Posts Tagged ‘the who’

Album Review: Various — Pete Townshend’s Jukebox

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

UK-based Chrome Dreams has released a number of these Jukebox titles over the last few years, including titles exploring the influences upon Keith Richards, Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and even The Grateful Dead. And while some of these artists have endeavored to do something similar themselves (McCartney’s 1999 Run Devil Run comes to mind), the concept is a sturdy and often illuminating one.

At its simplest, Pete Townshend’s Jukebox is a 28-song single CD survey of the songs that informed the musical sensibility of The Who‘s primary composer and lyricist. Townshend himself – a rather chatty interview subject in his day – made explicit mention of many of the artists and songs now brought together on this set. And in fact The Who covered several of these tunes: Sonny Boy Williamson‘s “Eyesight to the Blind” was the sole cover on Tommy (1969). And even back in the earlier 60s when The Who played Murray the K‘s NYC showcases, Townshend championed Mose Allison as an influence (his “Blues” is included here).

Some of the selections are pretty obvious, having influenced most all of Townshend’s contemporaries in one way or another. But listening to Link Wray‘s “Rumble” in this context, it’s clear that Townshend spent many hours letting the distorted jangle of Wray’s guitar seep into his psyche. And The Who always made their soul roots explicit, so having a James Brown tune (“I Don’t Mind”) here is little surprise.

The bluesmen included here would enjoy a belated and mightily-deserved renaissance/re-evaluation in Townshend’s 1960s Britain: Howlin’ Wolf (“Spoonful”) and John Lee Hooker (“Dimples”) are thus represented here as well. But while the jazz influences upon Townshend might be less obvious, works from Cannonball Adderley, Ella Fitzgerald and Charlie Parker fit smoothly into this collection.

Such a collection wouldn’t be complete – or even taken seriously – if it didn’t included some of Townshend’s rock’n'roll heroes; this set does, spotlighting Johnny Kidd & the Pirates (Shakin’ All Over” and “I Can Tell”) and Eddie Cochran (“Summertime Blues,” of course). But despite the inclusion of Otis Blackwell‘s “Daddy Rolling Stone” and Bo Diddley‘s “Road Runner,” Pete Townshend’s Jukebox isn’t merely a here’s-the-originals-of Who-covers set. The featuring of Ray Charles (the kinetic jump blues of “Mess Around”) and Booker T & the MGs helps remind listeners what was finding its way into Townshend’s ears while he was writing “Anyhow, Anyway, Anywhere” and “My Generation,” for example.

If there’s one shortcoming of this set, it’s the lack of any country-and-western tracks; Townshend cited Jim Reeves as an influence, and Chet Atkins-styled licks abound on early Who albums.

Derek Barker’s liner note essay draws upon quotes form the man himself to illustrate the connection each song has to Pete Townshend. And its context taken away, one can merely enjoy this CD as an eclectic collection of various (mostly but not exclusively American) music from the 1950s and 60s.

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Album Review: Various Artists – Who Are You

Monday, January 14th, 2013

I’m cool with the concept of tribute albums. Hell, I play in a cover band, so I get it. Paying respect to a group or artist is a worthy goal, if perhaps not the world’s most creative endeavor. But for it to be more than an exercise in futility, there needs to be something of value there for the listener.

On paper, Who Are You: An All Star Tribute to The Who would seem to have that: the list of artists here includes some highly-respected and/or outside-the-box personalities. John Wetton, Todd Rundgren, Terry Reid, John Wesley (of Porcupine Tree‘s touring lineup), Rick Wakeman and several others. What makes Who Are You a bit strange is that it doesn’t leave these artists simply to come up with imaginative covers; no, instead it pairs them, seemingly at random. So we have on one cut Joe Lynn Turner (Rainbow) with Mountain‘s Leslie West, and on another – get this – Peter Noone (Herman’s Hermits) with Peter Banks (Genesis) and Ginger Baker (Cream). Is that, you may well ask, as bizarre as it reads on paper? Actually, no: their version of “Magic Bus” is pretty cool, if failing to add anything to our understanding of the original.

And there’s the rub: few if any of these songs go anywhere new. Some are slavish, near note-for-note recreations of the Who versions, yet they generally lack the slashing power of the originals. But then few can compare to The Who. A couple of the tunes are true standouts: “I Can See For Miles,” a collaboration between Mark Lindsay (Paul Revere & the Raiders) and Wayne Kramer(MC5) is pretty damn exciting. But Nektar‘s cover of “Baba O’Riley (with violinist Jerry Goodman) seems completely unnecessary. The punk summit reading of “My Generation” (The VibratorsKnox, Dave Davies of The Kinks and Rat Scabies of The Damned) strikes just the right tone. But then Iggy Pop‘s “I Can’t Explain” is musically too reverent (blame/thank ubiquitous behind-the-scenster Billy Sherwood and Jürgen Engler for that), and vocally it feels phoned-in. Which it may well be.

