Daltrey rocking on at full tilt
“There’s just an amazing look on their faces of joy and wonder.’’
Roger Daltrey is describing what he sees when he looks out into the audience as the opening notes to the Who’s famous 1969 rock opera “Tommy’’ begin.
“It’s like watching children at Christmas. It’s quite nice,’’ says the 67-year-old English rocker with a boyish twinkle lighting the eyes behind his blue-tinted specs. Daltrey expects to bask in that warmth next Saturday night when he brings “Tommy’’ to the Agganis Arena.
Sitting in the Bristol Lounge at the Four Seasons Hotel last month, a fit and feisty Daltrey is brimming with enthusiasm about the tour, which played to rave reviews in the United Kingdom this summer and includes a post-“Tommy’’ set of other Who favorites.
“I realized that there was so much of ‘Tommy’ that had never ever been done onstage,’’ he says, gesturing excitedly with his hands. “The backing vocals, for instance, which I in particular was quite heavily involved in - finding the harmonies, working the harmonies out - were never ever done on the stage. They’re magnificent, and to hear the human voice used in that way is just wonderful. So to be able to do it with a band of musicians like this band is heavenly.’’
Daltrey is touring with the same quintet that backed him on his recent “Use It or Lose It’’ solo tour, which includes Pete Townshend’s younger brother, Simon, on guitar and backing vocals.
“You’ve got to remember I did put the Who together in the first place. I kind of do know how to put a band together,’’ he says with a laugh.
The tour has the blessing of the elder Townshend: “Roger has my complete and most loving support,’’ Pete Townshend said in a statement.
“I think he’s always happy to have his music being played,’’ Daltrey says. “If it’s not being played in the live arena, it’s dead. And there’s nothing worse than dead music.’’
Except perhaps a singer unable to sing. After a scare with his voice a few years back- pre-cancerous dysplasia treated by renowned surgeon Steven Zeitels at Massachusetts General Hospital, with whom Daltrey had a check-up on the day of this interview - Daltrey is also glad to be touring as a means of keeping his calling card intact.
“Everything relies on these two little things in here,’’ he says, pointing to the vocal cords responsible for belting out Who anthems like “My Generation,’’ “Pinball Wizard,’’ and “Baba O’Riley.’’ “It’s a minute, incredibly complicated part of the body, and that’s what [the] ‘Use it or Lose it’ [tour] was about - keeping singing so I’ve got a voice for the future.’’
Whether that future involves another Who tour, perhaps in support of a Nov. 14 box-set release of the band’s other major rock opera, “Quadrophenia,’’ as has been reported recently, Daltrey waves his hand dismissively. “That’s record-company stuff,’’ he says. “I’ve heard this but I haven’t heard anything official. No one’s talked to me about it.’’
Instead, Daltrey mentions he is on the hunt for material for his next solo album. He did a few folk-rock influenced numbers in 2009 and says he’s looking for more songs like that. He likens the feel he’s looking for to that of Robert Plant’s recent rootsy projects but “with more fire.’’
In the meantime, Daltrey is happy to work on his longtime charity benefiting teenage cancer research - a branch of which he is launching in the United States in November - and to revisit “Tommy.’’
“I can appreciate it much more,’’ he says of the biggest difference in playing the album 42 years later. “I’ve got no battle to win, so I can enjoy it. It always felt like there was a battle to be won when we used to play it in the early days. And that was great because we had the strength and the youth and the testosterone to win it every night. But now I can relax into it, and the music’s better for it in a way. It’s different, but it’s better.’’
“I’ve never felt the narrative of ‘Tommy’ has ever been about one person,’’ he says of the central tale of the pinball wizard. “For me, ‘Tommy’ has always been about all of us: you, me, and everyone else in the audience. It’s the spiritual journey that we all go through in life. The characters in it - Uncle Ernie and Cousin Kevin and the Acid Queen - they’re all part of the human condition, things that are thrown at us. The way I feel about it is, I just hope that whatever light that you find at the end of your life is a bright one.’’
Sarah Rodman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.