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Concert Reviews:
The Who's "Tommy" gets a grand treatment by Roger Daltrey, DSO at Meadow Brook
 

By Gary Graff
ggraff@digitalfirstmedia.com, @GraffonMusic on Twi

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ROCHESTER HILLS -- The Who's "Tommy" has sustained plenty of interpretations during the past 49 years -- from a ballet in Montreal to an all-star orchestral rendition by the London Symphony Orchestra, a trippy Ken Russell film and a Broadway musical.

It's a hearty piece of work, "Tommy" is -- or, as the late Who drummer Keith Moon proclaimed it, "a (expletive) opera!"

The Who's Roger Daltrey, the voice of Tommy, the character, and star of that 1975 movie, has handled "Tommy" over the decades, with the Who -- including its May 9, 1969 U.S. debut at Detroit's Grande Ballroom - and his own band. But the singer upped the ante on Thursday, July 5, performing it in its near-entirety with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra on a sweltering night at the Meadow Brook Amphitheatre.

The weather certainly brought some sweat equity to the show -- even interfering with Daltrey's in-ear monitors particularly on songs such as "Sensation" and "Sally Simpson." "If it wasn't for Michigan and the crowds we've always had here, I don't think I'd have come here tonight," Daltrey quipped at one point. But most anyone at Meadow Brook was certainly glad they came for an ambitious and large-scale production that carried the weight of a genuine special occasion on "Tommy's" deaf, dumb and blind shoulders.

David Campbell's orchestral arrangements for "Tommy's" 24 tracks -- everything from the album sans the "Underture," plus a couple of new instrumental segues composed especially for this production -- brought a fresh kind of grandeur to the piece, even if they were buried inside an erratic and often muddy sound mix. But when they were most clearly audible -- during "Do You think It's Alright?"/"Fiddle About," "I'm Free," "Sensation," "Welcome" and the majestic finale "We're Not Gonna Take It" -- the orchestrations added lush and muscular sonic dimensions that made "Tommy" undeniably different, softer but still familiar and complementary to the original album.

Daltrey was, fittingly, the star of his own show, his voice still commanding at 74 (save for a few missed high notes) and his torso still trim enough to have his white dress shirt fully unbuttoned just past "Tommy's" halfway point. He swung a mean microphone, as he has since the early days of the Who, and Daltrey even engaged in a bit of shadow boxing at the end of "Welcome" and struck a few balletic poses at other points of the show.

His band, which included members of the Who's touring entourage, capably covered the "rock" end of the arrangements, with Simon Townshend covering his older brother and Who co-founder Pete's parts. And though Scott Devours' drumming was also pushed down in the mix he maintained a presence that covered most of the "Tommy" totems established by the late Keith Moon.

Daltrey and company capped the night with brawny orchestrated versions of "Who Are You" and "Baba O'Rley," as well as "Always Heading Home" from his new solo album, "As Long As I Have You" -- the latter providing an appropriate end to a night that took Memory Lane in an engaging and mostly successful new direction.



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