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40 Years of Quadrophenia

I wrote a track-by-track breakdown of Quadrophenia on Billboard.com for its 40th anniversary this month.

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A (Re)view From The Cheap Seats at 12-12-12: The Concert for Sandy Relief

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I am generally not a fan of festivals, mega-concerts, or gimmicky guest appearances. I try to stay away from these things. However, the 12-12-12 Concert for Sandy Relief was a confluence of too many artists I cared about for me to avoid it, and we were lucky with tickets.

My $150 “obstructed view” tickets were side-stage, just past the video screen. Two seats away and across the aisle, the $250 section started. This was a pricey gig. Obstructed meant obstructed by the side video screen, and even that wasn’t too bad; artists who put their mic at the front of the stage (like Springsteen, the Stones, and the Who) were visible enough; those who needed some distance between themselves and the audience (Roger Waters, Bon Jovi) were tough to see. Luckily most of the artists I cared about were in the former category. The video screens at the front of our section, usually used for hockey or other sporting events, worked but were mostly blocked by people standing up for the show. I think that given the ticket price, the event producers could have placed two smaller video screens facing the obstructed view sections.

Walking into the Garden was fun; there was an air of genuine excitement and anticipation. I appreciated that the entrance process (at least at 6:30) was brisk and uneventful. (It is funny to me that an event of this scope in this city at this storied venue could go so smoothly, while recent concerts I attended in Kansas City and Phoenix required the audience to enter through metal detectors. If this wasn’t a target, neither is a Bruce Springsteen show on a random Thursday.) Going up the escalators to the seating area, a time honored MSG ritual, you saw a wide representation of band shirts, mostly focusing on Stones, Springsteen and Beatles.

From 7pm onward, there were constant reminders announced over the PA: “Please take your seats, the show will begin promptly at 7:30pm.” These increased from every 10 minutes to every 5 minutes to every 2 minutes, until the lights went down and we heard the countdown, the audience joining in for the “5-4-3-2-1” and then the explosion of applause as the lights came up and Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band walked onstage.

“Land of Hope and Dreams” was a little choppy to the trainspotter (*raises hand*) as the band distilled it from its usual length, but still retained majesty and power and was the absolute right choice to open the show. I expected “We Take Care Of Our Own” but thought Bruce would skip “Wrecking Ball”. Once he started playing it I understood why, but feel like the audience would have connected better with something more familiar. (The original leaked setlist had “Born To Run” as the opening song, and although I appreciated the thematic connection by using “Land of Hope And Dreams” instead, I wish he had gone with the big guns up front. This is just me being dismayed that other acts on the bill got bigger responses than Bruce did.)

The introduction of “My City of Ruins” was absolutely masterful. It was important, powerful, genuine, and a little subversive, as it spoke to the many first responders in the crowd, while in front of an audience of very monied contributors. The “Jersey Girl” tag was a fine way to incorporate history and a crowd favorite and be even more on topic, and I think a better call than performing the entire song for this crowd.

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I’m not sure Bon Jovi was necessary or added anything to “Born To Run.” However, I was glad it was “Born To Run” instead of “Jersey Girl,” which was the original plan. I am also not sure anything was served by having Bruce come out later for “You Can’t Go Home.” I don’t think that either contribution was that interesting or added anything to the performance. Born To Run does not work well as a duet; I realize that the JBJ song Bruce guested on is, but I don’t think it’s that interesting of a song choice, to be honest. (I would have rather seen Bruce come out for “Dead or Alive,” which is when we saw him walk out backstage. One advantage to our obstructed view seats is that we had a completely unobstructed view to all of the setup proceedings. Major hat tip to the stage crew, they worked hard.)

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“Born To Run” at Madison Square Garden is one of the most amazing moments of Rock and Roll, ever. “Born To Run” at any Bruce Springsteen concerts is one of my favorite things to watch. I have video clips of it from venues all over the world because it is this amazing, communal, transformative moment of unity and energy and of standing there singing one of the best songs ever written with 20k other people. “Born To Run” last night was not any of those things, and I don’t understand; who doesn’t know the words to “Born To Run”? Even if you only buy music because someone told you to buy it or fill up your iTunes library with stuff you read about you would know about “Born To Run,” right? And the rich donors downstairs who were the ones sitting on their hands are all old enough to grow up with it. In that moment, my only thought was: I understand why Bruce spends so much time in Europe. (This was amplified later when I watched the polar reaction to anything Bon Jovi did, which to me just sounds empty and poppy and sugary sweet. But then again it always has. I appreciate his politics and his charity work but sorry, dude, not my thing.)

Of course no mega concert bill will be perfect, and this one had a combination of all-time favorites as well as artists I respect but have no feelings about (Roger Waters, Alicia Keys, Billy Joel) and other artists I dislike on varying levels (Bon Jovi, Chris Martin). Roger Waters’ set could have been fine, but the song selection completely halted the momentum and energy of the show. I did appreciate that Waters wandered the stage from end to end, waving at the cheap seats all the way up in the rafters.

Eddie Vedder’s sole appearance in the night — despite a billing on the level with Chris Martin and Dave Grohl — was to join Waters for “Comfortably Numb.” Now, Roger Waters has another singer who has long hair and, if it was late at night, rainy, had lost your glasses and were hard of hearing, you might confuse this individual with Eddie Vedder (as many people tweeting from the show did, including journalists who should have known better). However, once Vedder walked out onstage and opened his mouth, all doubts were removed. He was in fine voice and did a great job on the song.

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You send Adam Sandler out to occupy the crowd during Chanukah in New York City and he does not perform “The Chanukah Song?” and insteads performs a terrible perversion of ‘Halleujah” (which I think should no longer be performed by anyone who is not Leonard Cohen or Jeff Buckley anyway). Like, I am not one of those people who stands there and yells at anyone to play their hit, but when you are at a charity concert trying to raise money, that is what you do: you play your hit.

I did not expect to have any feelings about Eric Clapton, who I respect but generally find boring. I did not find him boring tonight; I think it was playing with a trio which forced him to be energetic and dynamic and emotive. If I’d never seen Eric Clapton before, this was the Eric Clapton I would have wanted to see, instead of an all-Unplugged/”Tears In Heaven” Clapton-Lite.

