David Hinckley, Daily News Staff Writer
A bad night for Pete Townshend will turn out to be a good night for fans of the Who, not to mention the Maryville Academy. Townshend often raises money for Maryville, a group that helps abused and neglected children. July 28 at the Supper Club, he played a set with Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder to promote a Maryville benefit CD due in September.
The Who entered the Maryville story through a prior lapse in judgment.
"I hadn't had a drink for 11 years," Townshend said Wednesday. "Then I decided I was rich enough, so I deserved one, and I began allowing myself an occasional beer.
"Then, for some reason, before a show in Chicago I drank a bottle of vodka. I don't remember a thing, except I'm sure the show was a f------ mess."
As penance, he got Who bandmates Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle to join him for another Chicago show, scheduled for Nov. 19. The show will be recorded, and there may even be a couple of new Who songs.
But Townshend matter-of-factly describes himself as "outside the mainstream of rock 'n' roll" these days. He's mostly a producer, with one of his clients being himself. After reworking his seminal rock opera, "Tommy," into a hit Broadway show, then resuscitating "Quadrophenia" for the Who, he's reshaping three other theme projects - the 1972 "Lifehouse," the 1985 "White City" and the 1989 "Iron City."
"Lifehouse," which uses Who songs like "Baba O'Riley" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" and was shelved after lukewarm audience reaction a quarter-century ago, airs Dec. 5 on BBC radio.
Its premise is an international technological network called The Grid, a somewhat eerie foreshadowing of the Internet. It's an apocalyptic vision, and Townshend says that while he sees the world differently at 54 than he did at 27, he isn't backing down from this one.
"As everything gets bigger, technology makes the world smaller," he says. "At some point, there will be an explosion - pollution, political, whatever - and we will relearn that the only way we can survive is congregationally. We can't do it alone."
The vintage music in "Lifehouse" won't be the Who recordings, but Townshend's original demos - a step taken, he says, "so I didn't have to wrestle with the record label over the rights to my own songs."
He also suggests time has given songs like "Won't Get Fooled Again" a broader - and, perhaps, truer - context.
"Songs like 'Fooled' and 'Baba O'Riley' were misunderstood. Or not understood as I meant them. The line 'They're all wasted' was a comment on how society views some people - as waste, not worth anything. But it was interpreted as a call to something like what just happened at this latest Woodstock."
Townshend, of course, has his own Woodstock history - kicking activist Abbie Hoffman off the stage in 1969.
"I regret that now," he says. "My actions were more antagonistic than they needed to be. My motivation was that people had come for music, not speeches - and if Abbie hadn't been so stoned, perhaps I'd have reacted different. But what he was arguing for was very valid."
In general, as Townshend builds new work in part on his old, he says he feels pretty good.
"When I was 34, I felt worn-out, run-down, very old," he says. "Now, I'm convinced that age is much less about physical years than attitude and energy."
And at the Supper Club
It was Eddie Vedder to the rescue July 28, as the Pearl Jam frontman's guest appearance sharpened up Pete Townshend's fascinating and uneven solo set at the Supper Club.
Alone, Townshend started with a fiery "Won't Get Fooled Again" and followed with "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Drowned" before moving to the piano for "Zoot Suit," "Slit Skirts" and "I Put a Spell on You."
It all had the deliberately loose feel of watching Townshend cut demos, which, as always, has great moments and lulls.
Vedder's arrival focused things, starting with "Heart to Hang Onto," then whipping through a long "Magic Bus" and a superb "Let's See Action."
Singing with Vedder also invigorated Townshend's voice, and they offered some nice harmonies on a wistful "Til the Rivers All Run Dry." They finished up with a robust "The One," sending the fans in the invitation-only crowd home happy.