By Jim Dresbach, Pentagram Staff WriterNovember 12, 2013
JOINT BASE MYER-HENDERSON HALL, Va. - The originators of the rock opera were magnificently covered the weekend of Nov. 2 at Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall's Brucker Hall.
Pounding out anthems widely associated with the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame band, The Who, The United States Army Band, "Pershing's Own," cranked out a pair of solid 70-minute presentations highlighting the classic popular music of the legendary British band.
The Nov. 2 and 3 concerts combined "Pershing's Own" Downrange with the 45-piece TUSAB Rock Orchestra for a multi-rhythm flashback to the late 1960s and early 1970s.
Putting the whole musical ensemble together was Downrange's Staff Sgt. Tim Whalen, who tripled as musical arraigner, keyboard player and vocalist. Whalen's process for pitching The Who cover involved selecting a list of appropriate songs, receiving command approval, asking for colleague feedback and then knocking out the notes and making musical decisions which took two to three months.
"The way I approached this whole thing was that I didn't want to mess with the music too much because [The Who's] stuff is so iconic," Whalen said. "I made some changes here and there. Maybe I added some of my own things just to make it unique to us, but I wanted the music to stay as powerful as it should be.
"The first month went something like this - I spent a lot of time thinking about it [the arrangement]," Whalen continued. "I had the songs on [my mobile device], and I'd be driving or walking around and then I'd write on my phone: 'high violin line on verse two' or 'put some tympani in here.' Writing the actual music started after the first month, but by then, I had sounds in my head of what I wanted."
What the band wanted at the beginning of the pair of shows was to immediately grab the audience's attention. A 24-minute medley of music from the rock opera classic "Tommy" set the high energy into motion. The first band member-audience, non-musical interaction came from Whalen when he back-introduced works like "Pinball Wizard" and "Listening to You".
"How did you like our start with `Tommy?'" Whalen asked the Saturday evening crowd. "That's how we just wanted to say hi."
One other mini-suite of Who classics followed, as Downrange guitarists Staff Sgts. Chad Leader and Zackery Pride and percussionist Sgt. 1st Class Francis Carroll laid down beats from The Who's second opera entitled "Quadrophenia."
"One of the reasons The Who works so well with orchestration, if you just listen to their songs, they are very grand, and there is a very visual landscape in the music in what is going on," Whalen said. "Add the way [The Who band member] Pete Townshend writes - I think he always wanted to be a classical composer. He always loved opera - that's how 'Tommy' came about. He's always had this fascination with orchestra music, so I think that comes into the power of the way he writes. It lends itself perfectly to [The U.S. Army Band]."
According to Whalen, selections like "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," the concerts' final two selections, were also right up TUSAB's alley.
"That one was a lot of fun to do," Whalen said about the song popularly known as "Teenage Wasteland." "That original song has that whole kind of synthed, looped thing in the beginning. The challenge with that was how I am going to translate that [with the orchestra]. I started it with the strings, so actually each strings section is taking a little section of that loop. As the song progressed, the woodwinds add in, and it became this one big loop machine."
Following the Saturday night performance, the soldiers received complements from one who expertly covered the English band, which has performed from Woodstock to the Super Bowl and the Olympics.
"I was really impressed with the arrangements as well as the performance," said Stoney Johnstone, The Who tribute band guitarist who resides in Silver Spring, Md. "These guys [The U.S. Army Band] did it right; they did justice to The Who, which is not an easy thing to do."