This was also an appropriate precursor for the next act, as Jimmy Fallon introduced (and we shouted along with him), “Ladies and gentlemen, the Rolling Stones!”

The Rolling Stones.

I have so many feelings about the Stones. I have such a complex relationship with the Stones. It is love and hate and conflict and as I get older it does not get simpler; for example, I can’t even listen to “Brown Sugar” any more (but absolutely do not judge anyone who can; I wish I could). The last time I saw the Stones was the “No Security” tourthe Wiltern in 2002; after that, it just became so expensive and impossible to game the system and I just couldn’t justify the money, especially with all the reports from people whose opinion I trust that Keith was not himself after that “fall from a coconut tree” and Ronnie’s sobriety was questionable at best. I didn’t have the money to invest in pursuing them, and I was not sitting in the rafters with people there to just say they saw the Rolling Stones.

Like I said, it is complicated.

But last night it was just a flash and bright lights and magic and Keith and Ronnie and Charlie and Mick, and Bernard, and Chuck Leavell blocked by the large screen. I had to switch places with the SO to see Charlie better, and this was not a case where I would demur or say that I was fine; I have to see Charlie. He is the rock; he is the fulcrum.

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I hate “You Got Me Rocking” and do not see, MICK, how that song choice was going to encourage anyone to purchase the pay-per-view (the reason they were limited to two songs). I said on Twitter that YMGR is the Stones’ version of “You Better, You Bet” in that it’s a song that the band rates higher than the audience does and thinks we like it more than we actually do. It was also anticlimactic. You’re the fucking ROLLING STONES. Come out, play “Satisfaction” and “Jumping Jack Flash,” drop the mic, leave us gasping for more. YGMR was a just a let-down, once I got over the initial euphoria of seeing them again.

But then it was “Jumping Jack Flash,” and come home, all is forgiven. It was loud and and familiar and beautiful to hear, standing in this building, with the ghosts and the memories. Unlike the Who, who seemed strong and solid, the Stones seemed fragile, breakable, not entirely held together tightly enough. They are old. They have lived. They have been through a lot. I defend their right to play on a stage as long as anyone is willing to give them money (and even after that, as far as I’m concerned). I just knew at that moment that I was fine with this being au revoir, at least for now.

Alicia Keys was fine, a breather, a strong performer, the only female headliner or major performer in the lineup. (I do not count Lisa Fisher or Patti Scialfa, sorry.) She is talented. She is from New York. She did not pay the Yankee National Anthem (aka “Empire State of Mind”) at this time (although it was on the list), and I was grateful.

I don’t remember the introduction to the Who. I just knew it was coming. If I have a complicated relationship with the Stones, that is nothing compared to my emotions around Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend’s current live performing ensemble. It is complicated. Again, I support their right to perform onstage whenever they want. I am just not sure I always believe it and unlike the Stones, if Townshend and Daltrey are not believing, what is on that stage is flat and lifeless. Luckily they know this too and generally only go out if they are feeling it. But this time around, i worry about Roger’s voice, and last night showed me that — adjustments to arrangements notwithstanding — I had good cause to be concerned.

The last time I saw Pete and Roger onstage was 7-6-2002, not very long at all after we lost John. I wasn’t going to that show, even, because of ticket prices (the lawn at the Gorge was $86!) but then John decided to depart this planet and a horde of Who fans in Seattle decided I needed to go, and I ended up in the fifth row and getting a piece of Roger’s tambourine at the end of the night. I have not gone since; I have not felt the need to. I had a great run.

I sang along to “Who Are You” and wondered how many people know the story behind the song. I sing along with absolute precision to “Bellboy” — a curious choice for a Quadrophenia number when the entire album is rehearsed and you have the horns there; no “Real Me”? No “5:15”? — and was lost in my teenage remembrances of hearing this record for the first time, of discovering this story, until I stopped to think, “Oh, wait, there’s the Keith bit in this song, who’s going to do–” and my reverie is interrupted by Hologram Keith Moon on the big screen, Roger facing him, as a backing tape brings Moonie into MSG. This was disturbing, and jarring, and even more upsetting as Roger seemed to interact with the screen, waving goodbye to him at the end.

The kids behind me jumped up and down and up and down as Pete started “Pinball WIzard” and I was glad that all was not lost, that, despite no one seeming to care about “Born To Run,” that “Pinball Wizard” got the respect it is due. I had just settled in to enjoying that, when I realized what was next, and “Listening To You” was overwhelming. It was always overwhelming, but this was homecoming, this was ancient times, this was love and time and, you know, so much, everything you know, everything you remember.

“Love, Reign O’er Me” was a heartbreak moment, can Roger sing it, can he do it, there was a collective, audible sigh of relief from the audience after he got through the first verse. And it was fine, it was fair enough, good enough, but sad, for a man that didn’t smoke and took care of his voice and was by far not the biggest drug user of the 60s, I wish he still had more of it. But this is a demanding piece and Quadrophenia is vocally demanding and emotionally demanding and musically demanding and while I admire wanting to tackle it again I wonder if it was necessary. But he got through it, and we applauded gently, and with feeling.

And then “Baba” to end it, everyone should have the chance to sing “Teenage wasteland, it’s only teenage wasteland” in a crowd of 20,000 people at Madison Square Garden, everyone who cares about rock and roll should anyway. It is a thing you should do. It is a thing you should see. It is a thing you should feel.

“Tea & Theater” was at the end, no musicians, just Pete and Roger, stripped down. I questioned this move, wanting something like “Bargain” or “Join Together” or one of the great Who songs about the audience, one of those anthemic, slightly obscure, unifying songs. But “Tea & Theater” actually did that, because it was for the people who genuinely cared about Pete and Roger, and it was genuine and raw and at the end, Pete shouted for everyone to go get a fucking beer.

Which most people did, or tried to do; it was time to run out and get a drink and take a breath and try to find a snack (it was a very long night; they were sold out of hot pretzels everywhere at this point). I was willing to sacrifice missing some of Kanye for all of this but we got back to our seats just as he was starting. Kanye had massive sound problems, and was the first act for whom I needed to use my earplugs.

