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Photo by Josh Bradley
Roger Daltrey plays Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida on Feb. 11, 2023.
Only an hour after kicking off a brief run of Florida-exclusive solo dates, an ill Roger Daltrey belted out the first verse of The Who's “Naked Eye,” just to turn around, take off his acoustic guitar, and call it a night.
“I’m gonna do myself some serious damage here, and I’m not gonna do it because I’ll never sing again,” he frustratedly apologized to a packed Ruth Eckerd Hall
A few songs earlier, the founding frontman of The Who admitted that some health problems had snuck up on him in the days leading up to his gig last Saturday in Clearwater, his first live affair of 2023. Hearing issues—stemming from years of being a quarter of the band that Guinness World Records once dubbed as the loudest ever
—plagued the pinball wizard seemingly throughout most of his time onstage, but after about 10 songs, it reached the point where Daltrey’s timeless vocal cords were doing him dirty.
“Have you ever tried to sing with indigestion?” he asked honestly. “Because it ain’t fun.”
Some thought that this was a strange example of Daltrey’s oddly specific sense of humor, but die-hard Wholigans from near and far—one having traveled from Ecuador—knew he was being serious when he began sounding concerned about how he was going to handle his other solo gigs in the days to come.
“I’m down to my boots. If I ain’t careful, I’ll have no voice. We’ve got a lot of shows coming up and I don’t know what to do," Daltrey said. "Because what I really need is a fucking doctor.”
But before the shit really hit the fan, no one in the close-to-sold-out Hall had the faintest clue that Daltrey was even a little bit under the weather. At 78, his mighty vocals have deepened over the last nearly 60 years, but appeared to have no problem keeping up with non-transposed versions of the rock anthems that put him on the map.
An opening act from satirical folk singer-songwriter Dan Bern went down at 8 p.m. on the dot. The 63-year-old sounded like a page straight out of the “South Park” handbook, singing songs about the Chinese balloon, and how division in the U.S. is so bad because of red states—unlike blue ones—having Waffle Houses. At 8:45 p.m., Daltrey and members of The Who backing band and beyond—sans Zak Starkey—came out from stage left, the former shaking hands in the front row.
“Boy, you seem really warmed up!” Daltrey called out. Part of his current run of shows—dubbed the “Who Was I?” tour—is answering questions written down before the show by audience members on slips of paper. Sure enough, Floridians just aren’t creative and inquisitive in the same way as previous audiences of this tour.
“You Americans, you’re so uninventive. You’re so fucking predictable!” Daltrey laughed, later having to answer to whether it was harder to lose Keith Moon or John Entwistle (hint: He said Moonie, because he was much younger then.)
Roger spitballed some possible future plans for The Who beyond its tour of the U.K. this summer, such as “another Who’s Next
,” or “an orchestrated Tommy
, plus an orchestrated Quadrophenia
.” He did warn his fans to take that with a grain of salt, though. “In a year’s time, with my age, I don’t know if we’ll be standing, let alone singing.”
Despite that, Daltrey started off strong with a flawless rendition of “I Can See For Miles,” which was a big change from the overture from Tommy
, which has been the show opener for his last three visits to Tampa Bay, with or without Pete Townshend. He dove into a cover of Taj Mahal’s “Freedom Ride” before going back into Who mode with “Squeeze Box,” only performed live in Tampa Bay once before, by Daltrey and his band during a 2009 stop in the same room.
“Who Are You” is always a showstopper, especially when we get to see Daltrey strap on a Fender Esquire, but likely due to his vocal issues, he didn’t belt out the title line right before the piano segment began. And “Waiting For A Friend,” a song he did for the 1980 biopic on criminal and future writer John McVicar, who died last year, had never been performed in the U.S. before Saturday.
Technical hiccups seem to be relatively common in Whoville, especially when the boys—together or separately—roll into Tampatown.
Saturday night, Daltrey and friends had to restart a number of songs for one reason or another. On Roger’s debut solo hit “Giving It All Away,” he was having trouble keeping up with Loren Gold’s piano, which was too loud in his earpiece.
Later, halfway through the incredibly dynamically powerful “Getting In Tune,” off of Who’s Next, an irritable Roger stopped the whole thing cold, due to not being able to hear bassist Jon Button’s instrumentation. He originally wanted to move onto whatever was next on the setlist, but instead, he had the band start over, and during the first verse, he chuckled off his troubles by slightly improvising the lyrics. “I can’t believe there’s anymore meaning here within the words I’m saying/I was in tune,” he laughed through song.
Oddly enough, Roger also played “Getting In Tune” at his last Ruth Eckerd Hall gig in October 2017, and had to restart it then, too. But that was early in the song, and due to Simon Townshend’s acoustic guitar being too quiet.
Nothing can be said for sure about the next time he’ll be in Clearwater, though. He urged his fans—engaged in a standing ovation—to seek refunds, so at this point, it’s anyone’s guess what comes next.
Although I think it goes without saying that Wholigans would rather experience a few more prosperous years with Daltrey, than one hastily rescheduled show.