ATLANTIC CITY — In an arena setting with huge amplifiers, deafening guitars, screaming fans and an overall hum that makes the ears buzz for hours, vocalists can get away with murder.
In an intimate setting, where the volume is lower, the acoustics are fantastic and fans remain relatively seated for most concerts, vocalists have to be on top of their game.
The Who frontman Roger Daltrey had his work cut out for him Friday night, the first of two performances (including tonight) at the Borgata Hotel Casino & Spa’s 700-seat Music Box.
The 65-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer proved he was up for the task with an impressive one-hour-and-45-minute set that offered something for everyone, especially fans of The Who.
When it comes to the greatest rock singers of all time, Daltrey is certainly near the top. Despite eight solo albums — only his 1973 eponymous debut really stands out — the vocalist is rightfully associated with The Who, in which he, along with Pete Townshend, made for one of the most lethal singer-guitarist combos of all time.
Like Daltrey’s career, the best songs he offered Friday night were the ones that Townshend wrote for The Who. And the rock veteran certainly isn’t naive to think that most of the Music Box crowd wasn’t there to hear them Friday.
In that regard, Daltrey didn’t disappoint, opening with four straight Who classics, “Who Are You,” “Pictures of Lily,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Tattoo.” He sprinkled other Who songs like a reworked, more mellow “My Generation,” and the one-two punch of the crowd favorites “Squeeze Box” and “I Can See For Miles.”
On most of the songs, Daltrey was impressive. While not possessing the range he once had, he still brings the power. And only on the opener “Who Are You” and the anthem “Baba O’Riley” did Daltrey seem to really strain.
But he did have a lot of fun — ripping out the harmonica on “Goin’ Mobile” while Townshend’s younger brother Simon wailed away on guitar and sang lead; pulling out a ukulele for “Blue, Red and Grey”; and throwing in a Johnny Cash medley of “I Got Stripes” and “Ring of Fire.”
Despite his vast solo catalog, Daltrey only pulled out three songs from his own material, the country-tinged and fun “Days of Light,” the less-impressive “Who’s Gonna Walk On Water” and the encore, “Without Your Love,” perhaps his most well-known song, performed acoustically by the talented band.
Daltrey seemed far more interested and eager to play other songwriters’ tunes that are probably in heavy rotation on his iPod. One of his most interesting and animated moments was his choice to play “Freedom Ride” and “Gimme a Stone” off the 1998 concept album “Largo,” even though he had nothing to do with it.
At least he had a good excuse, noting that the album, which featured multiple artists in a project inspired by Dvorak’s New World Symphony and coordinated by members of The Hooters, fused Celtic and folk music, which he loves.
A great performance of “Freedom Ride,” originally performed by Taj Mahal on “Largo,” made the second offering from the album, “Gimme a Stone,” seem excessive.
He also threw in a cover of Muddy Waters’ “Mannish Boy” and Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues” for good measure, unfortunately opting out of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Born on the Bayou,” which he has been performing at previous tour stops.
Any Who fan should try to see Daltrey solo. Not only can you see him up close and personal in much smaller venues than you can see The Who, but without Pete Townshend’s shackles, Daltrey seems more carefree and certainly more chatty.
He introduced most of the songs throughout the night, often spinning funny tales about everything from late bassist John Entwistle’s voice to his inspirations to making excuses for his sometimes shrill voice.
“Go in the bathroom and scream for an hour-and-a-half,” he joked to the crowd as he sipped water between songs to soothe his throat.
Tickets for Daltrey’s second show tonight will be hard to come by. But if you’re a Who fan, consider it a scalping emergency.
Contact Scott Cronick:
“Who Are You”
“Pictures Of Lily”
“Behind Blue Eyes”
“Days of Light”
“Gimme a Stone”
“I Can See for Miles”
“Who’s Gonna Walk on Water”
“Young Man Blues”
“I Got Stripes”/“Ring of Fire”
“Blue, Red and Grey”
“Without Your Love”