I do not dislike Kanye West. I own records by Kanye West. Kanye had the thankless task of performing in the middle of a lineup he didn’t fit in, in front of an audience that didn’t care that he was there. And frankly, he brought it. He worked his ass off. He sang to the entire crowd, he worked the peanut gallery, he paid attention to the cheap seats. He donated his time to this charity, and he was paid back by the prime floor seats vacating, leaving the front section very empty. Now, truth be told, those people might have left after the Stones and the Who no matter who was next. But I was insulted on Kanye’s behalf.

The people who did stay did their best to dance and be into it (even Chris Christie was paying attention!) but I disliked the general rockist antipathy against Kanye because he was the only rap artist in the lineup. I mean, I hate Chris Martin and Coldplay, but I can sit down and read my email while he’s onstage and can also say, I don’t like his music at all, but he showed up in a suit and prepared and seemed sincere (and the Stipe thing was mega cool, but more on that later). It was ridiculous to watch the reaction of people to the skirt — people who probably own more than a couple of David Bowie or KISS records — and then people overreacting to the abbreviated “Golddigger,” when they didn’t have any problem with Roger Waters not changing the “do goody-good bullshit” lyrics to “Money” earlier in the show.

The mic drop to end the set was classic.

(Not surpassingly, it was a very, very white crowd last night. I was pleased to see that my section had a reasonable diversity of age and sex; there were young kids and people with grey hair and families and teenagers. I was also pleased to see that interests were wide-ranging; the African-American girl who danced to Kanye was wearing a Stones shirt; the teenagers behind us were excited and up and bopping around to everything; the 30-something women in front of me were most excited by the Who; the business-looking dude on the aisle perked up when I noted Charlie Watts’ drum kit being wheeled into position backstage: “That’s Charlie’s kit, right?”; the group of middle-aged folks down the row sneaking cigarettes all night (grr) cared about BIlly Joel and Pink Floyd. People got up or sat down depending on the artist or the song, and aside from some initial grumbles, it was very much live and let live up in the cheap seats. This was a surprising relief, as I have known plenty of people who have had stuff thrown at them for standing up during concerts.)

I realized I have not talked about any of the videos or special guests from the various hurricane Sandy areas. In our position in the obstructed view seats, it was tough to see the video. I appreciated the recognition but also felt like there was a little too much promo for Robin Hood; there were a lot of people doing good after the hurricane, all over this city, churches and council people and community boards and other organizations, like Occupy Sandy. As a New Yorker, that part did irk me, more and more as the night went on.

After Kanye’s set was about the time I started to feel a little burnt out, a little, “Wait, what time is it and who else is left?” It was a good time to sit down and have a snack (thank you, Kind bar thrown into my purse) and wait for Billy Joel.

I was trying to explain how I felt about Billy Joel, which is that I don’t hate him but he’s never been my thing (although I hated some of the songs at the time they came out, because they were everywhere, all the time, and because, as Will Hermes pointed out on Twitter, back in the day, you chose Bruce or Billy, not both.) But there’s always been something I’ve liked at Billy Joel, the songwriting, the large band, the saxophone player, the very New York attitude, the lack of pretense. He was in great shape, and it was great to see him in great shape. And I know every word to every song whether I want to or not.

I was rolling my eyes at Chris Martin and managed to safely ignore “Viva La Vida” but then the SO says, “Hey, it’s the garden gnome,” which is our code for Michael Stipe (he wears this hat in the winter that makes him look like a garden gnome, and used to show up to the Patti Smith December shows with it all the time) and this may have leaked on been rumored (it’s so hard for me to remember right now), but Michael Stipe singing “Losing My Religion” in front of all these people again was a beautiful, wonderful, fun thing.

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(12-12-12 was the most-leaked major concert event I have ever seen. There were leaks of information as soon as they started rehearsing, and you didn’t have to look very hard. I was offered information on an off-the-record basis Wednesday morning and as soon as that email arrived, another one did with the same information, without any type of embargo. I had the entire lineup card not long before I walked in the building. Usually I like surprises (I was very, very glad I had avoided all of the spoilers for the ROck & Roll Hall of Fame 25th Anniversary concerts) but tonight I was just glad I knew when I had enough time to run to the bathroom before the Stones.)

And now, you know, the Beatle. The last time I saw Paul McCartney it was from the front row in Hyde Park, in the mud and the rain. Now I am seeing him with his band and they are razor-sharp and tight as hell and support him so very very well. The first few minutes of “Helter Skelter” I was all, “If we all just got pranked by the UK press I am going to be pissed,” but then I was just glad to hear “Helter Skelter” being sung by a Beatle.

I was a fan of Wings so quite enjoyed the unexpected “Let Me Roll It” and “Nineteen Hundred and Eighty-Five” appearances. I could question the wisdom of those selections after midnight, but at least they were songs a percentage of the people in that building and watching wanted to hear, and not the next song, a forgettable love song written for the current Mrs. McCartney, performed by DIana Krall.

(PAUL. IF YOU WANT TO PERFORM A LOVE SONG ON PIANO, TRY ‘MAYBE I’M AMAZED.’)

But “Blackbird” was perfect and special and everyone sang or sort of held their breath that they were in this moment, this beautiful perfect moment that went back to the first time they put the needle into side two of the White Album and it crackled into this track, and we all remembered.

We had seen Novoselic wandering around backstage earlier (he is the world’s tallest man; he is easy for someone who lived in Seattle for 10 years to identify even from the cheap seats) and then later the SO spotted Grohl, so we had a matched set. And then I heard Paul effing McCartney say the words, “Pat Smear,” and world collided, tectonic plates shifted, and we entered the bizarro world. Not because of sacred cows or any kind of punk cred, but because who would have ever thought this, ever envisioned this. I never got to see Nirvana; I was living overseas at the time, and despite thwarted attempts to go to Rome or go to Reading, I just thought, “I’ll see them when I move back to the States,” and then Kurt shuffled off this mortal coil about two months later once I did.

It was weird. And good. And weird. And interesting. And, as was noted by someone else, more Plastic Ono Band than Wings [disclaimer: I work there], but that was okay, too. So it was random. So it was unprecedented. If they had been able to pull it off without fifty million leaks it would have blown everyone’s minds.

