NEW YORK — DALTREY SINGS TOWNSHEND
Musical birthday party for The Who's Roger Daltrey
WHAT do Roger Daltrey, The Juilliard Orchestra, Alice Cooper, David Sanborn, The Spin Doctors, Linda Perry (of 4 Non Blondes), John Entwhistle, Lou Reed, Eddie Vedder (of Pearl Jam), The Chieftans, Sinead O'Connor, and Pete Townshend have in common?
Not much, which explains the mixed results when this diverse group recently gathered in honor of Daltrey's 50th birthday. They performed an all-star concert entitled ``Daltrey Sings Townshend.''
The only time this collection of artists appeared onstage together (minus one or two) was in the finale, ``Join Together,'' but even for this one number, it was obvious that no one had a clear idea of what exactly was going on.
This stellar lineup performed for two sold-out nights at Carnegie Hall, and despite the tremendously high ticket prices both shows were immediate sell-outs. The results were filmed for a pay-per-view cable TV special (aired the last weekend in February), and video and album versions are to be released later this year. The show was also a try-out for a likely summer tour in which Daltrey will perform Who songs with symphonic orchestras.
Unfortunately, the evening was extremely ragged and underrehearsed, a fact acknowledged by Daltrey himself, who apologized several times. (At one particularly chaotic group moment, he looked over at his former teammate Townshend and shrugged with disbelief.) During one long lull in the show, he even led the audience in a sing-along.
The evening was comprised of Townshend songs performed by Daltrey and the guest stars in various combinations. The original Who songs, in new orchestral arrangements by Michael Kamen (who conducted), aren't really enhanced by the symphonic accompaniment, and in many cases the orchestra would simply begin the song and then the rock band would take over. Daltrey himself was not in particularly good voice for much of the first half of the show, which he also acknowledged.
The guest stars, selected by Daltrey, demonstrated little in common other than their love for Who music. The Spin Doctors, playing ``Can't Explain'' and ``Substitute,'' proved once again that they are the world's most fortunate bar band. Alice Cooper camped around the stage with a walking stick singing ``I'm a Boy.'' David Sanborn contributed a lengthy sax solo on Daltrey's impassioned version of ``Why Should I Care.'' Linda Perry, whom Daltrey compared in his introduction to Janis Joplin, screeched her way through ``Dr. Jimmy'' and ``Acid Queen.'' Lou Reed, with his usual eccentricity, selected an obscure Townshend song from the recent ``Psychoderelict'' album, and performed it in his inimitable laid-back style.
TO begin the second half, Eddie Vedder sang solo-acoustic versions of two Who standards, ``The Kids are Alright'' and ``My Generation,'' and the obscure ``Sheraton Gibson.'' Vedder was probably the performer who most closely approximated the controlled anarchy that was The Who, and his impassioned versions of these rock standards were riveting.
The Chieftans, with whom Daltrey collaborated on a Grammy-winning album, performed, of all things, ``Baba O'Reilly,'' helped by vocals from Daltrey and Sinead O'Connor (who, coming onstage to a chorus of boos, smiled and said ``I'm a nice girl if you get to know me''). The results were strange but entertaining, although the two dancers performing an Irish jig was a cheesy touch.
The Chieftans also helped Daltrey on a more appropriate number, ``Behind Blue Eyes.'' A highlight of the show, predictably, was a medley from ``Tommy.'' Daltrey had by then regained most of his voice, and things began looking up when John Entwhistle played a powerful version of ``The Real Me.''
The evening was supposed to showcase Daltrey, but it was Pete Townshend who stole the show. Wearing wire-rim glasses and a dark suit, he looked like a hip English professor, but he gave a rendition of ``Who Are You'' that brought down the house. His voice sounded more powerful than ever, and his bluesy arrangements and intense vocal performance proved that you don't need a 65-piece orchestra to reinvent Who songs.
What the audience was truly hoping for, of course, was a Who reunion, but alas, this was not to be. It was a perverse kind of teasing: The three performers onstage together did not even do one number. Presumably they thought that it would overshadow Daltrey's solo effort. And it would have. One can't blame Daltrey for attempting to sustain his career in the face of Townshend's disinterest in reuniting, but this concert only served to confirm that Daltrey is a great rock singer without any new songs to sing.