"Classic Quadrophenia" finds a fuller voice at Tanglewood

STOCKBRIDGE — Forty-seven years after his last appearance, Pete Townshend returned to Tanglewood on Saturday night to tell another of his epic musical tales. And abetted by a few friends, he nailed it again.

This was a different cast than it was in 1970. And, in fact, a different story. Who bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon are with the ages now, and vocalist Roger Daltry is resting up after a long Who tour. And instead of "Tommy," we heard another rock opera, "Classic Quadrophenia."

This version of "Classic Quadrophenia" was told in epic fashion by Townshend, opera tenor Alfie Boe, rocker Billy Idol and the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra, aided by the Tanglewood Festival Chorus. After performances in England a few years ago, the show is now in the U.S. for only five dates: Lenox, two in New York City, and one each in Chicago and Los Angeles. The Shed was the first stop.

For the record, "Classic Quadrophenia" is the story of Jimmy, a young Mod and his search for self-worth and, in a larger sense, self-importance. The story is set in the early 1970s in London and Brighton.

Following the release of the original disc in 1973, The Who toured behind it in 1974. But the complexities of the piece were beyond the means of a four-piece band, even one as talented as The Who.

A 1996 revival of the work proved more successful. This iteration is a bit further down the line than 1996. Backed by the Pops and the Tanglewood Festival Chorus, "Classic Quadrophenia" is a more theatrical, fuller-sounding work. And, perhaps, closer to what Townshend has been shooting for all these years.

The 19-song, 90-minute show played in front of an ecstatic sold-out Tanglewood audience on Saturday.

Credit here goes to Townshend's wife, musical arranger Rachel Fuller, as well as Pops conductor Keith Lockhart. They managed to channel the melody in a more even direction, one that, at least in this corner, better showcases Townshend's piercing lyrics.

And with that, let's have a round of applause for Boe, a man with a prodigious voice. Not better than Who vocalist Roger Daltry, but more in synch with the orchestral sound of the show.

Boe is, for all intents, the star of this show. He opens the vocal portion of the show (after the opening instrumental), with a powerful "The Real Me." But he was also able to slide into a more measured version of "I'm One" later in the first set.

Townshend made his appearance at "The Punk and the Godfather," the fifth song in the show. Townshend picked his spots well on Saturday, appearing in only about a third of the songs in the two sets. He graciously let Boe and the always-popular Billy Idol take a lot of the spotlight. But his lyrics, as interpreted by both men, were still as relevant today as they were in 1973. His vocals on "The Dirty Jobs" were striking.

Idol remained the perfect foil for Boe, sneering and swaggering through the show. At one point, during "Bell Boy," he looked at the audience, smirked and spun his microphone a la Daltry as the crowd roared.

The Tanglewood Festival Chorus provided a strong backdrop to some of the songs. especially during the three-song sequence of "Drowned," "Bell Boy" and "Dr. Jimmy."

Boe closed the regular portion of the show with a powerful, powerful, "Love Reign O'er Me." At the finale, Boe could be seen visibly steeling himself for that final, primal howl at the song's end. Wow.

The encore was a recast "The Real Me," with Boe, Idol and Townshend taking turns singing the verses. Not unexpected, as the singers and the Pops had only limited rehearsal time. Still fun.

Reach staff writer Derek Gentile at 413-770-6977


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