Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Tanglewood Music Center, Lenox, MA – September 2, 2017

“Either way blood flows…”

Hey! I just noticed this is the 100th Backstage Blog post! Tempus fugit, indeed… congrats to all of us for making it this far.

This quintessentially English story, Classic Quadrophenia, has now reached the shores of the USA: We are at Tanglewood, a venue with such a rich and storied history that I cannot begin to describe it. Some of you may know of it from old Who shows here in 1969 and 1970, the latter was filmed and many people love it. Supposedly that was one of the two most-highly-attended concerts ever held here, the other being a more recent James Taylor/Yo-yo Ma concert!

The first stage was built here a long time ago, in the 1930s. It’s a woodsy outdoors amphitheater with covered wooden seating area – and large lawns and trees all around. Half the audience pays the big $$ for the covered seats, and the basic “punters” pay less and sit anywhere they can on the hilly lawn areas, using blankets and coolers and whatever drinks they brought with them. Yes, your own beverages are allowed here on certain shows. Some audience members have made a science of it, attending shows with all the food and drink and bits they can manage. The orchestra is the Boston Pops orchestra, who range far beyond the scope of the older (and more serious) Boston Symphony Orchestra. I’m told there were a few additional musicians hired freelance for this show, but most are from the Pops orchestra, and they often move upward to the Symphony Orchestra, which is considered a higher position. For some, they probably love this type of show, as they clearly have a love of popular and rock music.

Our good mood continues here… The full show is rehearsed once through in the late afternoon, which means an awful lot of singing for Alfie Boe. But he’s a trooper and sings so strongly even in rehearsal. Alfie is truly a warm and positive guy; I loved meeting him and seeing his grasp of this Who material. Everyone’s saying the same thing – he was good before, but this new tour has him really pushing hard to sing stronger and really entertain. He’s better at this than you’d ever expect. For a traditionally-trained operatic singer, Alfie certainly rocks here, and everyone in the place is riding high on it.

Pete Townshend is also singing here, sort of filling in for the Phil Daniels role of 2015. He also plays acoustic guitar on a few, and that brings another kind of energy to the evening. Pete does a fair bit of dancing about – but partly just to play off of the other’s very active stage movements. Regardless, it was truly unexpected and removes a lot of somber seriousness, and the show becomes more fun than heavy.

It’s fair to say this is not a place to learn the story of Quadrophenia for the first time – things are sung passionately, but it’s not so much about storytelling or theater on this tour; it’s a sonic deepening of the music we’ve known for so long. This show leans far toward serious concert-hall presentation, even to a minimal lighting rig that adds subtle color and mood; it’s not a rock concert, and lighting director Tom Kenny knows exactly how to walk the line between symphony and rock and roll staging.

Coincidentally, the choirmaster who rehearsed and organized the huge choral group was from England. He’d grown up in Acton, only a single street away from where the young Peter Townshend was raised. They had a nice chat about the area and people/places of their times. As the large choir filed out, post-show, he stood at the stage door to thank each one of them. I heard someone in the choir say it was truly a dream come true for her. And others mentioned they’d missed doing their “apple scrumping” line, as Alfie had unknowingly skipped a verse during ‘5:15’. I’m sure almost no one in the audience noticed, but somehow the conductor was able to skip the entire orchestra and choir forward to cover up the missed-verse mistake. Excellent work!

At the end, everyone took their bows to huge cheers, flowers were brought out, and it ended with a positive note. People wanted more, but there was only one encore to be done. This show has grown quite a bit since the Royal Albert Hall debut two years ago, the performers are stronger and more energized, the arrangements may have evolved too (not sure) but it certainly sounded amazing in-person.

Thanks to longtime Who photographer William Snyder – he came out to the show and has offered use here of some of his captured moments. He’s always getting some great views (and soon plans to release a book of two-decades-plus of his best Who photos: Watch for that!)

We hope you can make it out to see this rare event in your area. This next weekend in New York at the fabulous Met ought to be just incredible.

Onward!