Saturday, November 11, 2006

In the Attic -- the Music

As we're standing, sipping a beer and waiting, a burly security man walks through the crowd right behind me, apparently clearing a path for the performers to walk from the dressing room in the back of the club to the stage at the front. Shortly after that, the dressing room door opens in the back and I see the familiar silhouette of Pete Townshend clutching some papers and slowly walking toward me. He is relaxed, calm and walking to draw as little attention to himself as possible. He stops right behind me, about 2 feet away, leans on the wall and gestures for the security man to lead the way. For a second we are face to face, although he is employing a carefully cultivated ability to avoid eye contact with anyone -- a survival technique for any major star whose every movement can cause a head to turn. I quickly note that he is tall, probably about 6' or 6'1'', and appears very fit. In person his clothes are obviously the best quality, the black-on-black look with a thin black jacket a perfect combination for this cool Hollywood venue.

Right behind Pete comes Rachel Fuller, sporting a surprisingly proper polka dot dress with her lovely hair pulled up. She is ready for business and taking her duties as emcee and host very seriously. As she walks by I just blurt out in my best Essex accent, "Rachel Fuller! We love you!" She smiles demurely and continues to the stage. Simon, Mikey, Minnie Driver and some other folks follow. I don't see Billy Corgan and wonder if he's made it to the show.

Right in front of the stage, on the audience's left side, there are a few small tables [the only ones in the room], and the gang takes their seats along the wall. Rachel hits the stage and gives us a warm, characteristically informal welcome, and begins the show. She starts with "Cigarettes and Housework," alone at the piano. It is pretty, moving and she seems a bit nervous. Next she calls Pete to the stage and they do the gorgeous "Sunrise" together. It is spellbinding. We're in for a great night.

I am shooting some photos, but with the "no flash" restrictions, I'm not sure how well my little point-and-shoot is focusing. It probably needs more light to focus properly and, sure enough, when I get the pictures developed, most of them are an interesting but disappointing blur. A couple are posted here. At the end of the night I put the flash back on, figuring they won't throw me out once the show's over, and got a couple of clear shots of Mr. Townshend up close. Those are keepers.

Mikey Cuthbert played next, starting with "Plasticine," which was very exciting to hear in person. He also sang "You," which I wasn't familiar with, and then "Misery," one of his best in my opinion, with Simon, Rachel and Pete all joining him for harmony on the chorus. It was the Attic gang onstage together and it was a thrill to see and hear them. I've never seen Mikey perform live, but he appeared to be "in the zone" and delivered a very powerful set.

Simon was up next and boy is he a charismatic performer! This man is a talent! His guitar is reminiscent of Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, with lots of percussive strumming mixed with delicate picking work. He took the stage by storm with "Come Back," then did "Scaffolding" from his mid-'80s solo album. I wasn't familiar with it, but it was a good song delivered beautifully. He finished by rocking the room with "Sex Change" in a dynamic performance that really impressed the audience. You could feel people thinking, "Wow, this guy is amazing!" He has that intangible quality onstage that makes a star a star and it was exciting to experience. He seems so sweet and laid back on the Attic shows.

Next was a big surprise: Minnie Driver sings and writes songs! Rachel gave her a glowing introduction in which she talked about how some people have more than one talent. For instance, she said, Pete plays rock music, but he also makes a great spaghetti Bolognese! And it wouldn't be right to say, "Well, you can play rock music, but you can't also make spaghetti Bolognese." She is hilarious. From his seat by the wall, Pete yelled out that the term is "polymath," and we all learned a new word for people with multiple talents. Minnie took the stage with a smile, a short dress that risked the front row "seeing my knickers," and some racey humor. On her second song [I think], she asked Pete to join her. She was very funny with her unabashed star-struckedness. As Pete was reaching for his guitar upstage, she leaned overy and gently caressed his back saying, "I just like touching him!" She, Pete and Rachel played a couple more songs and while I didn't catch the titles, they were good songs and she has a strong voice that she knows how to use. One of her songs was about an ex boyfriend's mother. With a smile but also an undercurrent of sadness, she said, "We memorialize these people in songs when they should be forgotten."

Pete was next and all I can say is that it was an unforgettable thrill to be so close [maybe 20 feet] from this man whose music has been such an important part of my life. He began with "Greyhound Girl," one of my favorites, and a beautiful melody. He played an extended version of "Endless Wire," and the crowd politely and rather quietly sang along on the chorus. It was kind of a collective whisper, as if we were all saying, Pete's right there, so let's not disturb him, but we really want to join in here. Next, Pete's guitar man, Alan Rogan, passed him a ukelele, and longtime Attic watchers knew we were in for "Blue, Red and Grey" from The Who by Numbers album. As he sat with his ukelele, perched on a stool before a music stand with his reading glasses on, looking more like the coolest literature professor than a major rock star, Rachel called out from her seat, "Why don't you tell them how you used to play guitar in a rock band before you met me?" Very funny moment. Pete then went into some great Who stories and comments, pointing out that the previous two songs were actually Who songs, and so was the one he was about to do. In talking about "what is the Who?" he concluded, "Sometimes I think the Who thinks it's Roger Daltrey." Very funny.

