I went to the Tommy concert at the Hard Rock on Oct. 22, 2011. And as silly as it sounds, it was life-changing for me.
But then, I often think that if I had discovered The Who earlier in life, it might have completely changed my life, as it may have encouraged me to keep pursuing the path I'd intended in the first place. But that is not what this post is about.
Roger Daltrey's voice, while not in prime shape, was better than it's been lately (he's had a couple of surgeries) - and in the live experience, wrapped within the resonance of all the instruments and backing vocals in the small-ish venue, you really didn't much notice his issues. After the first few notes he sang, I found myself pleasantly surprised, as I'd heard a few download samples from his prior shows and the ones I'd heard didn't sound that great. But live - live - he was...great.
What this experience was, was... indescribably amazing. To me, at least.
I'd never been to a Who concert before so I'd never experienced the power of this music performed live and sung by Roger. Simon Townshend (Pete's brother) also starred in the show, and is a great musician in his own right.
(My thoughts will ramble, I apologize if they are incoherent. In my head, they are one big swirling circle still trying to digest the awesomeness.)
This was not just a concert. This was an event. An Event, with a capital E. An Experience. Like being a part of history, and experiencing it knowing that it's history, both going back in time and simultaneously being in the present. It's difficult for me to explain the Epic-ness of this event.
Tommy itself is more than just a classic (or, as Roger puts it, "A Fvcking Classic!") - it's truly a genius work. Genius. I won't parse out for you all the reasons why, but it...just...is. (If I were to attempt it, words would fail me, and you'd still end up thinking me a fool.) Its entity as a whole is something much greater than the sum of the parts, and being able to experience it live (albeit without its creator) is something that touches the soul and changes a person, goes well beyond appreciation or enjoyment to a level, a dimension which I Can't Explain (pardon the pun).
I'd wanted to get tickets when they first became available, but was put-off by the seemingly sour samples of Roger's singing we'd heard. But I was confused when the show kept getting great reviews. Finally, just a few days before the concert, I decided I WANT TO GO, and got tickets. (And boy, am I glad I did!) At that late date, the best seats I was able to obtain were about 16 rows from the stage. Very good seats, but I would have preferred to be even closer.
Arrived early and the seats slowly filled around us. A couple sitting directly behind us were cute. The man kept saying in an awestruck voice, "I can't believe I'm going to see Roger Daltrey!" He repeated this 6-8 times before the opening notes of Overture were struck.
Sitting next to him was a large, loud, obnoxious man and his daughter. The loud man proudly proclaimed, "My daughter is only 20 and knows ALL The Who songs!" The loud man then announced, "I'm going to be talking through the entire show, just so you know!" I turned and shot him a semi-dirty look, hoping it wasn't true. He'd better not ruin my experience! I couldn't believe I was going to see Roger Daltrey! :)
Soon enough discovered that the man sitting directly in front of me was giant, entirely blocking my view. Luckily my seat was on the aisle, and I was able to lean awkwardly into the aisle to watch Roger.
As you might recall from my thoughts after the Paul McCartney concert... I still have difficulty with reconciling myself to the reality that the actual legendary person is right there in front of me. I found everything quite overwhelming. I couldn't process and take in all the facets and dimensions of the experience. I found myself not able to pay attention to some aspects. If I was enjoying the music, I wasn't cognizant that it was actually happening right in front of me. If I concentrated on the reality of what was happening, I wasn't as able to "get into it." I wanted to take video of parts, and that distracted me - but without the video, I was afraid I wouldn't later be able to recollect the experience as my having been a part of it. It was confusing and overwhelming. I had difficulty staying "in the moment." Afterward, had trouble refreshing my memory with the sense of "having actually been there." There was just too much dimension to it all.
After the show, I thought, if it hadn't been so late in the tour, I'd have been tempted to buy a ticket and hop a plane to another show elsewhere nearby in the country. So that maybe I could sort through all the dimensions and lock it more clearly into my faltering brain cells.
Yeah, it was that good.
"Good" isn't even the word - but superlatives fail me.
