KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Who's Roger Daltrey isn't losing it anytime soon. The 66-year-old vocalist brought his "Use It or Lose It Tour" to Kansas City's historic Uptown Theater on Saturday night, and he and his five-piece solo band gave ticket-buyers their money's worth by shredding through Who rarities, a Johnny Cash medley and recurring blasts of exploratory hard rock and street-based blues.
Wearing a blue-and-white shirt, black jeans, black shoes and those small, now-familiar glasses, Daltrey looked comfortable, relaxed and inspired while commanding the attention of the capacity, 1,800-member audience. The brightest spot, possibly, was Daltrey's take of jazz master Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues," which emitted so much earthy energy and unbridled fire that it was reminiscent of The Who's famous live cover version from 1970. Daltrey's guitarists, Simon Townshend (brother of The Who's Pete Townshend) and Frank Simes, slashed out an electric-guitar maze of raw sound on top of John Button's bass, Loren Gold's keyboards and Scott Devours' drums. When they tackled The Who's "Bargain," Devours hit his large roto toms and cymbals so hard during the song's great, noisy coda that his drum sticks literally splintered into twigs.
Daltrey, thankfully, tackled songs that rarely are played live by The Who, like "I Can See for Miles" and "Pictures of Lily." The former, with its widescreen-like fury, stood loud and proud, drawing some of the loudest cheers of the evening, while the latter wove crunchy guitars through the track's adventurous arrangement.
Even Daltrey's spin on The Who's regular showcase, "Baba O'Riley," blasted from the stage with a freshness that couldn't be denied. The opening synthesizer sequence - it's still the greatest keyboard part in all of rock music - jolted through the audience of all ages, despite the obvious absence of The Who's Pete Townshend, Zak Starkey and Pino Palladino.
Midway through the two-hour, 10-minute concert, Daltrey mentioned The Who's set at the 2010 Super Bowl, a 12-minute appearance that was good but fell short of the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers' unbeatable show at Dallas' Reunion Arena back in 2000 or their stage-stealing moment at Paul McCartney's Concert for New York City benefit in 2001. He told the Uptown Theater's crowd that he was thankful that the New Orleans Saints won the Super Bowl, because they "needed some luck - something good," and he gave props to all U.S. soldiers.
Humor also grabbed a few rays of the decorated theater's colored spotlights. Daltrey bragged about the octave-jumping voice of the late John Entwistle during the show, which ironically was on the eve of the eighth anniversary of Entwistle's death.
"He used to be able to sing really, really high, and then sometime around the late 1960s or early 1970s, his voice just dropped," Daltrey said of Entwistle, The Who's original bassist. "Anyone who ever had the pleasure of speaking with John knew the sound of his voice."
Daltrey then mimicked Entwistle's deep, slightly muffled speaking voice perfectly to cheers and laughter. Several minutes later, when Daltrey wanted to veer from his set list, his band stood silent for a few seconds.
"Play ‘Magic Bus'!" shouted one fan from the dark. "No, I don't want to play that one," Daltrey jokingly barked back with a mock frown. "Do ‘Let's See Action,'" hollered another fan. "No, I don't want to do that one either, because I can't remember all of those words," Daltrey answered with a grin as the audience laughed.
Daltrey's impassioned readings of "My Generation," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Who Are You," "Real Good Looking Boy," "Without Your Love," Taj Mahal's "Freedom Ride," Creedence Clearwater Revival's "Born on the Bayou" and a short medley of Johnny Cash essentials were sprinkled throughout the diverse set. Simon Townshend took lead vocals on the bouncy "Goin' Mobile," and although there was no "Won't Get Fooled Again" or "5:15," bruising versions of "Naked Eye" and "The Real Me" were comforting rewards.
Daltrey decided to name his tour "Use It or Lose It" based on his self-prescribed need to keep his vocal chops limber and warm while The Who are inactive. He and Pete Townshend currently are waiting to see if a new inner-ear monitor system will allow for any more tours for The Who - Townshend, once again, is combating severe tinnitus and can't handle loud stage volume levels.
Standing 15 feet in front of Daltrey in Kansas City revealed a talent and personal side that just don't quite make the full translation through TV or film. His gifts, like the skills of Roger Waters, Carl Palmer and Joe Walsh, are much more stunning in person. Saturday's concert proved that Daltrey, if forced, could make it fine as a solo artist from here on out, but one more Who tour with Daltrey and Pete Townshend at the front of the stage would be tops.