They call it classic rock for a reason.
It’s music that never gets old, music that still resonates no matter how many times you hear it. Although the label gets slapped on a lot of music that’s aged but not classic, Roger Daltrey’s music is certainly classic.
A smaller-than-expected audience at the Barbara B. Mann Performing Arts Hall Friday night was treated to the sort of spectacle normally reserved for big arena shows. The Who frontman Daltrey treated the crowd to nearly two hours of stadium rock anthems, classic hits and a run through the history of one of rock ‘n’ roll’s most legendary acts.
Even though he warned the audience that it wasn’t going to be a “Who show,” Daltrey obliged them with many of the band’s greatest hits. But the show was more than a career retrospective.
Never a major songwriting force in the Who, Daltrey has always been a supreme interpreter of other people’s songs. Away from the need to play only the band’s material, Daltrey let loose classics from his influences. He sang some songs he recorded with the Chieftans, did a fantastic rendition of Muddy Water’s “Mannish Boy” and spent 10 minutes on a medley of Johnny Cash tunes.
“As long as I’m performing, I’m going to be doing his songs,” Daltrey said of Cash, whose songs he sang to pass the time as a 15-year-old worker in a sheet metal factory.
Most songs came with a sometimes lengthy description of how the song came to be, or other anecdotes about its history, like a live version of “VH1 Storytellers.” Before launching into a version of “Blue, Red and Grey,” from 1975’s “The Who By Numbers,” Daltrey explained the reason the band never played it live was because lead guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend didn’t like playing the ukulele in public.
“He said, ‘I look bloody stupid with that thing,’” Daltrey recounted.
For his part, Daltrey wasn’t worried about looking stupid, showing off his surprisingly fit 65-year-old body by unbuttoning his shirt before “Baba O’Riley (Teenage Wasteland)” — to the delight of his middle-aged female fans. That song also proved he can still swing a microphone with the best of them.
Throughout the show, he proved to be surprisingly humble and remarkably funny. Heck, the very premise of his tour, dubbed “Use It or Lose It,” was that if he didn’t get out there and sing now he probably wouldn’t ever be able to do it again.
After blowing through a strong version of “The Real Me,” Daltrey proclaimed his tour would be one of the last times he’d be able to sing from “Quadrophenia,” the band’s legendary rock opera.
And certainly there were gaps in his vocals, which sound appropriately whisky-aged now. He passed off some of the high notes to his band mates and avoided “Won’t Get Fooled Again” altogether lest he fail at the famous caterwaul.
Daltrey has settled into a voice not unlike Springsteen, low on pyrotechnics but heavy on feeling. Songs like “Squeeze Box” and “Behind Blue Eyes” took on a more weathered, worldly feel than they had in the ’70s.
But the quality of his voice didn’t really matter that much. Most of the audience was just happy to hear the songs and to rock out with one of their favorite performers.
Connect with Jonathan Foerster at www.naplesnews.com/staff/jonathan_foerster