Dave Hoekstra, Staff Reporter
Pete Townshend has been looking for clues since he turned 30 and began to wonder who stole the rebellion from rock music. In a 1975 interview with New Music Express he called out rock stars as "pretenders" and worried about rock's emerging narcissism. On Saturday night the journey took the Who legend to Martyrs' on North Lincoln Avenue, where he performed acoustically for 200 people.
Townshend dueted on the Everly Brothers it "Bye, Bye Love," he sang the tender "God Speaks of Marty Robbins" from "Endless Wire," the latest Who album, and he cocked his guitar toward the sky like Woody Guthrie. Taking a break from the current Who tour, Townshend was part of the Internet show "In the Attic," produced by his girlfriend, British singer-songwriter Rachel Fuller.
During the two-hour revue of young singer-songwriters that included his younger brother Simon, Townshend enjoyed revisiting the expanse of music. He played guitar and sang behind Joe Purdy, an ragged Arkansas-born singer and former dockworker who sang "The City" with a soulful melody. (Purdy's songs have been featured on the TV series "Grey's Anatomy" and "Lost.")
Rick was there, Chrissie was not
Between songs Townshend spoke of growing up and having music "coming at me from all different areas," ranging from skiffle to the Scottish folk of Ewan MacColl. He went back to 1967's "Who Sell Out" to cover the ethereal "Sunrise," as pianist Fuller sang Roger Daltrey's part. But the evening's highlight was a tense version of "Drowned" (from 1973's "Quadrophenia") where Townshend delivered tough honky-tonk tones as he slapped his guitar -- without smashing it.
Audience members paid between $50 and $300 to attend the "In the Attic" taping. The top ticket allowed fans to meet Townshend before the show. Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen was an early arrival, but Chrissie Hynde of the Pretenders was a last minute no-show -- and Martyrs' had a vegetarian menu in her honor.
At times Townshend was the curmudgeon we have come to love. He once told the audience he "would prefer if you didn't clap along" and introduced the Who's "In the Ether" by saying, "We [the Who] don't do it onstage, because I sing it." Townshend then sat on a stool and virtually read the lyrics of "In The Ether" as a one-act play, accompanied by Fuller on piano. It didn't work. A couple months ago I saw the Rolling Stones go through the motions on "(I Can't Get No) Satisfaction," and Townshend's stripped-down experimentation was more satisfying.
Cleaning house with no clothes on
Fuller is 33, and her sense of adventure is a good match for Townshend. Her vocals echoed Joni Mitchell in the way she captured every note and set them free throughout the room. Fuller sang the breezy "Cigarettes and Housework," the title track from her 2005 debut album and the first folk song I've heard about doing household chores naked.
Townshend told equally revealing stories. He recalled how he first met Bob Dylan in 1996. Townshend had one question for Dylan: "What is a folk singer?" Still the idealist, Townshend believed a folk singer was someone who could write a song about anything. Dylan told him a folk singer was "a man with a good memory." Saturday's show was sweet, unique and memorable. Townshend said he always wanted to write a song about country singer/NASCAR driver Marty Robbins. Who can forget that sense of wonder?