by Brian Scott Lipton
When did you first experience The Who’s “Tommy”? Did you run to your local record store in 1969 to be among the first to purchase this seminal concept album about a “deaf, dumb and blind boy” who becomes not only an international pinball sensation but a quasi-religious savior? Were you lucky enough to see the supergroup perform it live at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1970? Perhaps your initial exposure to the material was Ken Russell’s brilliantly idiosyncratic 1975 movie. Or was it when you saw Des McAnuff’s Tony Award-winning 1993 Broadway musical version?
As you can see, “Tommy” has had many lives in the past six decades, and now it has yet another one: for a brief period this summer, The Who’s lead singer Roger Daltrey (who sang the title role on the record and played it in the movie) is touring with various symphonies, performing the album in its entirety. On Sunday, June 17, Daltrey was joined by the New York Pops at Forest Hills Stadium for a crowd-pleasing performance that frequently had the large crowd on its feet.
Unsurprisingly, the music, played by the Pops (conducted here by Keith Levenson) and a small group of musicians chosen by Daltrey, not only sounded consistently great, but was given heft by the large orchestra. As for Daltrey, he remains remarkably spry at 74, while his voice—though considerably lower than in his heyday—still has incredible passion and power. He boomed his way through some of the score’s biggest hits, including “Pinball Wizard,” “Sensation,” and “We’re Not Going to Take It,” practically turning back the clock.
Smartly, he encouraged the audience to sing along and participate (which most would have done no matter what) on many of the album’s iconic numbers, and let his bandmate, the fabulous guitarist and singer Simon Townshend (brother of The Who co-founder Pete Townshend) do some of the heavy lifting on songs like “Acid Queen.” Finally, having concluded all of “Tommy,” he gave the crowd even more of what they wanted: encores of two of The Who’s biggest hits: “Who Are You” and “Baba O’Riley.”
Did I think it was an alright evening? It was much more: a rare outing to see a rock icon perform some of his greatest songs!
Photos: Genevieve Rafter Keddy