ROGER DALTREY + LESLIE MENDELSON – BRIGHTON CENTRE 22.6.22
As founder and lead vocalist of The Who, one of the longest enduring, best-loved, and most successful rock acts of all time, Roger Daltrey needs little introduction. Since the 1970s he has also maintained a successful parallel career as an actor and a solo artist, releasing nine solo studio albums, plus a 2014 collaboration with former Dr. Feelgood guitarist Wilko Johnson. The ‘Who Was I?’ tour, featuring music and conversation and showcasing solo hits and rarities, was originally scheduled for November and December 2021, but moved to summer 2022 due to pandemic concerns. Tonight at the Brighton Centre is the second date on the revised itinerary, the tour having opened in Bournemouth. There are twelve dates in all, sensibly arranged with rest days between shows.
As ever, it’s straightforward and pleasant getting into the venue. There are plenty of helpful staff and sufficient facilities to cope with the number of patrons. Tonight is a seated event, which is understandable given that the audience demographic includes people who will have been following The Who since the 1960s. The seating covers the Front and South Stalls, with the balcony curtained off, so we’re a little way short of maximum capacity. It’s a summer’s evening though, and the hall soon gets pretty warm as it starts to fill up.
Tour support comes from singer songwriter Leslie Mendelson. Her album ‘If You Can’t Say Anything Nice’ was released in 2020, right at the start of the pandemic, so doubtless it’s good to have the opportunity to play the songs live. She supported The Who on some American dates earlier this year, and has continued to the UK with Roger. On stage she sports a patterned dress and a jumbo acoustic, and has a harmonica clamped in a holder. She introduces herself and accompanying guitarist Steve McEwan, who launches a catchy riff on a red semi-acoustic with a fairly dirty sound. He also adds some impressive backing vocals. The opening number, which we’re told is new, is a brisk and rather enjoyable piece of bluesy folk-pop. Leslie has a good line in between-song banter, which comes in handy whilst tuning. She is from New York City, which is obvious from her accent. Steve lives there too, though when pressed he admits to being originally from Hull in Yorkshire. ‘Jericho’ is from the earlier ‘Love And Murder’ collection, which is amusingly described as being “a family album”. It is a slower and more reflective piece.
There’s more amusing chat about learning to drive in the UK, which involves negotiating roundabouts, apparently an unfamiliar concept for some American motorists. A harmonica placed upside-down in the holder provides an unintended comedy moment and a topic for some further banter. The songs are well-crafted and moving though, and the dual vocal parts are particularly effective. Closing number ‘All Come Together’ stands out, with a catchy chorus, soaring vocal parts, and a languidly chugged but immensely satisfying chord progression. It has been a good start to the evening’s entertainment, and Leslie’s songs are definitely worthy of further investigation.
Leslie Mendelson setlist:
‘I Gotta Go’, ‘Jericho’, ‘Rock’n’Roll On The Radio’, ‘Lay It All On Me’, ‘The Hardest Part’, ‘All Come Together’
There’s a buzz of anticipation and a loud cheer as the lights go down and the band takes the stage, followed by the familiar figure of Roger Daltrey, wearing a white shirt. He’s looking well and in great shape. “Welcome to the hall that’s round the wrong way.” He has a point, as it is an unusual configuration, with the stage along one of the longer sides of the rectangular space. He’s making full use of the available width though, with eight musicians spread out across it. The drum seat is as yet unoccupied, though there is an extensive array of percussion set up for Jody Linscott, who starts off seated at a cajon.
Straight away there is a problem with the in-ear monitoring. “Excuse me. We’ve got to fix this, because I’m totally deaf without these things that are plugging up my ears.” It seems he’s hearing some sort of weird delay, and not getting any input from the ambient mics that presumably relay the crowd’s response. Frantic adjustments are made. “Now he’s got to play with my arse,” Roger snaps, as a stage tech checks his body pack, which raises a huge laugh. “This wasn’t supposed to be a f*cking comedy show.” Naturally, his exasperation draws yet more hilarity. After a brief, disinhibited rant about venues, the situation is sufficiently improved to get underway, with a well-executed rendition of Pete Townshend’s ‘Let My Love Open The Door’.
