For the past year, as the Who's massive tour has trekked across the globe one gigantic arena at a time, Pete Townshend has quietly played a series of intimate club shows with his girlfriend Rachel Fuller and whatever surprise guests they can round up. Last night they hit the 160-seat Joe's Pub in New York's East Village for the third time in just five months, alongside Lou Reed, Amos Lee, Dinosaur Jr.'s J Mascis and Rachel Yamagata. Most of the past shows found Townshend doing a brief solo acoustic set that consisted of his more subdued material such as "In The Ether" and "Imagine a Man." But last, night he unleashed a furious torrent of rock opera anthems that rivaled any Who concert I've been to.
Amos Lee and Rachel Yamagata both began their sets alone, clearly floored to be on the same bill as Townshend - who joined them both on acoustic guitar for the conclusion of their brief sets. It was during J. Mascis's set, however, that the show shot into the stratosphere. Mascis, dressed in purple t-shirt, a black track-suit jacket and an enormous pair of glasses, played a set of Dinosaur Jr. tunes, before bringing Townshend out for the closer. "I'm a little surprised J. wanted to play this one," Pete said, before singing the opening of "See Me, Feel Me," which caused the entire audience - including a rather stoic Matt Dillon who had been stashed away in a corner booth - to go absolutely ballistic.
Before the crowd calmed down, Pete launched into his own set. He opened with an intense version of "The Acid Queen," also from Tommy. He then moved on to Quadrophenia, playing frenzied versions of "The Real Me" and "Drowned" that nearly caused diehard Who fans standing by the bar (some even wearing nametags listing their message board nicknames) to orgasm collectively. The only way to up the energy from that was to play "Won't Get Fooled Again," which he promptly did. The four song set was the single greatest solo acoustic performance I've ever witnessed.
If all this wasn't enough, as the clock approached midnight Lou Reed came onstage. I could be wrong (and I'm sure the commenters will correct me), but I don't think he's ever played with Townshend prior to this. The leaders of two of the greatest '60s bands sat side-by-side and launched into "I'm Waiting for the Man." They followed it up with "White Light /White Heat," a choice Reed said was inspired by seeing Jack White play it recently. "Yeah, well, I'm better than Jack!" Townshend joked. They closed out the all too brief set with a beautiful rendition of "Pale Blue Eyes" from the Velvet Underground's 1969 eponymous third album. Every previous In The Attic show has ended with a jam featuring all the guests, but apparently realizing nothing could top the Townshend/Reed duets the show simply ended as a stunned crowd emptied onto the street.