"Blue, Red and Grey" was magnificent. To hear him sing this simple song in person was, again, incredible and difficult to describe. To have "God Speaks of Marty Robbins" come next was the true highlight for me. It is my favorite song from the new Who record and one that, in addition to being a simply gorgeous melody, also incapsulates so many of the themes Pete has wrestled with in his writing for 40+ years. The song finds God, the creator, waking up and basically deciding to create the world so that He can hear music. "Wake up and hear the music/Wake up and hear the music play." Pete does some divine [no pun intended] acoustic picking on this song and his singing is filled with love and gentle wonder. It is a privilege to share the room with him at this point.

Next up is "Let's See Action," which gets the old Who fans in the crowd going, singing along [again at a respectful volume], and even some dancing going on. Pete ends his set with "In the Ether," as Rachel joins him to accompany on piano. Before the song he takes some more playful [I think] jabs at Roger Daltrey, saying that he, Pete, can act too and will prove it with this song. He imitates how Roger has been "acting" some of the new songs on stage, like "Tea and Theatre" and "Man in a Purple Dress." He does his best dramatic, Shakespearian actor imitation and there are laughs all around. It strikes me that even when he is hosting his own incredible evening, surrounded by nothing but adulation and love, he still is prone to having to put down Roger Daltrey. That relationship is so complex. Truly love/hate. In any case, "In the Ether" was fantastic. I know many Who fans don't know what to make of it, but when Pete commits to the "character," the odd voice works beautifully and the song is very moving.

Next up is E from the Eels. I don't know his songs, so I can't comment too much. He is an excellent musician and a very funny man with a wry, offbeat humor. He did a song or two alone and then asked Pete to join him. He had a running joke about Pete being his "opening act," saying at one point, "Keep an eye on this guy, I think he might have promise." After about the 10th variation on that joke, Pete leaned into his mic and said, "You don't think you're taking this too far?" E's set was well-done, but seemed a little too long to me. I wondered if he was going off-message, as they say in Washington. He ended with duets with Pete on "Let My Love Open the Door" [again, a dream to hear Pete sing it himself live] and "The Kids Are Alright." At one point during his set I wandered over to the bar to get a drink and who is standing right in front of me but Jakob Dylan, son of the legendary Bob. Just hanging out, taking in the music.

By this time the show has already run more than 2 hours I think. And only now is Billy Corgan called to the stage. He had been standing in the back with the Smashing Pumpkins' drummer [can't remember his name off hand]. They are apparently hard at work on a new record. Corgan hasn't played live in more than a year and Rachel mentioned this when introducing him. She said she thought he was a little nervous, so they put him on last to make him really nervous. He played several new songs and the room was completely still. His plaintiff voice and deliberately slight guitar work forced us to really listen. He has a dark side, a sad side, that reminds me a bit of Pete Townshend. He is not a man who is able to have frivolous fun. He is an artist doing his thing. It was while Billy Corgan was premiering new material and Jakob Dylan was standing next to me in the crowd that I thought, "This is the coolest place in Hollywood right now!" Rachel and Pete also established a vibe that was so relaxed, though, that the whole thing just unfolded naturally, without any pomp or stress. Kind of magical.

Speaking of magical, at the end of Corgan's set, Pete and Rachel joined him for a verion of Thunderclap Newman's "Something in the Air." Pete produced the original T.N. recordings and hearing him duet with Billy Corgan was something. Rachel accompanied on kazoo! At one point in the middle Pete did an extended bit on the upright piano, banging away with a virtuosity that I didn't know he had on that instrument. Very memorable.

After that song Rachel announced, "Only a right wanker would attempt to follow that." With perfect comedic timing, she added, "I am that wanker!" She ended with a nice version of "Jigsaw," accompanied by Pete, and then Joni Mitchell's "Blue," which she delivered magnificently. In spite of standing for several hot hours now, the crowd was mesmerized. The whole gang crowded the tiny stage for a finale of "I'm One" from Quadrophenia. A perfect ending to a sublimely intimate evening of amazing music.

Thanks to Rachel and Pete for putting it together. And thanks to you, fair reader, if you've made it this far in my series of recollections. If you were there, too, let me know what I left out, or what stood out to you. It was an unforgettable night.


At 2:06 PM, Blogger Sarah Beth said...

Great review, Chris! I so wish I could've been there, I'm jealous of everyone who was! And I can't get over how funny it is that Jakob Dylan could possibly be on the show at some point (nice to see that you spelled his name right, a lot don't know it's with a K!) ...I used to be a really big fan of The Wallflowers when I was younger. I'll be keeping my fingers crossed that he is one of the guests in NYC.

