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the who, the gorge, 7-6-2002

I had mixed feelings about going to this show. Friends were saying, “Have a great time” and I would cut them off. It felt wrong to say “Have a great time” or to be excited about seeing Pete and Roger. Prior to John’s death, I didn’t own a ticket to this show, or any other for that matter. But after John died and they decided to continue the tour, I decided that I had to be there. If they could still get up onstage and play, then they needed and deserved my support. That didn’t make the feeling any less weird. It was weird to not have that sense of excitement about going to a show, going to see the Who, but for it to be there hovering somewhere in the background. I was afraid that I would just cry the whole day, or at least the whole show. So I put on my waterproof mascara and vintage Quadrophenia shirt and headed out to eastern Washington with some friends.

When they walked onstage and launched into the “Substitute”/”Can’t Explain”/”Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” trio, I felt that old familiar rush of happiness and excitement. I couldn’t stop it. I thought they’d walk out and I’d just cry and cry for the entire show. And that didn’t happen. During ”Anyway Anyhow Anywhere”, I looked toward what would have been John’s side and then the tears started a little, but the music was too big, too great, too wonderful for that to last for long.

I thought this show was tremendous. Roger’s voice is the strongest I’ve heard it in years, it almost never faltered. Pete’s playing was focused and inspired, none of the meandering that he sometimes lapsed into in previous years. So much energy and power and presence and emotion.

To my surprise, I thoroughly enjoyed “Another Tricky Day”. I had bought a 12th row seat from a friend, and then we commandeered 5th row seats, and by this point, I’d been moved to the end of that aisle, which – due to the weird seating configuration at the Gorge – is actually against the barrier. So I ended up right in front of Pino. In my mind’s eye, I could see John standing there instead. I just tried not to think about it.

I watched “My Generation” from Shoreline on Pete’s site and felt the gaping hole intensely. But being there is somehow different. Even when the Quadrophenia section of the set began with “5:15” I kind of held my breath, waiting to feel that glaring absence. No, it wasn’t the same as if John was there, but it was still valid and powerful. “Sea And Sand” was amazing, even better than Quadrophenia 96, and “Love, Reign O’er Me” was unbelievable. I watched Roger’s face intently and hoped that that was sweat running down his face and not tears, even though I was shedding enough at that moment for both of us. They follow that with “Behind Blue Eyes,” Roger at the front of the stage, naked and exposed, honest as ever.

Every time it seemed that Roger was getting emotional, Pete would mug or make some face in his direction and that would lighten the mood – for all of us. What I love about the Who, unlike, say, the Stones, is that the interaction and emotion and friendship between the members is still very much there, very present. This is even more pronounced now. They need to lean on each other to get through it and they do. There was much love, much laughter, and much emotion of all kinds. Pete’s face during many songs told it all.

The only low point in the set for me was “Eminence Front”. The bassline in that song is so crucial and Pino hasn’t really found a way to fit into it yet. Pete had no focus and there was no groove, and part of me suspects he wasn’t focused because he was emotional. I don’t like “You Better You Bet” any more now than I ever have. But I had no issues with “Bargain” or “Relay” or “My Generation,” unlike other fans. This show was so loud and so overwhelming that it was impossible not to respond to it. And there I am in the front row, somehow, not believing that I am there, not believing that I am so close, just lost in the lights and the volume and the songs. I mean, utterly and completely lost, I let go of everything and just jumped in.

“My Generation”. Oh, my god. It was just so – punk rock. Thrashing, screaming, biting, intense as hell. I pogoed madly until my feet hurt. It’s not the same without John, no. If they played it the way they had on previous tours, fairly straight ahead, it would have been different. But lighting that fuse and then going out there and taking no prisoners the way they are playing it now, it works. Even if you hold your breath when it comes to the bass solo.