Ironically, the front of house sound is excellent, and Roger is in fine voice. To begin with, the vibe is mainly acoustic, the song driven along by the guitar of Simon Townshend (Pete’s brother) and the mandola of Billy Nicholls, both of whom have been playing with The Who for some years. The mandola looks like a small guitar and is strung like a mandolin, but tuned lower. Geraint Watkins, seated at the extreme house right of the wide stage, swells the sound with accordion.
Roger’s in the mood for conversation, and gives a moving speech about the plight of musicians, roadies and technical crew when the live music industry was halted by the pandemic. He makes a valid point that while there was government support for the arts, it all went to the venues. An engaging and entertaining speaker, he raises another laugh by introducing a cover of Taj Mahal’s ‘Freedom Ride’ as “a great song for a train strike”. There’s some nice interplay between the instruments, which continues through an excellent version of The Who’s ‘Squeeze Box’.
The monitoring issues seem to have returned, and ‘Waiting For A Friend’, from ‘McVicar’ and written by Billy Nicholls, has to be halted mid song for further adjustments. “This is like a soundcheck… but with an audience,” Roger quips, making light of the situation. “You should come to some of the soundchecks… very interesting language!”
Ben Townshend, Simon’s son, comes on and takes his place behind the drum kit for ‘Another Tricky Day’, from The Who’s ‘Face Dances’ album. It’s an electronic kit, which I imagine is to keep the onstage noise down for Roger’s benefit. Once again, the front of house sound is absolutely fine, but the main man is still having problems, and there’s a brief hiatus at the end of the number to reboot the monitor mix console. It seems to do the trick, for the moment anyway, and we are treated to a stunningly brilliant performance of ‘Who Are You’, culminating in some delightful “oooh…ahhhh…” backing vocals from Billy and violinist Katie Jacoby. Simon, now on electric guitar, is hitting big chords and bearing more than a passing resemblance to his older brother.
We’re told that the next song originated in Brighton, written by Leo Sayer and Dave Courtney, who is apparently in the audience tonight. Of course it’s ‘Giving it All Away’, a Top 5 single taken from the first solo album, back in 1973. It’s a lovely song, and beautifully performed. Roger’s voice sounds magnificent. The hook is punctuated with big hits by Ben on the kit and percussionist Jody, who is whacking an absolutely enormous kettledrum. ‘Tattoo’ is a slightly less well known track from 1967’s ‘The Who Sell Out’. I haven’t heard it for years, and it’s splendid fun, performed in a sparse arrangement of voices and dancing guitar arpeggios. Roger explains that when he was a lad you were discouraged from getting tattoos, because “the police will be able to recognise you”. These days, of course, you would stand out more by not having any tattoos. ‘After The Fire’ gets a very vibey accompaniment from Jody inverting an impressively long rain stick.
Roger shares some reminiscences about his days working in a sheet metal factory as preamble to ‘Days Of Light’, a song about those precious days at the weekend. There’s a busy violin part, and at the end Roger introduces Katie to the crowd, telling us that she is the leader of the orchestra that accompanies The Who on live shows. ‘Some Kind Of Hero’ is from the excellent 2014 collaboration with Wilko Johnson, and chugs along with a brisk rhythm and blues feel, embellished by wailing harmonica from Steve Weston. It’s followed by a long and very touching story about how the record came to be made, following Wilko’s pancreatic cancer diagnosis.
‘Break The News’ is a song written by Simon that features on The Who’s 2019 album ‘Who’. Roger’s been working hard, and needs to towel himself down. “Is it hot down there?” he enquires. It certainly is. Another brisk rhythm and blues workout from the Wilko collaboration probably won’t help, but the Dr Feelgood classic ‘Going Back Home’ is exactly what we get. John Hogg on bass and Doug Boyle on guitar lay down a solid backing, whilst Ben and Steve get busy on drums and harmonica respectively.
