VANCOUVER — For fans of the Who, watching Roger Daltrey perform at the Commodore must be like a Catholic having the Pope say mass in their living room. But at least a few members of the sold-out faithful weren't showing much forgiveness for indie-rock opening act, Paper Zoo, whose brief set one Daltrey disciple leaning againt the bar described as "possibly the worst s--- I've ever heard." Well, everyone's a critic. The fittingly named Use It or Lose It tour – billed by Daltrey as a vocal warmup for an upcoming Who album and subsequent tour – was a stripped-down affair that kicked off in Vancouver Saturday night featuring some of his solo work, a few covers and, of course, some crowd-pleasing Who tracks.
The lengthy set, which topped 100 minutes, kicked off with a polite welcome for Daltrey from the crowd and, perhaps not surprisingly, an acoustic/plugged-in hybrid of the Who’s hit, Who Are You, which probably reminded more than one aging rock fan in the crowd to PVR the tenth season of CSI. Daltrey was accompanied onstage by longtime collaborator, guitarist Simon Townshend (who was celebrating a birthday); and a solid quartet of American players, including guitarist Frank Simes, bassist Jon Button, keyboardist Loren Gold and drummer Scott Devours. He gave his pipes somewhat of a break when he slowed things down with A Second Out – from his solo compilation album, Moonlighting – and Tattoo. But he still seemed to labour somewhat through I Can See for Miles.
Interestingly, it was after that struggle he complained about the sound, calling it “weird”, though he’d already mentioned the echo was “worse than a stadium.” Considering it was the tour’s leadoff performance, though, Daltrey sounded like he was in decent form, especially on less vocally taxing tracks like 2,000 Years and a decidedly countrified reworking of Squeeze Box, which the crowd helped out on during the chorus.
Daltrey could’ve used more assistance shortly afterwards. After telling the crowd about the inspiration behind the writing of Days of Light, he then forgot the words about halfway through, stopped the band and tried again. Of course, no one seemed to mind, since the show had a laidback, informal feel to it. But, when he screwed up the next one too, he wisely chose to just move on to more memorable fare, which included a decent double-shot of Johnny Cash covers (I Got Stripes and Ring of Fire), an homage to a singer who Daltrey found quite influential as a teenager. Then the guy next to me decided to give me his unsolicited interpretation of the opening act. "Every song they did made me feel like I was having a baby out of my eyeballs," he said. I see.
Back to Daltrey: he also performed Boris the Spider, a song he sang at the memorial for former Who bassist John Entwistle, who wrote and performed the song at the group’s live shows up until he died in 2002. “For the great bloke that he was,” Daltrey said. Near the end of the main set, Daltrey belted out Baba O’Riley (don’t forget to PVR season six of CSI: New York!), which got the reasonably mellow crowd riled enough for a serious sing-along during the chorus.
That set the stage for the last song of the main set: A Daltrey-led sing-along of the timeless classic, Happy Birthday, which was dedicated to band-mate Simon Townshend. Brother Pete was certainly missed. Still, on this night, fans certainly got their fix. Even if it proved that, while you can take Daltrey out of the Who, you can’t take the Who out of Daltrey.