Pete Townshend, Lou Reed, J.Mascis, Amos Lee, Rachel Yamagata, Jimmy Fallon and Rachel Fuller, Joes Pub, NYC- 2/13
We all have those nights where we hem and haw about whether to go to a show. The outcomes vary“Man, it was legendary! Or, “Nah, it was good but you didn’t miss much.” On this particular evening I was overcoming being severely ill the night before, in part due to a debaucherous trip to Atlantic City over the weekend for friend’s 30th birthday. I had forgotten about the show but the publicist came through in the 11th hour with a single ticket. “You still want it?,” she asked. I pondered. Stared out the window at the harsh elements, took a deep breath and said, “Sure, I’ve love it.”
When I interviewed Rachel Fuller a year ago (Rachel being a singer/songwriter and Townshend’s girlfriend), she was working on her second album, plus some songs with Pete, and had started a fun little online variety show called “In the Attic.” At the time she would have her friend and guitarist Mikey or gal pal Jerry Hall come on and they’d talk about anything and everything under the sun and play a few tunes. It was low-key, irreverent, impromptu and never took itself too seriously. There’d often be a “special guest” which would invariably be Townshend who’d play and chum it up.
“In the Attic” went on the road this past summer in connection with The Who world tour. The premise was that they’d set up backstage and snag any celebs or fun people for the show. I’ll be honest in saying I don’t know who they got but names like Anastasio and Tweedy were on the list of people that had expressed interest. Pete and Rachel have now upped the ante yet againcreating intimate one-off evenings (when time allows) in various cities that showcase their favorite artists all of whom Pete (and often Rachel) collaborated with. Oh, and every show gets Pete doing some solo acoustic stuff.
Rachel and her New York co-host Jimmy Fallon made a good pair, combining classic British TV, next-door-neighbor style confessional conversation with Saturday Night Live’s hyper jittery disposition. Rachel started the evening with a solo pass at her own “Cigarettes and Housework,” a Joni Mitchell-like ballad followed by “It’s a Motherfucker” which Pete joined her for (as in, “it’s a motherfucker when you’re gone”). They shared vocals for Pete’s “Sunrise” and she closed her segment with a solo reading of “I Can Fly” which she said was inspired by Pete’s mini-opera, “The Boy Who Heard Music.”
Fallon, who is supposedly working on “real” music with a “real” band in the studio (such were the rumors I heard from my tablemates), sang two humorous ditties. The firstwhich may have been a debutwas an ode to President’s Day because, as the central refrain went, “I like to drink on Sunday.” He then trotted out the soon-to-be classic “Car Wash for Peace” whose bridge is: “Let’s have a car wash for peace/ There’s trouble in the Middle East.” I forget the rest but he manages to rhyme “sponge” and “gun.”
Singer/songwriter, Starbucks-approved Amos Lee came out next for four tunes on acoustic. The first was a ballad and the second, the anti-war “Freedom.” Slightly sheepish, Lee followed them with announcement, “Well, I’ll never get to say this again. Please welcome Pete Townshend.” Pete came out to play on a new composition of Lee’s “What’s Been Going On,” a mid-tempo lilt that saw Townshend hitting harmonics and strumming right along as he read the sheet music. Rachel joined on piano for Lee’s breakout, “Keep it Loose, Keep it Tight.” I have to say that watching a bespectacled Townshend actively work through songs with sheet music and looking up for cues was quite fun.
Chanteuse Rachel Yamagata slunk out next for an a cappella rendition of her searing “Elephants.” Like Lee, Yamagata was having her “mind blown” by the “surreal lineup.” She belted out her well-known “Be Your Love” behind the piano with her band in-tow along with Pete and Rachel, and had Pete stick around for “Paper Doll.” It seems the two Rachels have become fast friends as Fuller gave Yamagata a necklace or pendant of some sort earlier in the day. Fuller had admitted to playing “sensitively” with Lee to which Yamagata asked that she “fuck me onstage” with her playing. Townshend quipped that these are the responses women get from each other when they give one another jewelry. Men, on the other hand, get a far less emotive response. Yamagata closed her set with the somewhat longwinded breakup ballad “Sunday Afternoon.”
After a quick break so people could go to the “loo,” the show recommenced with Dinosaur Jr. frontman J.Mascis on acoustic. Typically quiet and endearingly awkward (dressed in his favorite color purple t-shirt, black track jacket, high tops and oversized glasses), he ran through three tunes: “Flying Cloud,” “The Wagon” (from Green Mind) and “Get Me” (from Where You Been). Pete came out on acoustic (as he would all night) and plopped himself down next to J. and noted, “This was J.’s choice, I think it might surprise people.” J. wrinkled his forehead, pouted his lip a bit and nodded in silent approval. The crowd was hushed. J. and Pete exchanged glances. A slight strum from Pete and then he let out the words, “See me…. feel me.” Suffice to say there was a collective, “Holy shit” from the crowd. The two traded verses with the energy building to the solo which Mascis attacked voraciously, effecting an electric tone from the acoustic with a quick pedal stomp. Townshend was beaming and egged him into another solo. Goosebumps were popping throughout the 160-person venue. Mascis had seemed a slightly odd fit on paper but now it was coming together in master strokes. The song’s conclusion was met with thunderous applause. “Wow” is all I kept saying to myself. People were giving each other those “can you believe that” shoves and smiles. But the best was yet to come.
Townshend then took the stage for a few solo tunes. Oh, right. Pete fucking Townshend. He’d been so low key and unassuming all night one almost forgot that he was the main attraction (well, sort of). “You’re expecting some real rarities, yeah?,” he asked the rapt crowd. He introduced a marvelous version of Tommy’s “Acid Queen” with the reflection that “this was the song I was singing at Woodstock when Abby Hoffman came to interrupt.” Moving into Quadrophenia, Townshend then astonished with blistering takes of “Real Me” and “Drowned.” With few options to match, ol blue eyes took it over the top with “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” Townshend’s still able to sing and play with astounding invigoration, that trademark Townshend strumming as crisp and precise as ever. More thunderous applause, hands aching because you couldn’t clap any harder.
Just about midnight, the night’s final guest took the stage with Townshend by his side: Lou Reed. I don’t believe the two have ever played together and Townshend remarked that he’s always wanted to collaborate in some fashion. Reed, the gaunt godfather of indie rock, was in leather pants and a white t-shirt that seemed hand-painted with an electric guitar in his lap. After some idle chatter and eyeballing, they launched into a slightly slower version of “I’m Waiting for My Man.” Reed’s voice and delivery was in good form, giving the song its necessary cocksure strut.
Flipping pages on a music stand, Reed mentioned that he had been working out the next song with Jack White and The Raconteurs and thought it would be good with Pete. “Good,” said Townshend flashing a toothy smile. “I’m better than Jack!” Yes, Pete, you are. No quibbles there. “White Light/White Heat” was nearly as good “Man.” Towshend riffed in and around Reed’s vocals and rhythm as if they’d done it countless times before.
The night culminated perfectly with “Pale Blue Eyes.” Sharing vocals on the bridge, the two imbued the song with a triumphant spirit like I’ve never heard. Typically the song is a sad lament but somehow they transformed it into something victorious and empowering. When they finished, they both smiled widely, Reed extending his hand to Townshend. That fleeting embrace of hands felt historical, much more so than the obligatory arms around each other, smile-n-wave they did afterward. For two guys who are typically understated offstage, it was a seal of approval that said yeah, that was some pretty good shit.
That would also be the understatement of the year. Check out parts of the evening while you still can: http://towsertv.petetownshend.com.