“I’ve Got A Feeling” was, largely, unnecessary (even though I kind of like the song, or liked the vocals and guitar on the bridge), and hell, I love love love “Live And Let Die.” However, the last thing in the world I expected was full out, 80’s-heavy-metal stadium-quality pyro to explode full throttle on that stage at 1 o’clock in the morning. It was crazy. It was wonderful. It made me worry about the musicians and the photographers and the audience and the large group of firefighters and first responders amassed backstage for the encore.

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That group of civilians was the definitive sign that we weren’t going to get any kind of grand jam finale (as well as the utter dearth of additional equipment), and it was actually okay that we weren’t getting some half-hearted shuffle through a Beatles song. But, when Alicia Keys walked out and sat down, I realized what it was going to be, and steeled myself to either leave, or just grin and bear it. But you know what? Without Jay-Z rapping about the Yankees, it’s a lovely, lovely song. And I am sorry, Alicia, that we could not sing it with you or back to you or even manage a respectably loud enough “NEW YORK” response at 1:17 in the morning, because you deserved it, you really did. But I walked out of the Garden singing it, hummed it as I grabbed a taxi back to Brooklyn on 34th Street, and am kind of glad that the demons have been exorcised from it, at least for now.

It was long, maybe too long, and disjointed and crazy and wonderful and amazing, truly amazing that this lineup could be thrown together so quickly, that there was very little filler, that it ran as well as it probably could run, that it was not a total debacle, that it made money and will help people. It is the kind of thing that makes me glad I live in this city, it is a night that you hold close to you when the rest of the bullshit gets to be too much. It is a something that I will always remember and we don’t get that many of those.

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(Waiting To) Hear One Of The Who: Pete Townshend in conversation with Jann Wenner

Mr. Peter Townshend

Pete Townshend with Jann Wenner, Barnes & Noble Union Square, 10/9/12

As part of the promotional go-round for Townshend’s biography, Who I Am, he made a stop at Barnes & Noble this evening for a Q&A, with Rolling Stone founder Jann Wenner in the interrogator’s seat. Pete could have been crabby or it could have been the two of them congratulating each other on how great they are, but it was a genuinely thoughtful, solid 45 minutes of conversation–followed by two songs performed solo acoustic, and then Pete sat and signed books for everyone (including the people who didn’t get into the Q&A and were standing outside for hours. I would not have done that).

Wenner asked him how he prepared to write the book, and Pete said that he thought of the book as a survivor’s tale, so he read accounts of war reporters. Mentioned Nik Cohn (the origin of the Pinball Wizard!) and Virginia Ironsides, and told the story most fans know from The Kids Are Alright about Kit Lambert asking him to please smash a guitar because there was a journalist there and it would be a good story. It’s one thing to have watched that movie a gazillion times like I have and know that story by heart (more about this later), but to hear Pete do his Kit Lambert posh voice when you’re sitting in the same room will still be just the tiniest bit mindblowing.

Pete insisted that digging into his childhood wasn’t at all sad, because it filled in a big hole he had always felt, but never known the cause of. He went to visit his mother three times, with a tape recorder, to get to the bottom of the story, and once he knew what had happened (his parents had sent him to live with a grandparent, who was borderline abusive), he felt free, because now he knew why so much of his writing was so dark.

Other musicians’ biographies that he liked: Eric Clapton, although he didn’t think Eric talked enough about music, and mentioned a text he got from Eric recently. (The thought of Townshend and Clapton texting back and forth is somehow squee worthy.) He spoke warmly of Dylan’s Chronicles, and said that he thought he could have written something similar, and that his Horse’s Neck was probably close. (The closest we came to any mutual admiration society was when Pete praised the recent Dylan interview in Rolling Stone, which was pretty praise-worthy.)

He mentioned Keith Richards’ autobiography, namechecked co-author James Fox and how he liked his writing (causing me to go into Goodreads and add his book White Mischief to my to-read pile) but said that he stopped reading Keith’s book halfway through because, “I know all these stories.” He mentioned that he had discussed something similar at the NYPL the night before, how he could have stopped talking at any time and invited some of the diehard fans he recognized up on stage to finish the story he was telling.

Pete spoke warmly of his long-time fans, saying that, “The word ‘groupie’ never should have existed,” not just for women, but for the men in the audience who composed most of the Who’s audience (which apparently caused several women to take issue with him during the book signing the night before. That’s just silly, because a Who crowd has always been predominantly male, no matter how many other female fans I have known throughout my fandom).

Pete pulled out his iPhone at one point and exclaimed over it, practically doing a commercial: “It’s got books, and magazines…I can write on it, watch movies, make calls, record music…” He is, not surprisingly, a big fan of eBooks, pointing out that he predicted this in 1985 and then in 1971.

There was discussion about the upcoming tour. Pete says usually he’s trying to play something different or odd but Roger always wants to play the classics. This time around, it’s Pete wanting to play the standards — he referred to them as “The old CSI classics” — and Roger wanting to try something new. For the new staging of Quadrophenia, Roger feels he can’t sing as Jimmy and needs to try singing as the narrator instead. [Ed. note: If you can’t sing as Jimmy, maybe not take out bloody Quadrophenia on tour! Sorry. Couldn’t help myself.] Wenner asked him about playing without Entwistle, to which Pete replied, “As a guitar player, I prefer working without John. As a member of the Who… I miss that great noise that we made.” (“GREAT NOISE,” bellowed a gentleman sitting in the row behind me, applauding wildly.)

Wenner noted that Pete hadn’t put out a solo record in 20 years, and asked why. Pete looked annoyed (for probably the first time), and stated that he’d been recording all sorts of music during that time, but just didn’t think it was ‘necessary’ to put out a solo album. Wenner then asked about the rock opera Pete was working on, to which Pete vehemently denied that it was an opera, more like a ‘son et lumiere,’ a concept on a grand scale, with singers and a huge performance that he was thinking of Central Park for, in order to accomodate the staging and the cast. He said he was about 2/3 of the way done with his concept piece.

Townshend completely ducked the question of who he listened to now, but did have a fascinating description of how he listens to new music: that he just cruises around last.fm and Spotify and iTunes and downloads a bunch of music and puts it on his iPod, and then just listens to it. He says he is occasionally very surprised when he does choose to see who is performing a certain song, and that it’s usually someone he knows or is familiar with. He consumes a lot of new music but didn’t want to name check anyone — and then said that he quite liked Lady Gaga.