Lemme get back into the nitty-gritty.
Opening the show, Overture featured Roger banging tambourines together. So familiar, after the countless filmed concerts and documentaries I've seen - that I almost couldn't register that this was any different, that he was standing right there in front of me banging those tambourines. Then I realized, "Hey, I can actually hear the sound directly off the tambourines!" Not through the mic - not through the speakers - but the actual chank chank chank was coming off the tambourines and going directly into my ears, unaided, because I was close enough to hear it. Wow.
(Yeah I know I sound weird and starstruck, but any Who fans out there might understand.)
Sparks is like sex. Okay, yeah, I said it. Sparks (the song - here seeming to be abbreviated, but then later I realized Underture was not performed, and possibly the version I'm accustomed to is a combination of them) - is an absolutely amazing composition. It takes you on a ride, building suspense to a partial release, then building again...more and more, a tense and powerful and passionate climb, finally exploding in an orgasmic miasma of time and sound and rhythm and physical percussive/bass sensation. Then, finally, comforting with gentle chords, a musically applied calming stroke, "there, there," tenderly delivered.
After every.single.song, the loud obnoxious guy behind us shouted through the applause, "THANK YOU! THANK YOU ROGER!" (I'm guessing it was his attempt to be "different?" Or to be heard on the recording? Who knows.)
I was having trouble seeing past the giant in front of me, and leaning into the aisle was very uncomfortable. I looked around behind, and the folks behind us were mostly standing up. The loud obnoxious guy said, "Go ahead, stand up! Stand up!" so I did. I checked behind me, and the "I can't believe I'm going to see Roger Daltrey!" man's partner was still seated but grinned at me complacently, so I stayed standing for much of the rest.
The only problem with standing was that it made me want to dance. It's impossible not to move to the music. Dancing made me lose track of the Reality of His Presence. And I was, I'm sure, embarrassing. I fake-played guitar. I strummed a la' Pete to the power chords. I raised my fist to ever-increasing heights to the part of "Smash the Mirror" with the lyric, "can't you feel my temper rise....rise.... rise.... RISE..... RISE...... RISE.... RISE...... RISE!!!" I looked around, and many others were doing it, too. We were a club, a special fan-love sharing in this Who experience, and we all understood. It was all right, yes I think it's all right, and the kids were alright.
A drunk woman came up next to me and slurred that she'd been standing near the stage until Security kicked her out. "Come dance up the aisle to the stage with me!" she cajoled. I declined.
Throughout the concert, Roger clearly enjoyed himself immensely. He was full of smiles and obviously was having a great deal of fun. His antics with the microphone - throws, twists, turns and wild loops through the air and around himself - created an impressively awesome skilled wire-ballet worthy of Olympic sport, and a final airy fling with a slight airborn pause effortlessly landed the mic back into his hand just in the nick of time to start singing again. Awesome.
At some point, the loud obnoxious man behind us began hitting my arm enthusiastically. I turned around and growled with a pointed finger, sternly and angrily, "DON'T - hit - me! DON'T - hit - me!" He looked taken aback - I'm not sure he realized what he was doing - but he didn't hit me anymore. I found this a bit upsetting and hoped it wouldn't spoil my experience, so I tried to put it out of my mind.
At the end of Tommy - during the finale, Listening To You - EVERYBODY was UP. UP and singing and sharing in the...almost holiness...of the experience. I couldn't see, so I stood up on my chair. People were pointing in the air rock-style and singing along. Standing on my chair, I waved a silly "Hi How Are Ya Hey Lookit Me!" wave to Roger. He saw - and waved to me back!!! ROGER DALTREY WAVED TO ME! Me, personally! With a slightly goofy grin while he did it, which makes it even better. (I know it was me he waved to - nobody else around me was waving like that, and his wave duplicated mine exactly. :D ) I have some video, but I lowered the camera during his wave so it's not captured, dangit.
After the Tommy part of the concert ended, I reflected on it. I knew I had just been in the Presence of Greatness. It had been almost a religious experience. The Who are my religion. I would follow him/them around, if I could. Then I realized the utter irony of that thought, given the theme of Tommy, itself. And snickered to myself.
