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Roger Daltrey sure plays a mean ‘Tommy' still

Brian T. Atkinson

The Who's landmark double album "Tommy" (1969) spawned several high watermarks tried ("Pinball Wizard") and true ("The Acid Queen"). We discussed the rock opera last week with lead singer Roger Daltrey via teleconference call.

The 67-year-old will perform "Tommy" in its entirety tonight at the Cedar Park Center. "(The current production) is a darker piece," Daltrey says. "(In particular), Uncle Ernie's a lot darker than he was on the record, but it's also just as redeeming in the end."

American-Statesman: How does 'Tommy' hold up for you today?

Roger Daltrey: When I did this for a charity performance earlier in the year, I was astonished at how groundbreaking it was in its original form. Every part has its importance. We've gone back to playing the music as it was written, as a classical piece. I think it stands up amazingly well. When you see the effect that the layers of harmonies have on an audience, it's quite extraordinary.

The lyrical themes still seem relevant.

For me, as the original singer of "Tommy," it's always been about the story of our spiritual journey. The characters are just metaphors and devices to explain parts of our human condition. When we bump into bullying and spite, it's Cousin Kevin. When we bump into malevolent people, that's Uncle Ernie. We're continually trying to explore areas of our brain with different substances. That's the Acid Queen.

Do you feel you broke down barriers with the original 'Tommy'?

We were the first rock band to play the New York Met, I think in 1970 or 1971. In that sense, it did break boundaries. We played it in opera houses all over Europe, so it was a very exciting time.

Are you discovering anything you'd like to further develop musically on this tour?

No, I think I'm very happy with the way it is now. I would've liked to have had more money to spend on the visual aspect of the show, but I have a fabulous video behind the band, which is all produced by students. They've kind of given it a look for this generation, which I kind of like. But musically, I'm where I want to be with it.

Are rock operas generally a thing of the past?

Actually, there's plenty of potential for new pop music operas. I'm sure there are young people thinking, "They did this; we can do it." It would be a merciful relief from these hit record shows that they're (performing) on Broadway, which to me are bloody awful.

Are you working on anything new yourself right now?

I am working on ideas and have a fabulous band of musicians, (but) I'll never be the quality of songwriter that Pete Townshend was. I'm aware of that. I'm very happy to have my position as being the singer of those songs.

What's the current status of the Who?

The status is the Who is the Who. We haven't gone away. I've heard it said that Pete would like to tour "Quadrophenia" next year, but we have issues to solve. Pete is having terrible trouble with his ears. I don't want to end up with Pete losing his hearing for good.

There's been talk of the Who performing at the 2012 Olympics (in London).

They've talked to us about doing it, but nothing has been agreed. It seems to me that we kind of had our Super Bowl moment (laughs). If it was a soccer match, I think I'd be more interested.

Roger Daltrey