The conversation finished, Pete moved to an adjoining stool and picked up the acoustic guitar. Dedicating “Drowned” to “the new faces in the audience,” he sang clearly and cleanly, and played guitar just as well as ever. “Won’t Get Fooled Again” was next, with plenty of verve and oomph, even if the crowd was somewhat tired in the back of the room and not responding to Pete’s surprisingly energetic performance, given his promotional schedule. He looked good, he sounded good, and was nattily dressed in a black jacket, black and white checked shirt and red pocket square.

After the performance, he sat there signing books, shaking hands, and generally engaging with fans far more than the Barnes & Noble staff wanted to accommodate. For lack of anything else, but wanting to say something, I noted that both he and Mr. Springsteen were going to be on tour at the same time, and wouldn’t it be great if one visited the other onstage? To that I got a non-committal “Yeh,” but nothing more. (I also once told him, backstage at Shea Stadium, that I liked his hair that tour. I never know what to say to Pete.)

I’m not sold on this version of the Who, but this was a delightful, insightful evening with Pete, who was kind and gracious and generous. I am looking forward to reading the book.

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this one goes out to Miami Janet.

j10007

I called her Miami, because she (like me) had a thing for Steve Van Zandt, back when he was Miami Steve, back when this was a band that wore hats! She wore hats, too. We all had nicknames for each other, stupid, dumb, nicknames – I quite honestly cannot remember any of mine – because we wanted to be a gang, an exclusive club with nicknames and handshakes and secret rituals and inside jokes.

I met Janet in 1978 or 1979, when I saw a little ad in the back of Rolling Stone magazine advertising a fanzine called “Who’s News”. It read something like “Who fanatics? You’re not alone. C’mon and Join Together with the band!” I sent my $3 or whatever it was and then waited. I am sure that you are snickering at how trite and corny it was, but at the time it was a beacon in the wilderness. What arrived in the mail was beyond my wildest dreams: a fanzine. A magazine dedicated solely to one band, MY band.

It’s hard to describe that feeling now, what it was like to find and connect with a group of people who cared about music as much as you did. Now, you tap tap tap on your computer and no matter what band you like or think you’re the biggest fan of, there’s already two fan pages, a Yahoo group and a Flickr feed. Back then, the best I could do was skulk around the hallways of my high school with a record album under my arm and hope that someone, anyone would see it and recognize it and and talk to me about it. That never happened; I wasn’t cool enough, I didn’t smoke pot, I hung out with the wrong group of people (who were listening to Genesis, Yes, Pink Floyd or worse).

30 years ago, you had fanzines. And where you had fanzines, you had penpals. “Who’s News” had a classified section and a letters section and they PRINTED PEOPLE’S MAILING ADDRESSES and excerpts of their letters, and that was where the madness all started. I don’t remember if Janet wrote to me or I wrote to her, or if I met her through another friend – that was the thing, once you reached out to one person you were immediately connected to this cross-country – hell, CROSS GLOBE network of Who people (I still want to draw the little arrow coming up from the O, even when I type it) but soon letters were flying across the distance between Cincinnati and Stamford, CT. Then phone calls.

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Then a large group visit, with people from all over the country – because it was a small world, us insane crazy Who fans. I started getting random phone calls: “You don’t know me, but I know so-and-so, and I heard that X, Y and Z are coming to visit you in New York? We live in Virginia/Delaware/Buffalo, could we come too?” It was on Halloween in 1981 and we called it “WHO-loween”. The photo at the top is me, Janet and Mary (who was from Michigan, another Who person), all dressed up to go see Siouxie & the Banshees down at the Ritz. We were so excited when they played the new Stones video on the big screen. We danced and acted as cool as we could, me in my thrift store vintage best, Janet in a loaned faux-leather coat that I insisted she take back home with her, Mary rocking the Keef schoolboy cap.

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We never got to see the Who together, despite wishes and hopes and plans, believe it or not. There were jobs and classes and distances and money to be dealt with. And then, of course, the band broke up, and that was, as they say, the end of that.

But not the end of the friendship. Janet and I stayed friends for years and years and years. We talked music and life and boys and music and boys again. Tapes were sent. Clippings were xeroxed. Packages were assembled. I managed to be in Cincinnati a few times, and I am to this day amazed that her door was always open and she was always ready for whatever crazy scheme I had cooked up this time. And there were always phone calls, which were crazy expensive back then, but it was an expense we – and people like us – shouldered as the cost of doing business. This was as real a friendship as anyone who lived in my area code.

The friendship survived a bad marriage and a cross-globe (and back again) move. She diligently kept up with me all the way up until Seattle, where she would eventually email me – her email address was Miami something something @ aol.com. Even if we hadn’t talked at all, there were always birthday cards; her birthday was in early August, and it would pop up on the calendar and I would find her address (she bought a house years ago, and never moved) or she would find mine (I moved all the time, but she somehow managed to keep up).

And eventually, communication faded out, but it didn’t mean that I didn’t think about her or didn’t tell stories about her. When the anniversary of Live Aid rolled around, I kept telling the story about what it was like to watch that in an internet-less age, how I took the train up to my parents’ house in Connecticut (because I didn’t have cable), and sat in front of the television from the first note until the last with a bottle of diet Coke in one hand and the telephone in the other. That when the satellite went out during the Who’s set, the signals on the phone got crossed because people were freaking the fuck out and I managed to pick up three calls at once, somehow (we had call waiting, which meant I could do two), while everyone else got crazy busy signals and assumed the phone was broken, which meant that everyone tried calling everyone else which didn’t help the situation. (My father finally physically removed the phone from my hands under protest and hung it up for 30 seconds – which felt like a LIFETIME – but it fixed the problem.) Janet was on the other end of that phone multiple times that day, as we laughed and agonized and analyzed and DISCUSSED. Pete’s hair. Roger’s jeans. John being John.

This morning, I got an email from a name I hadn’t heard from in a very long time. It was from Mary, whose snail mail address I had tracked down last winter but hadn’t done anything about yet. The subject line of the email read About Janet. Please call. I knew, like you know, that there was no way this was going to be good news. To be honest, I hoped it was something critical but did not believe that it would be something final. She wasn’t that much older than me.

Janet died of a massive heart attack on Saturday. She was only 48.