A few days later, a thought sprung into my head about the origin of Tommy - a possible originating set of cirumstances - but I will likely never know. Even if I ever had the chance to ask Pete, I would not be able to - it is too intensely personal to ask him and for me to express, and not appropriate to "go there." So I'll keep my thoughts on that to myself, and since it's come to mind I'm able to relate a lot of the songs into that theme. But I will always wonder.
A few thoughts on Simon Townshend. Now, I've recognized Simon for some time, since I first saw him brought into the group and when he sang Dirty Jobs (with a bus driver hat on) in a concert film. I enjoy watching and enjoy his voice - similar to Pete's, but with a slightly harder edge and less bell-like sustain. I particulary enjoy watching them perform together... Maybe because I, myself, come from a musical family whose members frequently sang together for fun, relishing the harmonics that siblings create... Maybe it's the "brother-ness" of it. The similarities but differences, the way they matchingly rock on their feet while playing, the way their voices fit together like puzzle pieces. But I wonder if Simon resents his role in the band - always being "Pete's brother" and not necessarily seen as his own self - or if he truly enjoys it. Simon is a great musician and singer in his own right, so I just have to wonder if the shadow bothers him, or if the light he receives is enough. None of my business, but it comes to mind.
Usually in a Who show, Simon is off behind the bassist somewhere. For this concert he was up front, of course. Although I had trouble seeing that part of the stage, it seemed to me as if Simon wasn't as engaged with the performance and the audience, keeping more to himself and not putting as much of "himself" out there as I would have liked to have seen. But it's possible he did, and I just missed it. Later we Youtubed some performances from the original March 2011 TCT show at Royal Albert Hall, and Simon was definitely more engaged with the audience for that one. So perhaps for Las Vegas he was tired, winding down the U.S. leg of the tour. Perhaps he was just off that day. I don't know. But I do wish I could have seen "more" of him.
Now, on to the second part of the concert, a mix of songs.
During Who Are You, Roger did not do his "fake running" bit, and I therefore felt compelled to. (Told ya I was embarrassing.) It's a lot of work, that fake-running-in-place. But, it's a compulsion. Mandatory. A moral imperative.
Simon performed a GREAT, rousing rendition of Going Mobile. We'd previously seen a clip of him from another performance, so I knew it was coming... I've gotta admit, I did not like this song before, but Simon converted me into a lover of it. I now annoy people at work by humming and singing bits of it here and there. (Not that I don't normally annoy them in other ways, too :)
I was VERY pleasantly surprised that Roger performed Naked Eye - one of my favorites. I was standing in the aisle and tried to video it. A security guard came up next to/behind me - I couldn't really hear what he said, but I assumed it was to put my phone away, so I did. Sad, because I love love love that song. Unfortunately, I missed part because of that. :-( But I purchased a download of the entire concert, so I do have the mp3.
Baba O'Riley was fantastic and, of course, an participatory event, with Roger grinning and holding the mic out for the audience to sing "It's On-Ly Teen-Age Wasteland."
During Roger's moving, beautiful performance of Without Your Love, I swayed my screen-lit phone back and forth in the air, as if it were a lighter. Surprisingly, nobody else seemed to do it. The song deserved the gesture, though.
(Would have loved to have seen Roger do Giving It All Away, but alas, it was not to be. I'd also wondered how difficult it was for Roger to perform there at the Hard Rock, given the sad history. He did not mention it, though.)
The band was supreme, the experience truly amazing, and for me a once-in-a-lifetime, life-changing one. I am sad that it wasn't professionally videotaped and available on DVD, like all the dates for the last Who tour were. I'd buy it. If only to help preserve the memory.
But at least I've got the mp3's of the entire concert. And on the recording, at the start of Red Blue & Grey, after Roger says "They're not kidding about it being a desert" - one can clearly hear the loud obnoxious guy behind me shouting, "THANK YOU ROGER!!!"
Yes, thank you. Thank you very much. :)