If you were to pick just Australian band to play The Who’s influential album Tommy in its entirety, it could only be You Am I. Tim Roger’s is obviously a fan of The Who and did get to play with them in 2004, in Melbourne. Apparently before going on stage, Roger Daltry told the band to “just go out and have fun” and have fun they did, with Tim even throwing in a few of the classic Pete Townshend windmill actions on the guitar. You Am I impressed that night with a blistering set to warm up the audience. Yes, I was there.
There is some argument as to whether The Who’s Tommy was the first rock opera album. The Pretty Things have a pretty good argument with their Sorrow SF album, released months before Tommy, but let’s just go with Tommy being the first commercially successful rock opera.
The album tells the story of Tommy Walker, who witnessed his father murder his mother’s lover at a young age and becomes deaf, dumb and blind. He then dissociates himself with the world by playing pinball, while people around him tries to heal him.
As good as the studio album Tommy is, it’s in the live arena that these song shine. You Am I walked on stage, all dressed in white with bass player Andy Kent having a black skeleton emblazed on his jump suit, a tribute to The Ox, John Entwistle, who played bass for The Who. “Welcome to this amazing journey” said Tim Rogers, “Amazing but very strange, as are all opera’s”, before launching into Overture, the opening instrumental from the album.
It’s a Boy followed with Tim on acoustic guitar and vocals while pulling all the right rock poses for the photographers during the song, and he knows them all. Local lass and Superjesus vocalist, Sarah McLeod, came out to sing Amazing Journey. I have seen Sarah many times over the years but this just may have been the most powerful I have ever heard her sing. Amazing Journey was just amazing.
Davey Lane came to the fore for the instrumental Sparks, complete with the Townshend signature windmill action. Sarah was back for Eyesight to the Blind and the really powerful Christmas. I had seen video of Tim singing Christmas and was hoping he would sing it, but Sarah did it more than justice. In fact, by this stage of the show, Tim had handed over lead vocals to Sarah and former Jezebel singer, Hayley Mary. Tim provided backing vocals and was story teller with tales of the unfortunate Tommy Walker. Hayley was next with Cousin Kevin and Acid Queen. While Sarah remained dressed in white all evening, Mary opted for a costume change most songs.
A touching tribute by Tim Rogers, to local music identity, Ian Bell, who recently passed away, introduced Underture with twin lead guitars from Davey and Tim. Electric.
A short break and the band were back with L.P. two of Tommy. There is an argument that most double albums would make killer single albums. While Tommy is a classic double album, it does have some songs not quite up to par on the second disc. You Am I and guests took the second album and made it dynamic.
Hayley Mary sang Fiddle About (would this song be released today?) dressed as Uncle Ernie. She seamlessly took a simple ditty and made it a loud rock song, gyrating all over the stage. Sarah returned for a stunning Pinball Wizard and the two ladies dueted on Tommy Can You Hear Me.
Hayley’s Sensation was just that, sensational and while turning Sally Simpson into a fully-fledged loud rock song meant we couldn’t really understand the words, it was still a thing of beauty. Sarah handled to classic track I’m Free before everyone joined in for the finale, We’re Not Gonna Take It.
Tim had high praise for the two singers, saying they have written some of the greatest songs in the world. The band was tight and were obviously enjoying the evening and a chance to play their “hero’s” album in full.
The band left the stage to a standing ovation but were back within two minutes for a short set of “songs we just wrote out the back and want to try them out”, which of course turned out to be Who classics. They started with I Can’t Explain sung by Davey Lane, Tim pushing the young Mod to the centre of the stage.
Tim announced Sarah McLeod “is going to sing a new song” to which Sarah replied “This is actually a Beach Boys song” as the synth intro of The Who’s greatest song Won’t Get Fooled Again played in the back ground. Sarah puts the energizer bunny to shame with her actions on stage. The song was mesmerizing.
During Substitute Sarah ventured into the crowd telling Tim “It’s great out here, you should try it.” Hayley came out for the last song, Baba O’Riley, putting in one last outstanding performance. Sarah remained on stage, dancing and helping with backing vocals. As the song ended, band and singers came forward for the final bow and exited stage right.
At one stage during proceedings, Tim asked the audience if they should “come back sometime and do Quadrophenia in its entirety”. While that received a positive reply, for me, I would love to see them do the Who’s Next album and songs from Lifehouse project.
You Am I and guests took the album Tommy by the scruff of the neck and made it theirs. I am sure Roger and Pete would have been impressed, just as everyone as The Hindley Street Music Hall was.
Live Review by Geoff Jenke