If there is a friend who you think about every day and haven’t told them that, please go find them on Facebook or search them out wherever and let them know.

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[And in case you were wondering – YES. We ALL owned that goddamned black and white MAXIMUM RNB shirt that at the time you could buy in any good head shop anywhere in the USA.]

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The Music Of The Who at Carnegie Hall

Michael Dorf presents
The Music of the Who
Carnegie Hall, March 2, 2010

The tribute show is an odd duck in some ways; who’s the audience supposed to be? Is it fans of the artists performing, or fans of the artist being feted? Fans of the artists performing don’t automatically have context or even knowledge of the music being played, while fans of the celebrated artist can be a tough audience. They can be terribly critical. And they can be outright demanding sons of bitches.

The latter statement would accurately describe your average Who fan. We were ridiculously demanding OF THE ACTUAL BAND. There was no way anyone coming on the Carnegie Hall stage was getting off easy tonight, not in front of this crowd.

The other thing that needs to be considered is that Townshend and Daltrey had a very specific dynamic. People have said things like “Well I like the songs I just wish Daltrey wasn’t singing them” and I point out that if Daltrey didn’t sing the songs, no one was going to be singing them. Pete wrote songs for Roger to sing, and Roger interpreted them in a very specific way. I’m sure someone will chime in about how this isn’t unique or special but I’ll assert here that in this case it absolutely is, and is part of what made the Who the Who.

The whole reason I’m giving this tiresome history lesson, boring old fart that I am, is to say by way of preface that these are hard songs to sing and even harder to sing well. I don’t go to these evenings needing straight interpretations of the song to enjoy myself – I loved Kimya Dawson’s modern dance interpretation of “World Leader Pretend” at the R.E.M. event, for example – there just is such a thing as a misguided interpretation, or one that means well but misses the mark. I say all of this so you don’t take my dismissal of your favorite artist’s performance as a condemnation of that artist’s entire body of work.

Now maybe I can get to the actual concert.

The evening opened with a reminder of why these concerts exists, as a choir of teenagers, led by Steven Bernstein (a slide trumpeter) took us through the Overture. I wondered what these teenagers in 2010 thought of the story of the deaf, dumb and blind boy. I wondered if they cared. I wondered if they just sang the words or if any of them went and found the record and listened to it and if it resonated with them. They seemed to be having a blast, and I once again felt lucky that I grew up in a time where I could get music as part of a public school education.

Living Color came out and set the tone with a masterful cover of “Eminence Front”. I had forgotten how good that band was. The Ox would have approved of the way that bass line just swang. I’m not a fan of Sondre Lerche but he was a perfect example of someone who brought his own interpretation of the song while still maintaining its essence. “I’m A Boy” was perfect. It wasn’t a straight cover, but he clearly *got* the song and invested it with appropriate angst.

Kaki King, on the other hand, offered an untethered “Pinball Wizard” which had no guts. Seriously, “Pinball Wizard”? Pete has fucked up on that song on more than one occasion. You can’t play “Pinball Wizard” with detached coolness or less than technical precision and expect the song to register. The Postelles were up next, and while everything about them screamed indier-than-thou, sonically, at least, they were faithful. The vocal delivery just didn’t fit. I’ve never seen them so I don’t know if that was their shtick, but it was like hearing ‘I Can’t Explain” sung by Mick Jagger – but Jagger circa 1971, kinda campy. So it didn’t really work, but at least there was some energy on the stage.

When Asaf Avadan opened his mouth and started to sing “Naked Eye,” I knew immediately that I was going to completely love it or violently hate it his version. His voice is not one that’s easily accepted by your ears, and I can’t say that I’d buy his records or go see him, but his interpretation of that song was absolutely brilliant. I am sure this was the most radical cover of “Naked Eye” that I will ever hear in my entire life, but it was also absolutely valid. It’s the one I could have seen Pete and Roger standing and applauding the hardest.

I have a confession to make: all of these years, I assumed that Mose Allison was 1) dead and 2) of African-American descent. I don’t know where I gathered that conclusion from, but boy was I wrong. It was helpful, in a meat-and-potatoes rock history basics sort of way, to hear “Young Man Blues” from the mouth of its creator, but it was also underwhelming. This statement may well position me as a savage.

Bob Mould brought the energy back with a version of “Can’t Reach You” that had every ounce of his being invested in it. The only thing that was missing was a windmill (something missing THE ENTIRE NIGHT. I could get that if Pete had actually been there – but seriously, people – no windmills?!). But it wasn’t a surprise that Bob Mould was going to knock his performance out of the park. My only complaint was that he was not loud enough.

Nicole Atkins, however, could have been hit or miss – but was definitely the former. I appreciated that she dressed for the occasion, and her version of “The Song Is Over” was completely and utterly beautiful. She infused it with flavor but didn’t ruin the essence of the song. Her voice also benefited more than anyone’s from the Carnegie Hall acoustics.

Rich Pagano & the Sugarcane Cups were the house band and they kicked ass. Everything about them was perfect for the music. They were faithful to the original arrangements and brought boatloads of energy to the table. Their solo contribution was an outtake from the Lifehouse Demos, the version of “Love Ain’t For Keeping” from that set. I appreciated that someone brought the obsessive fan element to the table, but that it wasn’t so obscure that no one knew what it was.

Bobby McFarrin got more applause than Bob Mould. I’m sorry, Bobby McFarrin? Again, maybe I’m just some kind of savage but I’m not even sure why he was there. He did a Bobby McFarrin-like interpretation of “My Generation” and I was just not impressed. Like, a Bobby McFarrin imitator could have pulled that off.

Luckily, the Smithereens came on next. And while this was another gimme – how many of you bought that live EP just so you could have that version of “The Seeker” – besides Living Color, they brought the unabashed ROCK to the evening. “The Seeker” was good, it was fine, it was even great – but then they went into a “Sparks” that was so incendiary I started to suspect that perhaps they had bogarted the spot and jammed in a song that they weren’t scheduled to play. (No dice, it was in the program.) It was raw. It was powerful. It was everything that was beautiful and perfect and earthshaking about the Who. That, in my book, earned a standing ovation, and they got one (but not from the same people who applauded Bobby McFarrin).

