The Who’s 1969 rock opera Tommy has been revived in countless iterations over the past four decades: from a movie to a Broadway musical to a symphony and even a ballet. This summer, Who frontman Roger Daltrey is going on a 45-date world tour with the goal of bringing the rock opera back to its roots. “My Tommy is much more like the original conception,” he tells Rolling Stone. “It’s more like the Who were on record than we ever were on stage. It’s interesting to hear it in its pure form with all the backing vocals and other instruments. There’s also quite a few songs from the album that the Who never even played. I’m doing the whole thing.”
Daltrey first got the idea to stage Tommy earlier this year when booking acts for his annual Teenage Cancer Trust charity shows at the Royal Albert Hall. He had a hole in the schedule, so he decided to fill it himself by performing Tommy. “It was all flying by the seat of our pants,” he says. “I really enjoyed singing it and exploring the musicality of it, though it was really nerve-wracking because we only had one warm-up show. It went fantastically though. If I can enjoy doing it with that pressure as much as I did, then I’m sure that I’m going to enjoy this tour.”
His aim is to approach the material from a new perspective. “My narrative has more to do with the listener listening to the album,” Daltrey says. “I’ve always felt that my perspective of Tommy has always been from inside it – not from outside. I think that the secret of the success of those albums in those days was the fact that the listener was getting their their own subjective view of what it was about. There is was a little bit of them in ‘see me, feel me, touch me, heal me.’ Indeed, I feel like there’s a bit of everybody going through that in all stages of their life. With this show, I’m trying to take you on a spiritual journey.”
To help realize his vision, Daltrey commissioned local college students to create visuals that will be projected on screens during the show. “I wanted to get Tommy for today,” he says. “Not the Sixties and Seventies. It’s very, very different. I’m completely knocked out by what they have done with it. It’s very difficult to explain what exactly it is, but it’s a lot of beautiful animation and a lot of really, really avant-garde ideas. It’s wonderful to look at.”
At the end of the show, Daltrey plans on performing other songs from the Who’s vast catalog, including rarities like like “Goin’ Mobile” and “Blue Red & Grey.” “We also do a lot of of hits from the Sixties that the Who had to stop doing in the Seventies because, overnight, John [Entwistle] lost his angel quality voice,” he says. “Even in those other incarnations of the Who – which were really more Pete’s design than mine – we’ve never had the backing vocals particularly like the sound of The Who.”
The band is led by Townshend’s brother Simon, who has toured with the Who since they reformed in 1996. “It must have been so hard for him living in the shadow of Pete,” says Daltrey. “I’ve watched him developed as a solo artist. He’s go so much confidence now and is so talented. Any other musician with that much talent deserves a great platform to play on . . . I’ve always wanted him in every band that I’ve ever had. It’s just the quality of his voice that’s achieved when it blends with mine. There’s really something special going on there.”
The Tommy tour kicks off July 3rd in Wolverhampton, England and wraps up November 2nd in Winnipeg, Manitoba.