“Won’t Get Fooled Again” and the guitar smash. The energy in WGFA was kind of odd, it wasn’t that huge overwhelming anthem that it usually is, but it started picking up energy at the end, after the power scream. Pete started playing a solo, notes that sounded like tears falling on the stage. And he just dove into it emotionally, running up and balancing on the monitor, and then falling back, and then the band coming into another end. And then he’s got the guitar up in starting position and I thought he was just joking – but then I held my breath as he went for it with down to the very marrow of his bones, and then held it up, pieces still shaking barely together, and smirked. And then we all laughed with him. “Don’t all fight for it now…” he said, as they walked off the stage prior to the encore. They lingered for a bit, waving and making eye contact with the audience. That’s when stupid me blows a kiss in Roger’s direction, and he blows one back at me. It was the only way I knew to say thank you, say I’m sorry, say I’m with you.

There were jokes: Roger thanking the powers that be for controlling the wind (the Gorge being utterly and completely out of doors, at the edge of the Columbia River Gorge, hence the name) makes the sound a dodgy proposition at the best of times. But then he says, “speaking of wind..” and fans in the direction of his rear end. Pete laughs and says, “whoa… It’s headed your way!” Yes, the Who making fart jokes.

The Tommy medley was, for me, even better than the Quadrophenia segment, and that’s saying a lot. Roger smashing the hell out of those tambourines. And then “Listening To You,” and I’m standing there with my arms raised, just singing and singing along as hard as I can. It was at the last part of “Listening To You” that I finally broke down and cried and cried and cried, while singing as hard as I could. I had the thought at that moment: this may be it. This may the last time you ever see this, feel this again. And that thought was unbearable, which just made me cry harder. This time, I wasn’t trying to hide it. I just stood there and cried and didn’t give a fuck what anyone around me might have thought.

This show is triumph and tribute, mourning and celebration. It was so much more than I expected, and absolutely everything that I needed – emotionally and musically. This was so the right decision for them to make. The songs are still the same songs you know and love, played for all that they’re worth. They aren’t going out there and phoning it in. There is nothing half-hearted about these performances. They are giving all they can give every night. And that is the best possible tribute they could have given John. Cancelling the tour wouldn’t have done anything except placate people who think they have the right to tell Pete and Roger how they should mourn their friend. And they are mourning. I don’t think there’s a single moment when Pete and Roger aren’t thinking of John up there. You can see it in their faces and at times it is utterly heart-wrenching.

As we were herded up the aisle by security, I’m kind of walking ahead of everyone else, looking up at the stars and that huge expanse of eastern Washington sky. And all of a sudden I start to yell: “hey! You! Why now! Why’d you have to take him now! Did you need a bass player *that* fucking badly! Why John! Why not – Geddy Lee, or something….” I didn’t mean to be funny, and I don’t know where it came from. But I was standing there, looking at the sky, and screaming, railing at the cosmos.

As we continue to walk out, friends of mine are trying to talk me into going to another show, offering me tickets for Chicago or Irvine or Denver or MSG. And as tempting as it is, as much as I would love to see this again, it wouldn’t be the same and I got everything I needed from the show last night. I said my goodbyes, I relived my memories, I felt every emotion I have ever felt at a Who concert. I don’t need anything more.

We never get thunder in Seattle. We’re in this weird “convergence zone” between two mountain ranges that stops it from getting through to us. Today, as I sit and write this, it is raining, and there is thunder rolling through. I’m finding it a lovely coincidence that it’s happening the day after the Who played here.

Goodbye, John.

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“on top of the sky is a place where you go…”

John Entwistle, also known as Thunderfingers, The Ox, The Quiet One, and Johnny Twinkle (hey, ask Daltrey about that one, I sure don’t know), was found dead today of a heart attack at age 57. On the eve of a Who tour that was to begin tomorrow.

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pt at la jolla, 6/22-23

I was just thirty-four years old and I was still wandering in a haze….

I am still a little horrified that I spent $500 on concert tickets this past weekend. Or maybe I’m more horrified that I had $500 available to spend on concert tickets. (Just call me a rich yuppie software asshole wannabe. Ed Vedder will be coming over any second now to perform his weekly rendition of “Soon Forget” as punishment for my sins.)

