HE stood alone, lanky and slightly stooped and still lean. Pete Townshend looked older than his 54 years as he slipped under the strap of a brand-new, fire-engine-red Fender Telecaster.
At the Supper Club, a tiny jewel-box theater, Townshend took the stage without pomp and started the electric six-string changa-changa of his ancient classic "Won't Get Fooled Again."
His vocals were rusty, his guitar work wasn't perfect, but as the song moved from verse to verse, a quiet power built. The former Who principal, who could easily have uttered the Tin Man's plea "Oil me, oil me" at the start of that first song, was by its conclusion whipping on his instrument with all his might, with his signature windmill stroke.
In New York Wednesday as a favor to radio station Q104.3, and to drum up support for his soon-to-be-released "Pete Townshend Live" album, the man best known for his conceptual works such as "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" kept it simple: a man, a guitar and an audience. There was no flash - unless you count an explosive mid-concert guest appearance by Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder, with whom Townshend had taped a Letterman appearance earlier that evening.
At the Supper Club, Townshend mumbled something in thick English, switched over to a big-bodied Gibson acoustic and made the opener seem like a false start, with a controlled but passionate "Behind Blue Eyes," in which he made the anguish of the lyric "No one knows what it's like to be the sad man" believable. Here, his guitar playing was marked with blurred strumming that was so fat you forgot he had no drummer or bassist backing him.
That came closer to cementing the performance on the side of goodness. But the man faltered again with a decidedly uncommercial, avant-blues version of Screamin' Jay Hawkins' classic "I Put a Spell On You," which was so eccentric it took a few seconds to decipher that he was playing the usually recognizable song.
But from that point on, through "Let My Love Open the Door," and into the Eddie Vedder set, the man was excellent.
Vedder's appearance was welcomed not just as a way to add additional star power to the night: His voice became another instrument for Townshend to make music with.
Vedder contributed vocals as dynamic as Townshend's once were, with eerily similar timbre. Their artistic symbiosis allowed Pete to make the music sound as it should, as it did 30 years ago.
Together they worked a number off "Rough Mix" called "Heart to Hang Onto" a version of Pearl Jam's "Better Man" a very pretty "Sheraton Gibson" and an extended version of "Magic Bus" in which the song's Bo Diddley beat powered the vehicle.
It was the kind of rock event that fans of either man would have given anything to see, yet in spite of that, for some bizarre reason, those present - especially in the balcony - loudly squawked at each other throughout the performance.
If the show had been a stinker, maybe their lack of respect and courtesy might have been justified. But the concert was terrific. Had the rudesters in the balcony listened more and talked less, Townshend might have stayed longer than an hour.