For 40 years I have been a fan of The Who. Of the original line-up PeteTownshend is the ultimate driving force of the band, its major muse and song writer. Even in the early days, despite the group's outward image and reputation Pete was writing attractive music with thought provoking lyrics. He experimented with sound, often producing demonstration tapes of new songs that guided the final Who sound on the album.
He coined the term 'Rock Opera' in association with the 1969 opus '"Tommy". Not content to rest on his laurels he moved on to bigger and more complex projects including the ill-fated "Life House" (1972) which failed and which almost cost him his sanity. An integral part of the plot was a system which connected people countrywide grid foretelling the internet. Pete effectively left The Who in 1980 (there have been reunion tours since then). He recorded a number of solo albums, wrote short stories and poetry (The Horse's Neck), worked as an editor for a publishing company (Faber and Faber) and worked on scripts for the television (White City), theatre and cinema (The Iron Man). He has continued to work on "Life House" and it was finally staged in 2000.
Pete Townshend undertook his first solo tour in North America and this performance was broadcast live on television from the theatre of the Brooklyn Academy of Art in New York in August 1993. The concert is in three parts: an opening session of eight songs and an encore of a further five (some Who classics, others solo items but all written by him and performed in his own style). In between is a complete live performance of Pete's rarely seen musical play Psychoderelict.
Pete takes centre stage with a group of musicians around him with whom he obviously feels in tune and at home. Given that this concert was recorded in the mid 1990s this is very much a "shadow" Who line up. Granted, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle are absent but almost every one of the backing vocalists and instrumentalists have played as part of The Who on albums and on tour. Most notable of these are The Who's 25th Anniversary tour of North America with 'Tommy' in 1989 and Pete's 'Lifehouse' concert in London in 2000.
John 'Rabbit' Bundrick has been the resident keyboard player since the early 1980s. Simon Phillips was enrolled on drums after Kenny Jones took over Keith Moon's mantle and before Ringo Starr's son Zak came of age. They both accompanied Pete on his solo alum "Empty Glass". Andy Fairweather Low (most well-known as lead of Amen Corner) and Phil Palmer (one time of Wishbone ash) provide guitar support. Andy provided backing guitar and vocals on several of the later Who tracks. Bass guitarist Pino Palladino has played sessions with many of rock's glitterati through the 1970s and 1980s. In 2002 he stepped into The Who tour of the US after John Entwistle died. He has appeared with the group since then. Billy Nicholls has been writer, musical director and vocalist for many years. He is joined here by Katie Kissoon (remember "Love Will Keep Us Together" with Mac?) and by harmonica player Peter Hope Evans (Medicine Head).
Pete bounds on stage to tumultuous applause from the highly appreciative audience in the packed theatre. This is his show as he moves about the front of the stage lit by spots while his entourage are lined up behind him in subdued blue and purple light. He announces the start of the show as a 'New York interlude'. With his familiar strumming broken into by chords from the bass he launches into "Pinball Wizard". The audience rises to its feet before the first words appear - and stays there until the final curtain.
The running order follows with
"See me, Feel Me" and "Listening To You" ("Tommy");
"Let My Love Open The Door" and "Rough Boys" ("Empty Glass");
"Behind Blue Eyes" (The Who album "Who's Next" and "Lifehouse");
"The Kid's Are Alright" (early Who single);
"Keep Me Turning" ("Rough Mix" a collaboration with Ronnie Lane);
"Eminence Front" (the last Who album "It's Hard")
There is an interesting comparison in the performance of his solo material and that of The Who. Pete's voice is not as powerful as Roger Daltrey's who tended to overshadow his vocal performances in The Who. He tends to sing in a higher register which sometimes leaves him a little husky and strained. However these are his songs, written from the heart and performed with soul. It is a bravura performance which lasts for 32½ minutes. He changes guitar at the end of every number. There are many changes of pace and style. Here are the power riffs, the driving beat, the thunderous bass and the rolling drums. He still performs the leaps and struts and the windmill slash cords. Here too are examples of his gentle side with lyrical harmonies and quiet counterpoints.
His solo renditions here sound remarkably like the studio albums. He fondly remembers Ronnie Lane who died of Muscular Dystrophy and his tribute is played in a reflective mode with a Spanish style accompaniment from Fairweather Low. He sings "Behind Blue Eyes" (acknowledged to be Daltrey's favourite) in a more relaxed and somewhat more emotional fashion. He introduces "The Kids Are Alright" as The Who's first hit in America. He also comments that singing the song ' feels different when you're not a kid anymore.' (It is also interesting that he rewrote this song for The Who's Millenium tour). The finale gives Townshend the chance to show his solo guitar virtuosity against an incessant keyboard riff and a funky bass groove.
