Sunday, December 10, 2006


Last night a friend gave me a great opportunity I couldn't pass up: tag along and see Pete Townshend play a small club.

I'm not the world's biggest Who fan, and even being generous, neither Townshend solo nor the Who collectively (at least what's left of them) has managed much of merit for the past, oh, thirty years. But all the same I've respected Townshend, obviously a very intelligent guy who has remained interested in new music and musicians. Call it vitality by proxy.

The closest I had ever come to seeing the Who was a couple of years ago when the band played a benefit at the House of Blues. I was set to cover it until Pearl Jam got added as the opening act, and the senior writer swooped back in to claim it. But I didn't fret. The band was down to a core duo at the time, what with the sudden hookers 'n' cocaine fueled Las Vegas death of bassist John Entwistle (a death barely mourned by Townshend or singer Roger Daltry, who long seemed to resent the ol' grump).

Anyway, this show: not really a Townshend show, but more a Townshend show than anything else. The host was Townshend's charming girlfriend Rachel Fuller, and each of these intimate appearances (which began in the U.K. and only recently began touring the U.S., to be webcast ) feature a rotating cast of special guests, plus a couple of regulars. One town got Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders. Los Angeles got Billy Corgan and E of the Eels. But New York got “SNL” un-funnyman Jimmy Falon, so it's not all good.

Well, Chicago got Joe Purdy and Alexi Murdoch, both of whom were half-pretty good, half-banal, but pleasant enough. Boy, though, Simon Townshend - Pete's younger brother, by 13 years - was absolutely terrible, and the least talented relative of a very talented man I'd heard since seeing John Cash, Jr. play a set while his dad took a twenty minute break. He sang a crappy love song about scaffolding. Seriously.

Rachel was OK, in a middle aged Tori Amos sort of way (well, a bit older, considering the age of Amos). But Pete was in fine funny form. He just played a few songs on his own, plus helped out on a cover of the Everly Brothers "Wake Up, Little Susie." Of his own stuff he dug relatively deep to perform "Drowned" and "I'm One" (both from "Quadrophenia," my favorite Who album and the one I had brought Pete to autograph), plus "God Speaks of Marty Robbins" from the new Who disc "Endless Wire."

He also told a few great stories, the best being a Bob Dylan bit. Townshend remembers hearing Dylan the first time after he heard the Beatles, but also remembers Dylan being the first folk musician he encountered who was openly political, or at least showed that you could be political. Fast forward a few decades, and Pete bumps into Bob, and decides to ask a question he'd been harboring for years.

'Bob," asked Pete, "what is a folk singer?"

Dylan paused for a second before answering: "Pete ... a folk singer is someone with a good memory.”

"If you ever get to meet Bob Dylan," said Townshend, laughing, "don't ask him a question.

Of course, Dylan's cryptic answer is rife with different meanings, but Townshend took it literally. He explained how he had an excellent memory for everything *but* lyrics, which is why he carried around a binder of words to help him through the songs. Townshend also noted how great it was that Dylan was opening up after all this years with a few interviews, docs and books.

That's essentially what Townshend's doing with these shows, too: opening up, making himself available, taking a break from being a cog in the Who machine to do something casual and unscripted. When he wasn't on stage he was sitting more or less right next to me, which was surreal (and which reminded me of my friend Court's story of sitting uncomfortably next to Prince at a club).

The best line of the night came after a joker yelled out “Who’s the other guy?” when everyone on stage had been introduced but Pete. His response?

“I’m the one who writes the fuckin’ checks!

Cheeky, Pete, but oh so true.

Oh, yeah, almost forgot. I mentioned I got an autograph. That’s because these events come with a meet-and-greet, at least for those Who buffs who pay $300 a ticket. I felt a little guilty taking up even a second or two of his time while these guys waited with their reams of Who memorabilia, especially when I paid not a cent and the guy next to me paid $1000.


Post a Comment

<< Home