Jim Sullivan, Globe Staff
The premise: A young, 60-piece symphony trained at London's Royal Academy joins a six-piece rock band and a teenage boys-and-girls choir from New York to sing a slew of classic British rock hits, conducted by pianist Keith Levenson, and fronted by the Who's once-and-future (?) singer Roger Daltrey.
What is going to make you come to this show? Daltrey. His voice, his legacy, and his star power, plus his promise that it will not be a schmaltz-fest. Further down the list: Curiosity about how this rock might fly with strings, horns, and such.
The result of last night's 2 1/2-hour concert before 3,550 people at Harborlights: Wildly mixed. There was the overblown Broadway-style »soul« belting by Alvin Fields during »Ruby Tuesday,« with a hokey arrangement. Yet, there was Daltrey ripping, rocking, and rolling through »Street Fighting Man.«
There were snippets of rock hits jammed into excruciating medleys; there were full-blown symphonic slams (»Kashmir«); there was plenty of happy Beatles stuff, dark Pink Floyd stuff, rockin' Rolling Stones stuff, triumphant Who stuff, and a few towers of power from Led Zeppelin. There was even the irony of a fight breaking out (and old rockers being escorted to the gates) as Daltrey and Monica Reeds, one of four primary co-leads and backing vocalists, dueted on »Let It Be.« But the major problem was the minimal time Daltrey spent on stage, which is to say none of the first act and all of the second act. This show needed more Rog, and a little less of the eager choir, which tended to blur some of the songs.
Supposedly, there were five suites - »Rebellion,« »Peace« »Love« »Celebration,« and »Space and Future« - but if you could pick 'em out or find cogent thematic linkage in the dizzying medleys you're a better man than I. The first act began with the »Quadrophenia« theme, spiked with bits of »Paint It, Black,« »Satisfaction,« »You Can't Always Get What You Want,« »Baba O'Riley,« and from there it was another musical crazy quilt: »Give Peace a Chance,« »Imagine,« »Penny Lane,« »Come Together.« It seemed the potpourri was designed to stir the memories, and that it did - it's just that the medley form trivialized the tunes and we were still missing that compact guy in a blue T-shirt and Levis. With the ensemble cranking on high, the song chunks flying in and out, sometimes to return, and the singers gleefully swapping leads, it was rather like »Rent« with better tunes. Credit where it's due: Christa Jackson and Reeds sang »Stairway to Heaven« powerfully, though the couplet »If there's a bustle in your hedgerow, don't belong there/It's just a sprinkling from the May queen« made no more sense than usual.
When Daltrey took the stage for the second set, the concert became a rock show, even if the Stones' »Start Me Up« seemed a little odd for this group. Daltrey took it the top with the Who's »'5:15« - »out of my brain on the train!,« he sang as the messed up Jimmy from »Quadrophenia« - and brought chills with the »See Me, Feel Me« »Tommy« finale. He stayed in the background for Floyd's dour »Another Brick In the Wall (Pt. 2)« and led us through the giddy nonsense of »You Better, You Bet« and the retro-rush of »Pinball Wizard.« He also explained himself: »This is a bloody silly way to earn your living when you're my age,« he noted, before launching into a loping Johnny Cash song. That music he could sing for hours. He took the tour for the money, to give the choir the chance to travel, the Academy players the chance to rock out - »they're classically trained and Keith Moon-trained in partying« - and in the hope that one of the musicians will later compose music that will »lay to rest« Andrew Lloyd Webber.