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Published: Wednesday, 10/12/2011

Roger Daltrey returns ‘without the Who’s baggage’

BY JON BREAM
STAR TRIBUNE (MINNEAPOLIS)
Roger Daltrey. Roger Daltrey.
ASSOCIATED PRESS Enlarge

MINNEAPOLIS -- Rock god Roger Daltrey was gallant and gracious one minute, then all peeved and prickly a few moments later.

Who knows what goes on behind blue eyes?

The last time Daltrey gigged in the Twin Cities in 2006 with the Who he had "terrible bronchitis" and promised onstage: "I'm going to make this night up to you. We'll come back."

"I don't owe you anything," he barked over the phone from Toronto. "That's the Who. It would be nice to come back with the Who when we're in good form. I go on the stage with an open heart and whatever I've got to give you, I give you. I had the flu. I don't think it was a bad show. I just couldn't come back on after two (bleeping) hours. I was exhausted. ... I ended up in the hospital in Miami on that tour."

On his current tour, Daltrey, 67, is performing the rock opera Tommy in its entirety and then doing a set of Who classics and other material. It's the first time he's recreated Tommy in concert without its composer, Who guitarist Pete Townshend, whose hearing issues prevent him from playing loud music. Daltrey said it's no problem performing without his longtime partner.

"I do Tommy in a very different way than the Who ever did it," the singer said. "The Who had musical limitations with the instruments and vocal limitations with the harmonies. This isn't a Who show."

Daltrey does have a Townshend surrogate in Pete's younger brother, Simon.

"There's not a lot of difference in their voices, which is my main reason for having Simon," the Rock Hall of Famer said. "He's a great guitarist and he can play rhythmically like Pete. But his voice sounds like a young Pete Townshend. It's that chemistry of the mix of voices that makes it work."

While some people might see Tommy as a story about the challenged life of a deaf, dumb and blind kid, Daltrey views it as "the journey of the spirit. I see it as the human condition and the characters in it are metaphors. Malevolence is Uncle Ernie. Bullying and brutality is Cousin Kevin. All those things that happen to you in real life. If anybody ever thinks there's not someone else going through moments of 'see me, touch me, feel me, heal me' at some point of their life, then they're living in some kind of fantasy world. I'm sure we all go through it."

On this tour, Daltrey has had issues with his voice. He's developed an allergic reaction to smoke from cigarettes and marijuana that causes his throat to close.

"It's a bit of a shock," said Daltrey, who had a pre-cancerous growth removed from his vocal cords in December 2009. "All I request of my audience: 'I don't want to spoil your fun because I used to like to participate myself. But could you now bring (pot-laced) cookies?'"

After being told two years ago that he might never sing again, Daltrey said he's happy to be performing solo "without the baggage that the Who brings. They always expect us to be on great form. We're human, we're not robots. We don't go and mime like a lot of the modern bands do. We're old fashioned rock 'n' roll. Some nights we're brilliant. Some nights we're not so brilliant, but we're very rarely bad."

Daltrey has no plans beyond the tour that ends next month. A boxed set of Quadrophenia, the Who's 1973 rock opera, is being released in November. While Townshend has made overtures about touring to promote it in 2012, Daltrey doesn't "even know if I could still sing it night after night," he said.

Have they talked about what's next for the Who?

"We have and we haven't. We've got problems because Pete's going deaf. I won't go out and finish a tour with a deaf composer on my hands. And I've got a problem with trying to scream through the volume onstage, as well. Who knows? I don't know."

There is no talk of a studio project, either, but "in our hearts, we don't see ourselves doing nothing. We might do the occasional charity show."

The Who's last U.S. performance, at halftime of the 2010 Super Bowl, drew as much flak as praise. What did Daltrey think of the negative reaction?

"I don't give a flying (bleep) whether they enjoyed it or not," he said. "We did what we could do. Ain't never gonna please all the people all the time. What can you do in 12 minutes in the middle of a football pitch (field)?"



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