But it was Pete. And I missed too much Pete because of being, well, not here. I missed the PsychoD shows, I missed the Supper Club, I missed the infamous Berkeley Community Theater shows (Vedder reference #2: according to friends Who [sic] were there that night, Ed was sitting front row center with his brand new DAT recorder that he couldn’t get to work, and was asking people for help. “Sure, not that I’ve ever seen one of these before, but I think you press that button there…” I later found out that those shows were the first time that Ed and Pete met.), I missed HOB ’97. And of course I missed 89 and the Tommy revival and “The Who On Ice” but I would have missed those on principle even if I’d been in the country.

So, Pete. Solo. Alone. No annoying keyboard player or percussionist. Very expensive tickets. Open-toed shoes. I even packed (but chickened out on wearing) a skirt. There will be no pogoing tonight. It was, admittedly, not very rock and roll, at all. Not sure how I felt about that, either.

Night one was more about disbelief. I’d waited so long to see Pete like this. It was this lovely little cozy theater with cushy seats and lots of leg room, perfect acoustics (I mean perfect). Pete was effusive and warm and engaging and full of witty banter and stories. This is why we have something called “Storytellers,” but we have it because there are people like Pete Townshend who actually have something to say. Someone like, oh, say, Dave Matthews has nothing to say. Unfortunately, the whole thing was ruined once it became a concept and a promotional vehicle. Most of the people on that show would do well to shut up for another 5 or 10 years and then maybe they’d have something worthwhile to blather on about for an hour and a half.

Pete gave it all to us. He played, he sang, he took us on these seemingly stream-of-conscious journeys that always came back to the starting point. He talked about his son asking him for help with guitar chords and what does Pete’s son want to learn? Some “Blink one-eight-two” song. (He told the story again night two, and even went so far as to say, “Can I show you how to play it? Well, I wrote it….”)

The songs in the set were fairly standard, you could probably have guessed them in advance. “Pinball Wizard,” “Let My Love Open The Door,” “Sheraton Gibson,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. And then the ones I wouldn’t have guessed: “Slit Skirts,” “The Sea Refuses No River,” “Eminence Front”. “The Sea Refuses No River” especially, Pete whinged for 15 minutes before actually playing it, unfurling this lengthy piece of sheet music on top of his grand piano, putting it off as long as possible, telling us how bad he is on piano, that he plays so well at home but live and in front of people he just sucks. Was it perfect? No. But it was “The Sea Refuses No River,” introduced as a song from when he was doing heroin and being miserable, and the fact that I got to see it at all, ever, speaks for itself. And I think it’s a song that he probably should be stumbling over. Pete talked about that now he’s kind of surprised that he was able to create at all those years, let alone anything good. It was moving because of its imperfection.

I don’t know why I thought I should have some kind of Divine right to the blues…

I have never seen Pete do “Slit Skirts” live. I realize that espousing Chinese Eyes as any kind of touchstone probably opens up a whole Pandora’s box of what that says about me. I also do find some of the songs on there fairly dreadful (“Communication” anyone??). But “Slit Skirts,” “The Sea Refuses No River,” and “Somebody Saved Me” have always been my trilogy of hope from that record. I think I always identified with the despair and desperation and, finally, resilience that those songs hold. Those songs were (we know now) Pete at what was probably his rock bottom.

But, again, “Slit Skirts”. It too, like “The Sea Refuses No River,” had its bumps and its jolts and mixed up lyrics. But Pete covers the errors up like a master, and it was only the truly faithful who really noticed. The theatre crowd had no idea.

Night one seemed rougher, and night two was, I think, more musically proficient – but only in spots. There were some pretty big lyrical gaffes in songs like “Tattoo,” which surprised me.

