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Pete Townshend Comes Alive!

See him. Feel him. No, really: Townshend and Ben Harper get their jam on. (Photos by Wild Don Lewis)

{mosimage}Pete Townshend with Rachel Fuller, Tenacious D, Ben Harper, Alexi Murdoch, Joe Purdy
at Hotel Café, March 3

Yes, you read that right: the Pete Townshend of the Who, doing an intimate set at the Hollywood dive Hotel Café — actually, his second. It was part of the “In the Attic” series of shows in N.Y., Chicago and L.A., organized by Pete’s singer-pianist girlfriend Rachel Fuller; at each stop the pair are joined in acoustic sets by sundry stars of the rock and folk-pop scenes.


{mosimage}This was a round-robin, acoustic-type affair, with Townshend’s presence felt mostly as a host and occasional collaborator, with full sets from the featured artists. Tenacious D blasted things off in appropriately raucous fashion, though Jack Black complained of a sore throat that’d require him to sing an octave down — he forgot all about that in the duo’s well-played and sincere (!) tribute to the Who. American roots man Joe Purdy followed with a brief run-through of songs lowlighted by a pseudo-soulful rural-grit vocal affectation, ameliorated by some fine acoustic picking, especially in flashily intricate duets with Townshend. Rachel Fuller’s nicely snarky chat provided pithy contrast to a crystalline singing voice and impressive piano chops on several pieces grounded less in trad country-folk than the more densely chorded realms of European classical music or the modern jazz of Joni Mitchell. English troubadour Alexi Murdoch unaffectedly slayed the room with a few fuzzily fireside life & love ruminations that implied a deep debt to our beloved late Nick Drake. Ben Harper followed with a cathartic bag of folk-blues tunes, the hurt sensitivity of which is always made palatable by his trademark tuff-titty lap-slide work; a three-piece string section added bathos.

Looking a bit tired but sounding game and in good temper, Pete compered with a genial avuncularity, providing stellar guitar shadings and harmony vocals for his highly chuffed guest stars, whose music Pete seemed very knowledgeable about. In his brief closing set culled from past and upcoming Who days, he introduced songs with amusing anecdotes about the band’s good old bad days or just-a-bloke asides about the agony of nicotine withdrawal. And yet, and yet, that familiar curious blend of hard-edged sentimentality and teenlike frustration at boiling point was never far from the surface, witnessed to stunning effect in a brutally artful blast through “Acid Queen.”


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