Matt Nathanson was charming, he was clearly nervous, he was excited to be there. However, he also delivered a terrible version of “The Real Me”. There is no irony anywhere to be found on the Quadrophenia album. There is no irony in that song, and it is not a crowd participation number. (And I won’t even mention the guy on the ironic stand-up snare and kick drum, another thing that could not be more out of place on a song on which Keith Moon sounds like he has grown another 8 arms). I received a barrage of “omg he’s so nice and funny” messages on Twitter after I posted a brief summary of this – I’m sure he is, but he was just out of his element here. I’m sorry I do not like your dude.

Bettye LaVette was another artist that was worth the price of admission. And I know you’re going to tell me that you saw the Kennedy Center thing or you saw her on YouTube and so you know how awesome it is. No. This is where I tell you that you absolutely do not know how awesome it is until you sit there and listen to that woman with that voice and that presence sing “Love, Reign O’er Me” like the song was written for her. I had goosebumps.

Pulling on my flame retardant suit, I will offer that Jason Isbell’s cover of “Behind Blue Eyes” meant well but had no soul, no bite, no yearning. If you choose to play that song at a Who tribute you had better come armed for bear because that song is the essence of the Townshend-Daltrey relationship, and I know that Isbell’s smart enough to know that. I am not arguing that he’s not talented. I’m saying that he didn’t have what it takes to pull off that song.

Conan’s untimely demise means that we once again have Jimmy Vivino’s Fab Faux back in operation on the East Coast. They gave us a solid and competent Tommy medley. My only argument with that it that that interlude in the show was about transcendence and you don’t get transcendence or even close with a band of session guys, no matter how awesome they are. But it was good for someone to come in at that point of the show and play perfect copies of those songs.

Willie Nile. Willie Nile is the only artist – on a night where a very busy crew efficiently gets each artist on and off the stage as quickly as possible – who felt the need to try to talk, to try to rev the crowd up, and to dedicate his song to Pete and Roger – several times. He was also on a crutch, and I have a small suspicion that some pain meds might have been involved – or perhaps he was just loopy. His version of “The Kids Are Alright” I noted as “adequate”.

Robyn Hitchcock came out with Lenny Kaye and Sean Nelson (with whom he had just performed with this past Sunday) for a lovely version of “Substitute,” capped with an “A Quick One” intro (and why no one played THAT I still don’t know).

I have not been a Gaslight Anthem fan because I dislike being a bandwagon jumper, and there were too many people I knew that leapt onto moving vehicles the minute a Mr. B. Springsteen showed up to play with them at Glastonbury (nothing makes me less likely to do something or go somewhere than a bunch of Bruce fans embracing something as one). However, I have been coming around, and tonight definitely helped. I will say that while their version of “Baba O’Riley” (and I love that they basically are covering the Pearl Jam version of “Baba,” and not the Who’s – which is also okay), I thought they were surprisingly subdued for what I’ve seen and heard of them. The performance was a highlight but just a tiny bit underwhelming. It could also have been just the contrast to some of the other acts.

I knew Patti Smith was coming so I wasn’t surprised when Lenny and Tony Shanahan and Jay Dee came out onstage, but I was surprised that they were going to reprise “My Generation” when it had already been done. I had entertained fantasies of her covering “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. My significant other kept trying to lobby enthusiastically for “Magic Bus,” but I suspect that was mostly because he knows how much I hated the song when the Who played it (hell, Entwistle hated playing it). “Carnegie Hall, please forgive me,” Patti invoked with a smile, before crashing into “My Generation”. The tittering audience around me, and the two people (with whom I am personally acquainted) who were the only ones in the entire place standing up for this song indicated to me that most folks had no idea that this version was canon, but I will forgive them.

This is the part in the show where, if the artists being honored were in the building, that they would show their face. Unfortunately, there was no sign of the boys from Shepherd’s Bush as all of the artists from the evening came streaming onto the stage. The organ riff in the background made it clear (at least to anyone who actually knew even the smallest thing about the Who) what the next song was supposed to be. This is also the part where the problem of this being at Carnegie comes into play – people try to be well behaved (except for the friends of Rich Pagano who sat behind us all night, yakking) and the well-behaved means that people don’t stand up when they might want to stand up. Once the crowd was up and clapping, the song began.

And no one onstage knew the words.

When I say “no one knew the words” I really do mean, no one – except the guys in the house band, the Smithereens, and a guy wearing a watch cap that I think might have been Matt Nathanson (but he had lyrics for his number, so that doesn’t necessarily redeem him), and Willie Nile (maybe) – knew the words to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. Everyone was standing there with lyric sheets – and even then no one would come up and take a verse or even a line. And I mean, I get it, it’s Carnegie Hall and stuff, but the only conclusion I could draw was that NO ONE KNEW THE FUCKING LYRICS TO WON’T GET FOOLED AGAIN, and before you make any sort of excuses, NO ONE NEEDED A FUCKING LYRIC SHEET FOR FUCKING ROSALITA at the Springsteen tribute, AND there was the added nerve case of the actual artist being onstage at the same time which would be a legitimate reason for being intimidated and hanging back a little.

[Addendum: Sean Nelson was singing but for some reason refused to commandeer a mic.]

( I could go off on a tirade here about people not having any business being in the business of rock and roll if they don’t know the fucking canon, but that is me likely making too much of something that is not there, and it will become too much “old man hollers at cloud” so I will stop.)

Suffice it to say that the encore was a trainwreck and while I videotaped it, there’s no point in me putting it up because all you will hear is 1) me singing when I realize no one there is singing to illustrate the point that it’s not a difficult song to sing and 2) me talking about how no one is singing and 3) more of #1. Props go to Nicole Atkins for knowing where the power scream was supposed to be and running to the mic to nail it.

While the evening was mostly solid, I was glad Pete and Roger were not there for this encore. We needed a star, we needed a musical director, we needed someone other than Willie Nile waving his crutch around and trying to be elder statesman. The people in front of me who got up as soon as Patti was done were, in hindsight, very smart.

All of that said, I still love these shows and love the causes they benefit. I’ll be back.

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the who. the halftime show.

The official Caryn L. Rose line on the Who’s Super Bowl performance is this: I do not think it was terrible.

