Classic rock music fans turned out on a beautiful summer night, Sunday, August 12th to the Vina Robles Ampitheater to see legendary rock singer Roger Daltrey of The Who perform with his solo project. Warm, dry winds buffeted the small amphitheater adjacent to the Vina Robles winery, perhaps the most beautiful outdoor venue in all of California. Fans arrived early to savor snacks like wood-fired pizza and homemade brownies. Five separate bars served gourmet California wine by the glass or bottle, fresh microbrew beers, all manner of coffee drinks and designer cocktails. The recent fires far to the north cast an orange glow, creating a spectacular sunset over the surrounding mountains.
The show opened with a soothing set by modern day folk singer Leslie Mendelson. The New York singer-songwriter, along with an acoustic guitarist and back up singer sang songs from her first album in eight years, Love and Murder. The singer’s soothing voice is reminiscent of a different time in pop history when singers like Carly Simon and Carole King ruled the airwaves. Mendelson also played a song that she recorded with Bob Weir, Roy Orbison’s “Blue Bayou.” The nine-song set seemed to soothe fans happily waiting to see Daltrey.
Daltrey and his band sauntered onstage at 845, just as summer twilight set in and the Perseid meteor shower began to appear in the crystal clear skies above the Paso Robles countryside. Unlike a tour earlier this year, with an orchestra featuring mostly songs from the Tommy album, this extraordinary concert featured several songs from Daltrey’s new solo album but also mostly Who songs not generally in the band’s live set list.
The band consisted of four core members of The Who’s regular touring group. Joining vocalist Daltrey were Simon Townshend (Pete’s Brother) on vocals and guitar. Longtime Who musical director Frank Simes moved out front to take Pete Townshend’s place as lead guitar and keyboardist Loren Gold has been playing with The Who since 2012. They were joined by a veteran rhythm section bass and drummer.
Daltrey and the band immediately launched into a pair of Tommy classics including, “Overture” and “Pinball Wizard,” The 74-year-old Daltrey has struggled to maintain his voice over the six decades he has been singing. In 2010 he had surgery on his vocal chords and has an ongoing allergic reaction to pot smoke, sometimes stopping concerts. But despite complaining about the smoke from the California fires giving him a raspy throat, his voice boomed magnificently through the 18 song setlist.
The personable singer endeared himself to the crowd with frequent banter between songs. He mentioned the fact that he had played a little musical festival nearby 50 years before: that would have been the iconic Monterey Pop festival. When he asked if anyone had been there in the crowd, more than a few shouted out an affirmation.
The set flowed nicely with a few solo tunes, big Who hits like “Who Are You,” and classic gems rarely played like the Mose Allison cover “Young Man Blues,” from 1970’s Live at Leeds album. Daltrey prefaced the song with a reminiscence on working as a blue-collar factory employee, working for the weekend. Explaining, “These were some of the happiest days of my life hanging with my mates for that glorious 48 hours of the weekend.”
Then he launched into an intense version of “Young Man Blues,” with the two guitarists engaging in a guitar war, while Daltrey swung his microphone in trademark fashion just like in his younger years with The Who. As fans exited the amphitheater, the Perseid meteor shower intensified in the night sky giving the show a spectacular send-off.