Roger is up for another anecdote, this time about his early inspirations. It is now 61 years since he founded the band that became The Who. In the early days, they were expected to play chart hits in a wide range of styles. The idea of them trying to cover Kenny Ball’s traditional jazz is quite amusing. All of this leads nicely into the soul stomp of Garnet Mimms’ ‘As Long As I Have You’. Roger’s version was the title track of a 2018 solo album. Despite a brief false start, it’s a real cracker. It’s followed by another dip into the Wilko Johnson canon with an absolutely storming romp through ‘I Keep It To Myself’, with quick fire lyrics and lashings of honking harmonica.
It’s time for a rant about the state of the music industry. Roger obviously did very well from record royalties in the past, but the current streaming model is appallingly weighted towards the platform owners and record companies, with artists and writers receiving a pitiful cut of the takings. As an example, one of Billy Nicholls’ songs was recently covered by Taylor Swift and clocked ten million plays online. Billy confirms that he received a cheque for about £4 for his trouble. Roger’s very reasonable conclusion is that unless artists can actually make a living, the music business simply won’t be sustainable in the future. He then introduces the band, and there are plenty of them, so it takes a while.
For me personally, the iconic Who number ‘Baba O’Reily’ is the absolute highlight of the set, and sounds sublimely massive. Katie on violin covers the skittering synth intro part, with Geraint hitting those big chords on keyboard. Roger’s voice is powerful and strong, and Katie has her moment in the spotlight providing the famous violin solo. I am utterly transported. The only way is down from there, and ‘Without Your Love’, another number from ‘McVicar’, is touchingly reflective. We’re coming to the end now, and there’s a pleasing irony in a 78 year old singer performing Mose Allison’s ‘Young Man Blues’, a long-time live favourite from The Who’s set. At the conclusion the band takes a bow to an enthusiastic round of applause from the audience, who feel moved to get to their feet.
There’s no encore, but after a set lasting one hour and forty five minutes, we can hardly feel short-changed. Roger has spent much of the gig complaining about the sound, and telling us how his band are under-rehearsed, but from where I was sitting I heard nothing but superb sound and superlative playing. It has been a real pleasure to catch a show by a genuine rock legend, who still has the chops so many decades on.
Simon Townshend (guitar, backing vocals)
Ben Townshend (drums)
Doug Boyle (guitar)
Geraint Watkins (keyboards, accordion)
John Hogg (bass)
Jody Linscott (percussion)
Billy Nicholls (mandola, backing vocals)
Steve Weston (harmonica)
Katie Jacoby (violin, backing vocals)
Roger Daltrey setlist:
‘Let My Love Open The Door’ (Pete Townshend cover – single 2016)
‘Freedom Ride’ (Taj Mahal cover)
‘Squeeze Box’ (The Who – from ‘The Who By Numbers’ 1975)
‘Waiting For A Friend’ (from ‘McVicar’ 1980)
‘Another Tricky Day’ (The Who – from ‘Face Dances’ 1981)
‘Who Are You’ (The Who – from ‘Who Are You’ 1978)
‘Giving It All Away’ (from ‘Daltrey’ 1973)
‘Tattoo’ (The Who – from ‘The Who Sell Out’ 1967)
‘After The Fire’ (Pete Townshend cover – from ‘Under A Raging Moon’ 1985)
‘Days of Light’ (from ‘Rocks In The Head’ 1982)
‘Some Kind Of Hero’ (Wilko Johnson cover – from ‘Going Back Home’ 2014)
‘Break The News’ (The Who – from ‘Who’ 2019)
‘Going Back Home’ (Dr Feelgood cover – from ‘Going Back Home’ 2014)
‘As Long As I Have You’ (Garnet Mimms cover – from ‘As Long As I Have You’ 2018)
‘I Keep It To Myself’ (Wilko Johnson cover – from ‘Going Back Home’ 2014)
‘Baba O’Riley’ (The Who – from ‘Who’s Next’ 1971)
‘Without Your Love’ (from ‘McVicar’ 1980)
‘Young Man Blues’ (Mose Allison cover – The Who from ‘Live At Leeds’ 1970)
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