Let’s get this out of the way: It didn’t top Bruce. It didn’t top Prince. It didn’t top U2. But it did make me cry, just a little. I cried because I love/d them. I cried because they are old. I cried because I am old. I cried because the music of my youth is dying. I cried because Roger can’t go onstage shirtless anymore. I cried because John is dead, because I never got to see Keith, because there is no one else like them, no one who comes close to them.

I know I am not objective. I know I am emotional and irrational and have a stormy history with this band. But they were the first band I loved insanely. I do not have to be objective.

The performance tonight was a rock band – one of THE rock bands – playing onstage. Just playing. In a few years we will all forget what that was like, a band, just playing onstage, without gimmicks or theatrics. There are no more bands like this, who form when they are young and stick together 20, 30, 40 years. Consider that U2 is the only band in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame that still has their original members. Think about this. It was not the Who at their best, but this era is not them at their best. They are old. They have aged. Roger’s voice, which he coddled for years, has not held up. At least he has learned to not to try to hit the notes and miss them, he has figured out how to modulate around them and still deliver a solid performance. But it is not power screaming Roger Daltrey, and if you are looking for that, you are better off watching The Kids Are Alright on repeat. You don’t go for that. Or if you do, you’re not very smart.

You go for the emotional heartstrings being played, and they can still do that. I got goosebumps when “Won’t Get Fooled Again” started. I got goosebumps during “Listening To You”. If you didn’t then these aren’t your songs, this isn’t your band, you don’t care about rock and roll and it’s just background music to you. And I get that this might not be relevant to you. But there’s an awful lot of people to whom it was relevant. Those people are also getting old along with Roger and Pete and in a few years you can have Lady Gaga doing the halftime show for you instead.

Pete, Roger, Zak Starkey on drums, Pino Palladino on bass, Rabbit Bundrick on keys. Simon Townshend filling in the gaps (who I have forgiven previous transgressions due to his work with Roger on his solo tour). This is the Who core right now, and it is sad in a way that I was relieved that it was the people I already know and not someone new. I liked the staging, I liked the clear drums with the target cymbals (okay I LOVED the target cymbals), I liked how I was not seeing the camera cut to audience plants who have no idea who this is or have never seen the band before and could mostly care less. The connection with the audience was a big part of what the Who was, but you weren’t going to get it here. The lighting and setup were topnotch.

Zak was remarkably restrained and so was Pete and I think that put a damper on the energy. Not enough guitar, too much keyboard in the mix. When Pete did play, it was fantastic, melodic, compact – which is a freaking challenge in a medley of songs that don’t easily lend themselves to being medley-ized, in a band that was never about brevity (remember Pete in TKAA going on about Kit Lambert giving him a hard time about songs being more than “2 minutes 50”). But the BIGGEST problem, hands down, was the fucking JACKET. For years we have all gotten on his case for his need to wear expensive suits onstage, which he then spends the entire fucking show moving and adjusting and it gets in the way and causes him to miss solos and notes and windmills. WHY ON EARTH DID YOU DECIDE TO WEAR IT TONIGHT? “It’s just not windmill conducive,” to quote a friend texting me after the show.

Roger hit the scream on WGFA and that was all that mattered. The look of relief on his face when it was over showed just how nervous he was.

I haven’t seen them live since the tour when John died, out at the Gorge, when I yelled at the thunder for taking the Ox from us. I wasn’t going to see Roger on the most recent solo outing until a friend gave me a free ticket. I will probably go this time around, because this time will likely be goodbye.

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Shea Goodbye

townshendI was writing a post about concerts I have seen at Shea Stadium, and my paragraph on the Who prompted me to dig around on the hard drive for this masterpiece. Continue Reading »

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amazing journey (the new who doc)

I’m so out of Whoville, I only found out about this film because I’m (somehow) on the mailing list for the Museum of Theater and Television. I missed the premiere there because I was laid off when the tickets went on sale, and, well, the whole being out of Whoville thing. The boyfriend found it in the VH1 listings and DVR’d it.

It’s funny how I slip back into it, though. You know the story, you know the legends, you know the players, you know what’s coming next. The boyfriend made a comment about something and I snapped, “That’s because this is Roger’s thing,” without even thinking, as though – how could you NOT know that?

I wish it had been six hours. Nine. And I appreciated that we saw things we hadn’t seen, and there was latitude for Pete to ramble, and enough footage of John (but not enough of Keith talking, and I say that realizing that Keith was not always the best interview, but, C’MON, this was Roger’s thing so he could have gotten whatever he wanted, Roger who’s been embargoing any story about Keith because HE wants to do it – sorry, digressing)

More than anything, I appreciated the segment on John, and the honesty, and the anger, and the sadness and the regret. It wasn’t that long ago, and the wounds are still the tiniest bit raw, still.

By the end of it, I was committed to seeing them the next time they roll through, ticket prices be damned. Because – recent blog posts from Pete aside – the truth is that it’s a question of IF they roll through again. I have always felt that I had my run, and it was good, and nothing was ever going to top that week in 1999 when I was in the first 10 rows of Shoreline for both nights of Bridge and then flew to Chicago not long after for one HOB show, which I said at the time was one of the best nights of my life and I’d still say that.

It’s such a mix of emotions with this band, ones I’ve never been able to walk away from. I’m very zen about not seeing the Stones again (because, again, having had my run, I don’t see the need to be greedy).
But Townshend and Daltrey don’t get out from under your skin that easily.

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my answer to “omg how could you not go see the who at msg this week!”

EXHIBIT #1 – note the *price*:

[after the jump, due to layout issues]

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Petra Haden Sings The Who Sell Out

I became a die-hard Who fan at the age of 15. Did I say die-hard? More like obsessed, obsessive, consumed, in love with a rock band the way you can probably only be when you are discovering the world and your place in it for the first time.

Now, Mike Watt and d.boon (of the late, great Minutemen) were also die-hard Who fans from a young age, and had a friendship that was cemented, solidified through their shared love of and for music. d.boon died in an automobile accident in 1985, and Watt (he’s just Watt) has continued fighting the good fight and continued making great music.

Petra Hayden Sings The Who Sell Out is the brainwave of Mike Watt, and was inspired by his friendship with d.boon and their shared Who obsession. Watt suggested the idea to Haden, who is a friend and colleague, and she took on the challenge. The result is what will definitely be one of the most remarkable albums of the year.

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