An all-star team of talents celebrates the 50th anniversary of The Who’s rock opera TOMMY, with three performances of a special concert adaptation in Ocean Township.
Published in The Coaster (Asbury Park, NJ) and The Link (Long Branch, NJ), September 5, 2019
Rain or shine, the Labor Day holiday just passed is traditionally a time of last-licks recreation and relaxation for most; a somewhat arbitrary DMZ between the interlude in which we are expected to “make memories,” and that in which we return our attentions to the great filled-beyond-capacity IN box of our lives.
Not so much Anthony D’Amato. Given his superhuman schedule and otherworldly work ethic, the singer/actor/ bandleader/ producer/ director and master-showman impresario best known these days as Remember Jones can be forgiven for maybe not knowing what season it is, which tour stop on the itinerary, or even exactly which full-length show he’s performing at this moment.
In truth, however, the new heir to the mantle of Hardest Working Man in Shore Business remains completely in command of his faculties, his frankly awesome musical organization, and his vision for a continuously evolving career that’s seen the big Remember Jones band crisscross the country as crowdpleasing ambassadors for the Jersey Shore scene — all the while continuing to explore (and stake a significant claim to) nearly every corner of the popular music landscape.
Having just come in off the road from an extensive 30-city tour — and keeping the momentum going with shows in Atlantic City and Long Beach Island — Mr. Jones and company ushered in September with a full-set outdoor concert at Asbury’s Springwood Park — the capper to a “Funky Fresh Market” event that found D’Amato also lining up the numerous opening acts, coordinating the food trucks, and pretty much taking on everything short of serving as parking valet.
Labor Day proper found the troupe devoting the entirety of that alleged day of rest to some intensive rehearsals for their latest project:, TOMMY in Concert — an all-star, golden anniversary salute to that game-changing album of the classic rock era; one that commandeers the auditorium of the Axelrod Performing Arts Center for three performances this Saturday and Sunday, September 7 and 8.
Speaking at the end of a ten-hour rehearsal session at the Ocean Township venue where he mounted an acclaimed concert version of HAIR in 2018, D’Amato/Jones confides that “they wanted me to do a Woodstock celebration as a follow-up, but I felt that it had kind of been played out by this point…I wanted to do something different; a full recreation of The Who’s original Tommy that will make you believe you’re ‘hearing it again for the first time’.”
While it shares a 50th anniversary with that generation-defining festival — and while it did manage to have a presence on the Woodstock stage, as The Who performed some of its score during their featured set — Pete Townshend’s rock opera of a deaf-dumb-and-blind kid represents a bit of of a break with the spirit of those Three Days of Mud and Music on Max Yasgur’s farm. Taking off from Townshend’s earlier character-driven songs (plus little mini-epics like “A Quick One While He’s Away”), and inspired in part by his own spiritual explorations, Tommy has some pointed things to say about twisted family dynamics, self-imposed isolation, cults of personality, plus the many temptations and weirdnesses of life on post-WWII planet Earth.
As the Tommy phenomenon took hold of the popular imagination, the ambitious rock record project took on a whole other life of its own; first with a 1972 orchestral album that boasted contributions from Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, and Richie Havens among others — and, eventually, a Tony winning Broadway musical that departed somewhat from past incarnations, in terms of song selection and the relationships of the characters.
In between appeared Tommy: The Movie, a 1975 carnival from director Ken Russell that starred Who singer Roger Daltrey in the title role — and that paired the first-time actor with a supporting cast that included Ann-Margret, Jack Nicholson, Oliver Reed, and (as the Pinball Wizard), a height-of-his-popularity Elton John. Still, while the Remember Jones conception of Tommy takes some crucial cues from these past endeavors, this golden-jubilee tribute promises to be a thing unto iteself.