PsychoDerelict is an adaptation of a short story "Ray Highsmith and the Glass Family" which Pete wrote in 1989. He planned it as a musical play and indeed an album of songs from the work was released before the full performance was staged.
Pete describes his concept of the performance of Psychoderelict as a radio play. There are three main characters who deliver the strategic dialogue with a minimalistic amount of acting and some sound effects. Pete plays the narrator and observer of the action but does on occasions interact with the actors. Songs and instrumental pieces are segued into the plot. Behind the action are a series of screens onto which are projected slides and computer images which represent the GridLife.
Pete introduces the play to the audience as the title is spelled out on the screens. The opening number "English Boy" sets the scene. It was released at the time as a single and is a funky rocker with a heavy bass bias. The anti-hero is Ray High, an aging rock star from a previous generation who is living on his past glories and is a perpetual drunk. He does however have a dream and a vision of how musical production and audience participation will develop in the future. This is Gridlife - a form of network that people can plug into to escape from their daily grind. His long suffering manager Rastus Knight wants him to forget all this, be practical, record like the old days and go on tour. His tormentor and arch-nemesis is Ruth Streeting ("Life's a bitch, and so am I") a journalist and radio show presenter who declares him to be a has-been.
As "English Boy" fades we see Ruth at her radio desk dishing the dirt on Ray. "The sad old lush can't make it any more". At the same time Rastus is trying to get him interested in working. As an instrumental "Meher Baba" plays, the screens show images of Ray in his heyday in the late 60s and early 70s. We then see Ray writing up his on line diary on his computer. Rastus persuades Ray to go to a club with him while Pete intones the protest song "Let's get pretentious".
There is an interlude when the screens introduce Spinner, the voice of the Grid, who explains about experience programmes, virtual reality and the use of GridLife suits. "The Grid always provides the facts but the facts don't always tell the truth."
Rastus meets Ruth on the dance floor and she makes him of a proposition which will get Ray back to work and make them a lot of money. Ray receives a letter and a Polaroid photograph from a young fan, Rosalind. While Pete sings backing vocals, he confesses his insecurities to Rosalind in a letter. He also sends her a song from his GridLife project called "Flame". He also confides that the more contempt Ruth feels for him, the more he loves her. The trap is sprung. This section finishes with the signature song of the project "Now and Then" - a classic Pete Townshend opus. It is a plaintive love song full of loss, remorse and regret, sung with high pitched vocals against a melodic backing counterpoint.
The scene cuts to Ruth Streeting in her office asking Rastus for her cut. Against another plaintive song "I am afraid" newspaper headlines break the news story of the rock star and the "Porno Pen Pal". Ruth announces that she will manage Rosalind from now on. Ray confronts Ruth but she says that she is just doing her job. The mood of the next song "Don't Try To Make Me Real" is one of anger and gives Phil Palmer a chance of a guitar solo. We then find Ruth and Rastus in silhouette at an S-M club. She lets slip that she has Ray's letters and knows his feelings. Rastus also discovers that Ruth is Rosalind and the photograph was of her when she was fourteen. Ruth makes the record which becomes a hit. All Ray's old hits and albums are reissued to great financial success.
In the final confrontation Ray tells Ruth that he knew what she was up to all the time. The end scene has Ray with a letter and photograph from a new fan (A picture of Lily!) Ray continues to dream of the GridLife ; Ruth continues to scheme; Rastus continues to count the money. Musically there are reprises of "Now and Then" and "English Boy" - the latter giving Peter Hope-Evans an energetic harmonica solo.
The actors are:
Ray High --- John Labanowski
Linal Haft --- Rastus Knight
Jan Ravens --- Ruth Streeting
(Linal has played roles in many films and television series. He is best known as Maureen Lipman's husband in the old BT adverts)
Psychoderelict has a running time of 71 minutes.
