‘It just blew my head off’: You Am I on touring The Who’s Tommy

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‘It just blew my head off’: You Am I on touring The Who’s Tommy

You Am I Tommy
words by Tyler Jenke

As You Am I prepare to take The Who’s Tommy album on the road, Davey Lane explains what a tour like this means for the band.

It’s been a while since the respective worlds of You Am I and The Who collided. Having been warned by then-Prime Minister John Gorton not to return to the country after a controversial 1968 tour, the English rockers’ 36-year absence ended in 2004, when the group hit Aussie stages again with You Am I as support. As guitarist Davey Lane recalls, it was nothing short of a career highlight.

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“We had a pep talk from Roger Daltrey before we went on stage, and he sat us down and said, ‘Look, playing before The Who, it’s not an easy gig. So put your heads down, play, and have fun’,” he notes with a faux English accent. “It was very sweet actually.”

Fast-forward 19 years and You Am I are going on tour with The Who again… sort of. This time, they’re paying tribute to the group’s influential 1969 album Tommy. A lengthy rock opera composed by guitarist Pete Townshend, it’s long been considered both The Who’s magnum opus and one of the greatest albums in rock history, while also inspiring film and stage adaptations.

For Lane, his exposure to The Who didn’t start with Tommy, but with songs like ‘My Generation’ and the 1979 rockumentary The Kids Are Alright. However, Tommy planted a seed that germinated into a musical career for the guitarist. “I was probably too young to understand a lot of things on the record, but musically, it just blew my head off,” he remembers.

“It was a bit of an epiphany for me in that, even though it was a fanciful notion at the time, I’d kind of made up my mind that [being in a band was] what I wanted to do. Much to my parents’ concern.”

The upcoming tour will see You Am I touring throughout July and August, performing the record in full, before closing proceedings with a set full of classics from The Who. Though the band had previously dived into the majesty of rock (and pageantry of roll) when toured the catalogue of Spinal Tap in 2018, this tour will admittedly be a little less “niche”, and sees the group embarking on a hefty rehearsal process to master all of the record’s anthemic and idiosyncratic moments. 

“Tommy is such a lengthy album as well, there’s nothing slapdash about it,” Lane says. “There are so many songs that segue into other songs and themes from other songs that pop up in different things.

“We’re just gonna have to approach it in chunks, then once we’ve got that side of the record down we’ll work on the next side of the record until we’re at a point where we can just put all the pieces together and play it in one, seamless 90-minute run.”

Of course, performing a record like Tommy, one considered as almost important as the record’s namesake believes himself to be, will undoubtedly draw some jaded rock fans to You Am I’s tour. Sure, their Spinal Tap tour had a sense of frivolity, and frontman Tim Rogers is as tongue-in-cheek as they come, but do the group feel any pressure to step up to The Who’s legacy and ensure a ‘serious’ album like this is done justice?

“I think we’ll just try and have faith in our own abilities as a group and have faith that we know the record intimately enough to be able to do it some sort of justice,” Lane admits. “We’re gonna try and represent the record as faithfully as we can.

“We’re all idiosyncratic musicians and we’re not good at being a facsimile of something else. So it is going to sound like us, but we’re going to try and include all the flavours and the sounds of the record.”

The tour will also see You Am I joined by Sarah McLeod of The Superjesus, and former Jezabels singer Hayley Mary, who will accompany Rogers on lead vocals throughout the performance.

“​​I’ve been in You Am I nearly 25 years now and probably have known Sarah for quite a few of those years,” Lane recalls. “And Hayley, we’ve crossed paths with her in the past and she’s a great singer, great writer and has a great stage presence.

“We know that Sarah is a big Who fan as well, and a fan of this record in particular, so it just kind of worked out that we’d like to bring a couple of folks along who to keep the four of us on our best behaviour anyway. It’s the Billy Preston effect”

Following the performance of Tommy, You Am I will also take on the task of performing a bunch of The Who’s greatest hits. But with such an embarrassment of riches when it comes to songs to choose from, how does the set get chosen? Is it You Am I picking their favourites, or appealing to the tastes of the masses? Lane admits it’s somewhere in the middle.

“If I had my way, I’d just pick deep cuts that no one really knows,” he says. “It’s important to bear in mind that you’re playing for more casual fans as well, so you need to cater for what those folks want to hear as well. 

“There’ll be a few obvious things in there that will have to be represented, but I might try and wedge a little album cut in there somewhere amongst it all.”

Of course, a tour like this does raise the question: will You Am I find themselves influenced by The Who and decide to dip their toes into the world of grandiose rock operas for their next record?

“I don’t want to give the game away because things are always malleable and they can change as the process goes on,” Lane notes. “But we are planning to do something kind of quite different from anything that we’ve done before on our next record.”

Whatever comes next, we’re sure Daltrey and Townshend would agree; the kids are alright.

You Am I will play tribute to Tommy at the Palais Theatre on August 12