Brick Bats Reportage

Euphonium Rocks!

Unemployment during the Good Depression is no time to be extravagant. I tend to be stingy during good times as well, but blowing a fair amount of money for top seats for The Who on Valentine’s night in Tulsa was crazy-right.

Roger Daltrey (left) and Pete Townshend of The Who, 2008. Credit Wikipedia
Roger Daltrey (left) and Pete Townshend of The Who, 2008. Credit Wikipedia

The stop was on their Quadrophenia 2012-13 tour, playing through that double album then further flame the fans with a handful of biggest hits.

It was so wonderful — those in the founding generation of rock ‘n’ roll who continue arena concerts as they move into their 70s leave no stagecraft to chance — that my adding another review to a newsprint pyre seems unnecessary.

Second, these guys (Paul Simon, Bob Dylan, Neil Young whom I’ve seen) continue to hire great opening acts. Thursday we got Vintage Trouble.

Lastly, nearly soil-my-cargo-pants shocking was seeing a euphonium horn on the stage of a true rock show. Images and sounds of Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, of the fellows in Trouble would fill my mind in the hours since — but for that baritone horn behind the bass and second guitar.

Somewhere in the very early 1970s when I was a preteen I read about the 1969 rock opera Tommy, by The Who. My brother’s fiance bought it for me, on audiocassette. The only other Who album I’ve bought since was Quadrophenia, soon after the rock opera’s 1973 release.

Around Thanksgiving 2000, I visited my wife in London where IBM sent her; getting last-minute tickets for The Who’s show at the Royal Albert Hall proved too complicated.

They broke up in 1983 so the occasional tours since have been reunions. While that London show happened to have been filmed, I hoped not to miss any further chance to see Roger and Pete, now ages 68 and 67, respectively, the survivors of the original quartet. Fortunately, Tulsa is a two-hour drive.

Also in the early 1970s, my junior high band director recommended I play baritone, a three-valve tenor horn (same range as trombone) that resembles a half-size tuba. In the U.S. a four-valve version (for better intonation and hits lower notes) is called a euphonium.

Teeth braces kept me from smaller brass, and I didn’t want to play reeds because my older brother and sister did.

I grew to love euphonium: Imagine the mellow sonority of French horn, lower in pitch. It taught me the value of competing in small groups. It is simpler to achieve first chair among three other euphoniums than 14 trumpeters or seven trombonists. Also, I got solos and more intricate parts than being in the middle of a popular section. This has been a lesson that’s stood me well in a variety of non-musical circumstances since.

Its disadvantage is that if you love rock and jazz (as well as classical), “they” won’t let you play in the school jazz band. You can’t have everything, another damnable life lesson.

Shift to the late ’70s, I bought a valve trombone to play in the college (marching) band so at last I could rock, although all of the slide trombonists would disagree, albeit amiably.

Another fast-forward to about 1982, when I learned in a Dallas newspaper about Rich Matteson (1929-1993), apparently the world’s only jazz euphonium player. He played in the city with his band one night, probably at Poor David’s Pub. This was before the routine of musicians selling recordings and other “merch” at gigs, but I contrived a question to ask him between sets, just to meet him. He told me what mouthpiece he used, and he shook my hand.

Now, on Thursday, Feb. 14, 2013, at Tulsa’s BOK (pronounced B-O-K for Bank of Oklahoma, by the way) Arena, the man Townshend introduced as J. Greg Miller played a side-facing curved-bell euphonium as harmony during the “Love Reign O’er Me” Quadrophenia finale and earlier whenever that melody was sounded.

Miller’s horn sported a fabric bell cover of a Union Jack. Miller though is not a Brit but born in Pennsylvania. For most of the set he played trumpet, with the tour’s other trumpet player. Otherwise, Miller apparently is at heart a French horn player, which he played at times Thursday. Notably a French horn is heard in Tommy; the Internet reports that The Who’s beloved late bassist John Entwhistle played it originally.

The euphonium turns up as a component of the 1960’s British Invasion, as since evolved.

All things are possible, aren’t they?

The opening band Vintage Trouble has an accurate name, rhythm and blues of the 1950s with the lively lead Ty Taylor channeling the youthful moves and shout-singing of James Brown and guitarist Nalle Colt driving a raging 21st-century instrumental blend.

No concert review here, not really. Oklahoma City’s The Oklahoman and naturally the Tulsa World published highly competent write-ups with great pix.

Mellowed out, with ears rested, what’s striking for me is seeing two giants of rock music. Roger nursed his throat with bottles of water, cups of cool tea and mugs of hot tea, not to mention a constantly steaming humidifier immediately behind him on stage. Lead guitarist and composer Pete displays age-defying energy, pumping through dozens of guitar solos. His charming character-driven singing cracked at times. He could use Roger’s regimen; the fellows have quite a few months to go on the tour.

The tour’s sidemen left the stage at last, leaving the remaining duo the last word. Pete accompanied Roger on Pete’s “Tea and Theatre” from 2006 — “… A thousand songs / Still smolder now / We play them as one / We’re older now / All of us sad / All of us free. …”

Copyright 2013 Ben S. Pollock

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