North Charleston Performing Arts Center
All smiles and working-class grittiness, rock veteran Roger Daltrey’s gracious and heartfelt performance at the PAC on Tuesday evening inspired and entertained. The Who frontman and his band treated a smaller-than-expected audience to a variety of Who tracks, a few obscure country and rock ‘n’ roll songs from Daltrey’s own list of favorites, and more than a few amusing stories and asides from the singer about his Who bandmates and his adventures and experiences as a teenager in London.
They opened with a bold choice — the title track from Who Are You, The Who’s last studio album with late drummer Keith Moon. “Who Are You” started out low-key through the first few versus and gradually gained momentum and volume. Daltrey’s bandmates chimed in with surprisingly strong three-part harmonies. After a quick story about late Who bassist John Entwistle and his unusual vocal range (including funny imitations of Entwistle’s piercing falsetto and gravelly speaking voice), they fired off a tight, triple-guitar-heavy rendition of “Pictures of Lily.” Singing with a raspy-but-sturdy voice, Daltrey hit the high notes in the bridge (“Lily, oh Lily!”) with no problem.
It took about four or five songs for Daltrey and his band to really warm up — and about that long for the audience to get acquainted with the sound and manner of Daltrey’s backing musicians as well. At stage right, rhythm guitarist and backup singer Simon Townshend’s playing style and mannerisms naturally resembled the gangly style of his older brother, Who guitarist Pete Townshend. On the other side of the stage, lead guitarist and musical director Frank Simes handled most of the key guitar lines and solos. The rhythm section included keyboardist Loren Gold, bassist Jon Button, and drummer Scott Devours (the bass guitar and kick drum were barely in the mix out front, unfortunately).
Simon’s singing was eerily similar to Pete’s, and it sounded great — especially in the backing lines of “Tattoo” (from The Who Sell Out) and on lead during the verses of “Going Mobile” (from Who’s Next).
The second, more laid-back wave of songs included a version of “Days of Light” (from Daltrey’s solo album Rocks in the Head), a cover of Irish band The Chieftains’ “Freedom Ride” (attached to a story about gigging with that group in Belfast), and a mandolin-flavored “Someone Give Me a Stone.”
They kicked back into rockin’ mode with a bluesy, mid-tempo go at “My Generation” and a thunderous version of “I Can See for Miles” — the biggest vocal harmony punch of the evening. The stop-and-start bombast of “Young Man Blues” (with Townshend and Simes on matching Gibson SGs) sounded as confident and cocky as The Who’s raw version of the Mose Allison song at the original Woodtsock.
Other microphone-twirling highlights included another slow-crescendo styled rendition of “Baba O’Riley,” with some terrific harmonica wailing from Daltrey in the closing rave-up; a lively take on “Squeeze Box” (from The Who by Numbers); a medley of Johnny Cash tunes, led by Daltrey on acoustic six-string; and the unexpected addition of “Naked Eye” (a dynamic track from the shelved Lifehouse sessions that landed in the Odds and Sods collection).
Daltrey eschewed the idea of an encore. “I’ve never understood that whole thing,” he said. “It’s indulgent. We’ll play until we stop. Frank Sinatra never played an encore in his career, and I like that.” He closed with a solo performance of Pete Townshend’s unusually tender “Blue, Red and Grey” (also from The Who By Numbers) on a slightly outta-tune ukulele, and a slow-rolling ballad titled “Without Your Love” (from his solo McVicar album) — a delicate conclusion to an animated, emotionally charged set.