. Drummer Scott Devours had no problems holding up to Moon's end of the bargain, recreating every bombastic fill with precision and ease. Fists pumped. Beers got spilled while fists pumped. Couples twirled around. Beers got spilled while couples spun around. Eyes were widened, high fives given, and, yet again, we watched these two generations of rock royalty belt out a classic song that, 30-odd years later, still has every bit of piss and vinegar that it had on day one.
If I learned any lessons tonight, they are the following:
1. Anything can happen in Seattle.
2. I'm never listening to that naysaying little devil on my shoulder ever again.