Utopian Turtletop. Monsieur Croche's Bête Noire. Contact: turtletop [at] hotmail [dot] com

Saturday, May 21, 2005


For the 3rd week-end in a row I’ve gotten out to hear a lengthy piece of music. Two weeks ago it was Ives’s 3rd Symphony, last week it was Offenbach’s opera “Tales of Hoffmann,” last night it was the Who’s rock cantata “Tommy,” played in its entirety by a pick-up band of local musicians as a fundraiser for a friend of theirs who encountered a heinous medical bill without benefit of health insurance. Much as I disliked the plot of the Offenbach opera, I gotta say “Tommy” bugs me even more -- so preposterous, so sadistic, and so condescending in its depiction of mass adulation. I knew this going in, having heard the album as a teenager, but I like a lot of the music, and I like the musicians.

The band, with only a few rehearsals, rocked and socked the 75-minute suite hard, though with some mistakes (I must admit).

Singer Sean Nelson has a vocal timbre more reminiscent of Brad Delp than Roger Daltrey, and that was fine -- he was charismatic and magnificent, and his warm and ironic banter undercut the story’s ridiculousness; one of my favorite moments -- in the original and in last night’s rendition -- is the instrumental “Underture,” a bitchin’ guitar-trio riff-o-rama for virtuoso drums (wonderfully played by John Hollis), bass, and guitar, which the band nailed. Sean gave synopsis of the plot-so-far during the tune, juxtaposing his friendly, deadpan irony with the passion of the music and the rest of the band. Exciting music, wittily ironic and charming presentation -- a complex moment. And Sean more than held up his end of the bargain as a singer, doing justice to the emotions of the material, and leaving his irony for between-song banter and his one spot of narration. (And, I just found out, Sean blogs! I like his writing -- he writes for one of Seattle’s free weeklies.)

Great tunes, great riffs, great LOUD noise. Wonderful to hear someone drum like that. An email announcing the show that I got from the guitarist, Darren Loucas, said that playing “Tommy” all the way through was one of his rock and roll fantasies. Sean repeated it onstage, saying it was a rock and roll fantasy of the 3 of the 4 of them up there, and that Bill Herzog, the bass player, was a good sport to go along. (Bill usually plays much quieter music.) It seemed to be a rock and roll fantasy for a lot of the crowd too, which was smaller than I had expected. People sang along and really got into it. I didn’t sing along, but I was very happy to be so well rocked, and the riffs and the tunes and the harmony vocals and the drums echo thunderously, happily, in my head the day after.
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