The third part of the concert proceeds without pause and takes a similar format to the first. Again Pete presents a series of tracks from The Who and from his own repertoire. The running order is:
"A Little Is Enough" ("Empty Glass")
"You Better You Bet" (The Who album "Face Dances")
"Face The Face" (Pete's solo project "White City")
"Won't Get Fooled Again" (The Who album "Who's Next") / "Let's See Action"
These tracks again show the versatility of style and sound Pete generates in his music. His voice is getting a little tired by this time but the backing remains brilliant. He notes that he sings The Who songs in a slightly different way. "Face The Face" is an almost jazz funk sound and gives Peter Hope-Evans another solo.
The final two tracks are both from Lifehouse. "Fooled" is taken at a slightly slower pace but with all the power of this familiar song. John Bundrick takes the organ riff and it runs into the "Action" track and back again. There is no Daltrey to issue the final full throated scream but Pete makes a fair stab at it.
Pete is given a standing ovation at the end of the performance. After 2 hours and 17 minutes continually on stage he returns for a final encore. The old standard "Magic Bus" is given a belting rendition lasting for a further 10 minutes during which there are more windmills and stride jumps - and Pete even manages to break a string.
The show is over after two and a half hours.
Psychoderelict is presented on a single DVD-9 4:3 aspect ratio disc. My copy is not region coded. It offers the choice of PCM stereo, Dolby 5.1 surround and DTS sound.
The picture quality is very good and follows the action perfectly. There are sufficient views of his fellow performers to confirm the tight knit conformity of the band as a whole. The sound quality is excellent even at higher volumes and through headphones. The mix is also excellent and Pete's voice is not in any way drowned or overpowered by the backing.
The menu screens are written in English. The front menu offers Play Concert, Play Psychoderelict; Chapter Select; Interview. There are subtitles (not tried) in English, French, German, Spanish and Portuguese.
There is no accompanying booklet.
The production is rated '18' presumably for the bad language and the sexual connotations.
There is a fascinating interview with Pete Townshend conducted by Barry Barnes recorded specifically for this DVD in September 2005.
THE TEST BED
DVD: Denon 2800 Progressive scan
Amp: Denon AVR 3802
Screen: Pioneer HDE503E 50" plasma
5-1 surround speakers
Dts sound track
PETE TOWNSHEND - LIVE DVD (2006) Universal
Amazon.com £ 11.97
Samples of the tracks which were released on the CD release are available at:
This is a superb concert recording and DVD presentation. I had the CD Psychoderelict in my collection when it was first released. I also had an early version of this performance that was issued on the old CD-v format.
This anthology is Pete Townshend (singer, guitarist, songwriter, composer) at his peak. Whether he is singing old songs from The Who or releases from his solo albums they are his songs - sung the way that he intended, from the heart and with soul. It is worth the purchase for the Prologue and Encore alone.
In the accompanying interview on this disc Townshend's opening remark is "Psychoderelict is rooted in Life House but it's a strange piece." He also declares that it is not autobiographical although it was typical of the times that he lived through. Ray High is an amalgam of many of the rock stars around him (Ray from Ray Davies; High from Nick Lowe) I am not sure whether it is useful to know Life House or not when first approaching this work (I know it intimately). It is a very different presentation to find in the middle of a rock concert but it is so typical of the man when you scratch below the surface of his catalogue.
It is staggering to realise that Pete Townshend foresaw the internet and what it would be capable of when he wrote Life House in the early 1970s. He describes who he gave a lecture at the Royal Academy of Art in 1982 prophesying that the future of music was for it to be downloaded directly to your telephone and that pornography was sure to follow. He was derided for this and his audience wondered why anyone would want music without an album sleeve. The modem was not put into general used for another two years.
Remember also that this production of Psychoderelict was put on thirteen years ago - long before broadband - and ten years before his own highly publicised misdemeanour.
Pete Townshend is a complex person. He has had his fare share of misfortunate in the past. He is multi-talented. His music is perhaps on a higher plain than anyone else in the realm of rock music and, when the histories are written a century from now it is likely to be titles like "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" that will be seen as the defining works which broke the genre from the three minute single. Certainly his music today is everywhere from the title music to three series of CSI (Crime Scene Investigation; Miami and New York) to using "Magic Bus" in a recent car advertisement in the US. Even the BBC used him as backing for their preview of the World Cup series.
Having seen him in action, listened to his music and the work behind it, read the biographies and known of his charity work (he has raised many millions of dollars in America to support the Maryville Academy which in turn provides a safe haven and secure environment for physically, sexually and emotionally abused children I do feel that I know a little about the man behind his music. I have seen his campaigns for over a decade about the dangers of the internet. I for one have my doubts about the seriousness of his brush with the law a couple of years ago.