“Tommy can you hear me??” Five thousand New Yorkers cried out together at Nassau Coliseum Friday night as The Who frontman Roger Daltrey led a thrilling performance of the classic Tommy album.
The story of a “deaf, dumb, and blind kid” was one of the first original rock operas and concept albums to gain mass popularity, and even forty years after its release, the energy on display by both Daltrey and the audience spoke to its timeless appeal.
While the crowd on Friday night was far and away composed of fans in well into middle age and beyond, it was heartwarming to see children and teenagers sprinkled throughout the Coliseum as well, many sitting next to their proud parents and singing along just as passionately.
From the opening Overture, the gray-haired but somehow still youthful Daltrey instantly established a rapport with the audience, playing tambourines during the instrumental track and whirling his microphone around. Playing without guitarist Pete Townsend on this tour, the five piece band on stage easily recreated the heavily textured tapestry of sound that makes Tommy such an iconic album, and the crowd mouthed the words like they were gospel as Daltrey led the way through defining songs like 1921 and Amazing Journey.
With many of the songs three minutes or less, it felt like the album flew by, especially with the nine minute Underture track skipped as has been traditionally done in live performances. But a large video screen above the stage projecting psychedelic images helped bring the audience into the world of Tommy, and like the giant pinball that bounced around the animated world, fans gave themselves up to the storyline, singing along to their favorite parts and waving and cheering for each new song.
The opening chords for Pinball Wizard probably drew the largest applause of the night, as the entire arena rose to their feet for the rock radio fixture. While the story of Tommy is in many ways a tragic one, the record’s uplifting moments and triumphs have burrowed deep into the collective classic rock conscience, and the bankers, doctors, and lawyers still dressed in their work suits made for an odd but evocative image as they held their beers up to the sky and bellowed along to the well-known lyrics.
An oddly animated video told the story of Sally Simpson, and all of a sudden Daltrey was singing We’re Not Gonna Take It. Even with the band jamming out on the explosive ending, Tommy was over in just about an hour. But with the main act done, Daltrey was just getting started.
After thanking the audience and introducing his band, the frontman followed his first act with a full set of classic The Who songs. The re-energized audience sang along just as strongly on favorites like I Can See For Miles and the aching Behind Blue Eyes, as even the venue’s ushers and security guards were swept up into the magic of the band’s defining music. Daltrey struggled a bit as the night drew to a close, apologetically citing ‘a senior moment’ when he introduced a song he’d just played and later begging an anonymous smoker in the crowd to extinguish a cigarette to protect his throat, but the singer’s good natured attitude kept the energy at a brilliant level throughout the night, especially on another radio classic, Who Are You.
The night ended with Daltrey alone on the stage with a ukulele, strumming out Red, Blue, and Grey. While the quiet, slow-paced song was an atypical way to end a rock concert, it was yet another demonstration of the musician’s versatility and iron dedication to the music which has allowed him to mold generations upon generations of rock fans.
Friday night’s show drew many comparisons to Roger Waters’ two night stand at Nassau performing The Wall last October, and while Daltrey’s simple video screen can’t compare to the Pink Floyd frontman’s over-the-top production, the inclusion of both the entire Tommy record and some dozen other favorites provided extra value for ticket buyers as fans relived their favorite classic rock moments. At one point in the night, Daltrey also explained that he was testing out new hearing protection, with the eventual goal of getting the hearing-troubled Pete Townsend back out on tour with him, an announcement that was met with raucous applause.
So even as Daltrey takes his triumphant tour of Tommy around the world, it’s likely that the best is still yet to come. As always, stay in the loop with the Hard Rock Examiner for further information on tickets and all local rock and heavy metal news by subscribing at the top of this page, or follow me at twitter.com/NYROCKEXAMINER.