Anyway, glad to hear you had a great time, the pictures are fab. x

At 2:21 PM, Blogger lryicsgrl said...

Hi Chris.....
I know you from Ginab's blog.
Nice to read your review.....I think the greatest purpose of the blog, is being able to share one's, thanks for sharing! I know when something this magical happens, you need to share.

Stay well..


At 3:08 PM, Blogger Jonathan said...

Fantastic re-Capp Chris!

Brilliantly described, but I still wish I was there myself. Some of what you were describing flashed my mind back to seeing Pete at Massey Hall in Toronto opening his Psycho Derelict tour. Your experience was more intimate though, and that is really memorable. You should have somehow introduced yourself Chris. I can only imagine Pete would have been delighted to shake your hand. I do know it would have been difficult to arrange. Awkward situations for everyone: friends, fans, and stars alike. I am prone to stand back myself. Hope you got to meet other bloggers though. I certainly look forward to shaking your hand one day!

At 5:49 PM, Blogger Lin-no-da said...

Wonderful commentary, I wasn't there but your feelings really came through in your story, I feel like I was. Sounds like you coounted the evening as a piviledge and it was. Looking forward to Joe's in NY now. THANKS - 519Lin

At 8:30 PM, Blogger Dan L. said...

A most excellent review and capsule of your memories. Having also been there (as you know), I concur with all of your comments. I might also add, that though it was quite warm in that place, I gave Pete a big hug, and it sure felt like wool to me (the jacket). Go figure! I was dripping sweat, myself. Those English!

More on Thunderclap Newman:

"Something in the Air"...
It is one of my all time favorite songs from way back, though I never knew until recently that Pete was to blame for that one. Go to Wikipedia for a great synopsis. I just HAD to be Pete, huh? No wonder I liked it since forever!

Oh, and Allen was playing that song last night on acoustic, in the Garage, after I supplied him with the tabs. We tried a strat and a Paul Reed Smith with P-90 pick-ups, but the acoustic is IT. It is a low-end Fender model, by the way.

Great post, Chris!

--Dan L.

At 8:13 AM, Blogger Anne-Marie said...

what a wonderful review. I felt like I was shadowing you through the story. I'm so glad you made it out there to see him.

At 11:49 AM, Blogger Chris Capp said...

S B:
Thanks for stopping by and leaving some kind words. It was definitely cool to see Jakob Dylan there, just hanging out and listening. Even though it was unseasonably warm [even for here], he had his knit hat on!

I appreciate you stopping by! It is a strong e-community that has been built here and, I agree, the best is being able to share stories. That's what we are, after all, isn't it? A collection of stories.

How nice to see you and Tower Bridge on my blog again! It didn't seem appropriate to approach Pete as he was heading to the stage. And some there had paid mucho dinero for a post-show meet-and-greet, so I guess I felt a bit sensitive about that. I trust that one day I will shake Pete's hand. And yours. And look forward to both.

Yes, NYC will be magical, I am sure! I wanted to make sure I recorded my recollections before they become blurred by time and other tasks and events. Thanks for visiting.

Dan L.,
Good to see you here! Yes, there was something in the air during "Something in the Air," that's for sure! I drove through your neck of the woods [I believe] on my way to last night's Who show in the desert. Surprised I didn't hear you and Allen jamming to T.N. from the freeway!

And, yes, for some songs only acoustic will do!

Thanks, all, for stopping by and saying hello!

- C.

At 11:51 AM, Blogger Chris Capp said...

Glad you enjoyed my poured-out recollections! It was a great night and one I am pleased to share!

Always good to see you here,

At 12:02 AM, Blogger ginab said...

Holy yikes CC--he'd have loved to have shaken your hand. I mean it.


At 8:25 AM, Blogger E.L. Wisty said...

I'm so glad you had the opportunity to attend the show. The Who shows are brilliant, obviously, but there is something very special and different in the Attic Jams, more personal and warm. I'm fervently hoping that Rachel will arrange a similar event in London (or anywhere in Europe) when they're back this side of the ocean.


At 5:41 PM, Blogger Nabonidus said...

Wow, great re-cap Chris, indeed! Most excellent!:)
And accurate, even to the tables. I was near them, had a great view..

At 10:20 AM, Blogger Suesjoy said...

WOW - I just relived the show!
Thanks SO much my dear.
I am SOOO sad I missed you - I just stayed mostly to myself and didn't mingle too much - I was not well at all...and just kinda stayed in my own world (which is not like me at all). I am sad to say it was kind of selfish (even though I honestly was ill).
Anyway - thanks so much for visiting my blog and for your lovely comments.
My next 2 posts will pale in comparison to yours, I fear!
Take care and be well,
Sues xxx

At 10:21 AM, Blogger Suesjoy said...

I agree w/Gina - Pete would be love to hang out with you Chris!
Who knows...maybe at a Method Music show (or another Attic Jam?).


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