The Who’s 1969 double album, Tommy, was made into a film in 1975 and a stage musical in 1992. The wildly entertaining ’75 film, which featured members of The Who as well as various actors and guest musicians, still looms large in many people’s minds.
Tommy may be an essential relic of the ’60s, but you could argue that “Tommy” the movie epitomizes the extravagant excesses of ’70s pop culture even more. So it seemed perfectly fitting that when Remember Jones performed “Tommy” as a concert/theater hybrid at the Paramount Theatre in Asbury Park, Jan. 17 — as part of the 20th annual Light of Day festival — JaQuita May and Bobby Lynch seemed to be channeling the larger-than-life big-screen performances of Tina Turner and Elton John when they performed “The Acid Queen” and “Pinball Wizard,” respectively.
Remember Jones first presented this production at the Axelrod Performing Arts Center in Deal, last year, with many of the same participants. As he did at that show, Marc Rubinstein — who started adding psychedelic visuals to rock concerts in the ’60s under the name Pig Light Show — was on hand to give the show an authentically retro feel, and the action was also enhanced by photos and videos on the screens behind the musicians.
Even when he wasn’t singing, Remember Jones sometimes acted out the part of the rock opera’s title character, playing pinball, for instance, as Lynch sang “Pinball Wizard,” and transforming himself as a charismatic and crowd-pleasing cult leader as Taylor Tote sang “Sally Simpson.” Tote and Stevi Incremona (who sang lead, as Tommy’s mother, on a fiery version of “Smash the Mirror”) contributed backing vocals to many songs but also acted as Tommy’s followers, at times.
This was a big, boisterous production, with 20 musicians joined by a series of guest stars. Among those making the biggest impressions, in addition to the ones mentioned above, were singer-guitarist Billy Walton, who projected a strutting, super-confident presence as the Hawker (on the blues-rock number “Eyesight to the Blind”); Johnny Pisano (best known as Willie Nile’s bassist), showcasing his powerful voice as The Doctor on “Go to the Mirror!”; and Lance Larson, projecting hiss-worthy villainy as the creepy Uncle Ernie on “Fiddle About” and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp.”
The band was riveting on its own, too, particularly on an extended version of the instrumental, “Sparks.” Drummer Joe Bellia deserves a special mention, since after playing Keith Moon’s demanding parts on “Tommy,” he had to make it over to the Stone Pony, quickly, for another Light of Day show with his band, The Weeklings.
Even though this production took some of its visual clues from the movie, it put a slightly different spin on the story. Roger Daltrey played Tommy, in the movie, as blissed out and enlightened but also somewhat passive as he ascends to cult-guru status. Remember Jones’ Tommy is a more assertive faux leader, cynically and almost gleefully manipulating his followers for his own advantage.
This was not, by any means, an overtly political show. But perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised that this kind of interpretation came along at this particular time in history.
Also, an 8 p.m. April 24 Remember Jones show produced in association with the Asbury Park Music + Film Festival at the Count Basie Center for the Arts in Red Bank, will be dedicated to Joe Cocker’s “Mad Dogs & Englishmen” double album.
CONTRIBUTE TO NJARTS.NET
Since launching in September 2014, NJArts.net has become one of the most important media outlets for the Garden State arts scene. And it has always offered its content without a subscription fee, or a paywall. Its continued existence, though, depends on support from members of that scene, and the state’s arts lovers. Please consider making a contribution of $10, or any other amount, to NJArts.net via PayPal, or by sending a check made out to NJ Arts Daily to 11 Skytop Terrace, Montclair, NJ 07043.