In all, Who Are You: An All Star Tribute to The Who is a mixed bag. There are no outright disasters (though Pat Travers‘ comically overwrought “Behind Blue Eyes” comes close), but – while enjoyable and worth a spin – it’s not likely to earn a place as one of your favorite discs. In the end, when it comes to The Who, the best advice is to – if you’ll pardon the obvious wordplay – Accept No Substitute.

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Concert Preview: The Who

Thursday, November 8th, 2012

I’m very excited to be going to see The Who in concert in Greenville SC, just down the hill from our mountains tonight. It will be the third time I’ve seen the group onstage.

The first time was in 1980. Not that final “farewell” tour, but a short mini-tour that took the band to a handful of sports arena dates. Not very long after the Cincinnati Riverfront Coliseum tragedy, the summer 1980 show in Atlanta holds some particularly vivid memories for me. My buddy Lex and I ventured downtown to camp out for advance tickets when they went on sale several weeks before the concert date (electronic ticketing was in its infancy in those days, so “first come,first served” truly was the order of the day; read about that era and much more in the excellent Ticket Masters: my review is here). After spending the night on the sidewalks outside the then newish Omni, home to Atlanta Hawks and Flames pro teams (it’s long gone now; Atlanta builds and destroys with impunity) alongside a bunch of fairly scary types (we were innocent, suburban sixteen year olds), we ended up buying our tickets from a scalper who had a better spot in line. We paid about $20 each for our 14th-row seats.

When the day of the show arrived, we got an adult (his Dad or mine, I can’t recall) to drive us to the nearby shopping mall, where we caught a city bus downtown. Our inexperience with urban navigation meant that we were caught flat-footed to discover the bus that ran after business hours followed an abbreviated route and thus didn’t take us right to the Omni. Deposited instead onto Peachtree Street, we warily hailed a cab. This was the first (and for many years, last) time either of us rode in a taxi, and we were shocked and a little frightened when the cabbie immediately offered to sell us drugs. We politely declined his kind sales pitch, and after enduring the four-block(!) ride, ran away from the cab as fast as we could.

As we approached the Omni, I casually asked Lex, “You’ve got your ticket, right?” He stopped dead in his tracks: He had left it at home! Me, I’m neurotic about such things, and not only had my ticket, but had verified that I did a good three or four times since leaving home. I sternly advised him that I would not be accompanying him on his round trip back to the suburbs to retrieve his ticket. He did in fact make it back in time for the show, but I vaguely recall that he did miss some of the opening set by Willie Nile.

The show itself was great. This tour was of the Kenney Jones era, so I am not one of those lucky people who can claim to have seen the mighty Keith Moon onstage, but the four-piece lineup (augmented by a three-piece horn section and, I’m pretty sure, longtime keyboardist John “Rabbit” Bundrick) tore through the group’s catalog. It was certainly the loudest concert I had attended up to that point, and few of the countless concerts that I’ve seen since were nearly as loud.

The next time I saw the Who was some nine years later. Newly married but as-yet childless, I saw the show with my (then-)wife at what was then called the Lakewood Amphitheatre. (It’s changed names and sponsorship countless times. If it still even exists, these days it’s probably the Krispy Kreme Lakewood Theatre or the Depends Undergarments Arena or something like that.). The group for this tour was a greatly-expanded lineup that found Pete Townshend on (shudder!) acoustic guitar, alongside countless faceless players. They put on a decent show, but the bloodless renditions felt more like a Who tribute group fronted by Roger Daltrey. The show was also built around Tommy, my least-favorite album in the group’s entire catalog. (For me, “least favorite” Who still beats a lot of things, though.) The tour was documented by release of the only truly dreadful Who album ever, the 3LP Join Together.

And that was it until now. Busy raising a family, I missed subsequent opportunities to see and hear The Who, including their mid 90s mounting of a Quadrophenia tour. I considered that one, but was wary due to its billing as featuring all-star guest vocalists. “Meh,” I thought.

Tonight looks to be different. Though The Who have only released one album of truly new material since 1982′s It’s Hard (an album that has a few great moments – like the blistering guitar coda of “Cry If You Want” – scattered among its general mediocrity), and their 21st century return Endless Wire leaned a bit too far in a singer/songwriterly direction for my tastes, that 2006 album did include a bonus live disc called Live in Lyon. And the power of that performance suggested that there was plenty of life left in the old warhorses still.

Of course John Entwistle‘s gone now, but Pino Palladino‘s bass work fits into the Who style in a way that the still-excellent Kenney Jones’ drumming never did. And Zak StarkeyRingo‘s son, taught to play by Uncle Keith himself – is a fiercely powerful, expressive and aggressive drummer.

The band also includes Pete’s brother Simon Townshend plus three – three! – keyboardists. But when the plan is to recreate Quadrophenia (one of my favorite Who works) onstage, those banks of keyboards are potentially a very, very good thing. I’ll be sharing the experience with my adult kids this time around, and that will make the experience even better.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

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