Pete seemed very touched by the death of John Lee Hooker the day before the first night’s show. Night two he came out for the encore with this lovely Ephiphone (which looks like the one he’s holding in one of the Chinese Eyes singles covers) and played “Driftin’,” a blues classic, as well as the Mose Allison version of “Eyesight to the Blind”. It was during those very loyal and deeply feeling songs that I realized that Chinese Eyes was, in itself, Pete’s version of a blues album. Okay, it was rich white rock star takes heroin, gets estranged from his wife, and makes himself miserable, but hell, Eric Clapton’s made a career out of that. (Ouch!)

The first night was over in the blink of an eye, which to me is always the sign of a really great show. I don’t want to sound clichéd but for me that first night was magic. It didn’t seem real.

Night two : a last minute upgrade from sixth-row aisle seats – a Playhouse representative explaining that some “special guests” needed our seats. Sure, we’ll move. So we are now 6th row DEAD CENTER, we are in the $1,000 seats. I guess the expensive seats were the first few rows, and then the center further up. Now I feel out of place. I’m not going to say that these people weren’t fans, but it was just ODD. Luckily, the people sitting right next to us were huge fans, and were incredibly enthusiastic about the whole thing.

Our seats were perfect. They were better than the first few rows. They were just about level with the stage and only six rows up. It was really kind of overwhelming, Pete so close and so unadorned, without six security guards between us and the stage.

This show was different, somehow, in how I reacted to it. It wasn’t as overwhelming for me. The folks next to us were experiencing the show as I experienced it on Friday, while it’s a little less intense on my side. I’m able to listen more carefully, notice small details. For me, the gift of this show is in the small insights and the details. I know he talked a lot – people were complaining about this before the show – but I expected him to talk a lot and I dunno, I would have been disappointed if he didn’t address us often and at great length.

Back to the whole contradiction thing. It saddened me that many of the diehard Who fans I’d expect to see weren’t in La Jolla this weekend because of the ticket price. As the House of Blues shows have proved, high ticket price does not equal true fandom. And there were parts of the show where I sat and wondered how much these shows meant to everyone in the audience and why they were there. Night one we sat next to a young teenage kid and his dad, and my first thought was, “is he here for himself or for you?” (We had that discussion on the Springsteen list during the reunion tour, people bringing their kids, putting them in really hard to get floor seats, using their kids as props to get Bruce’s attention at the backstage entrance.) But I was delighted when this young lad sprung to his feet applauding madly after “Eminence Front,” completely unprompted by dad. He was a fan. I don’t know if the father was – if he was then he must have just been glowing inside to share this with his kid.

To play devil’s advocate, Pete was introduced by Des MacAnuff as a “raconteur” and I wonder if he didn’t really TRY to be Pete Townshend because that’s what he was there to do. On the other hand, age may have mellowed him a bit, but he’s still Pete, and he’s just not very good at forcing things. I remember how awful he looked at the Daltrey Sings Townshend shows. He didn’t want to be there, didn’t plan to be there, so Roger changes the name of the show to “Daltrey Sings Townshend” and suddenly Pete has no choice. He shows up, looking 10 years older than he does now, and sings an odd arrangement of a PsychoD song that it took about a dozen diehards at least a minute to recognize. (Whispering in the second row: “What is this?” “I don’t know, what IS this?” “I think it’s from Psychoderelict, but I don’t recognize it at all…”)

I don’t know. Maybe I’m tired of being cynical. Maybe it’s just too much work. I’d much rather evaluate these shows on what they meant to me, and my immediate, pure, emotional reaction to them, rather than try to focus on the faults. Maybe because I got to experience these shows, instead of having to chronicle them. I don’t know. More like, maybe it’s because of all the years I didn’t have an option to see Pete. I still feel a level of guilt at spending the money, but then again I remember all the various times in my life when I didn’t have any money at all to spend on a normal rock show. I missed too much back then.

The errors and the roughness didn’t bother me all that much. To me, they were an indication of how uncontrived the evening was. In the end, I walked out feeling like I’d spent two evenings in Pete’s living room. I felt like I’d seen something incredibly special. I felt rich and happy – not rich in a monetary sense, but rich in all the years I have as a fan of the Who and of Pete’s music. Just really fucking lucky.

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