NEW YORK CITY – May 28, 2015 – BEST BUY THEATER
MusiCares MAP Fund Benefit: Honoring Pete Townshend and Bill Curbishley
This was a very special event, the kind of one-off that makes each tour unique. MusiCares is a wonderful organization, founded to support those musicians or singers/writers who need help, all funded by others in the music world. MusiCares offers solid support like rent, car payments, or treatment for Parkinsons or cancer. Generally, this involved those who’ve “done quite well” in music giving back to those in the industry who may not have done as well, or have fallen on hard times in recent years. (It’s truly a generous program. Look into it if you know anyone who needs help.) The MAP fund is a specific portion of MusiCares that offers help with recovery and treatment for those suffering from addictive situations. Serious stuff, and close to all our hearts, as we’ve all known people seriously affected by this.
Tonight’s show was an awareness and fund-raiser held in the tiny Best Buy Theater right near Times Square (really no more than a few hundred seats).The floor had reserved tables and couches for the big-money guests, but everyone in the room was close to the stage, compared to a big WHO concert. Food and drinks were served as Mix Master Mike (Beastie Boys) provided some unusual DJ work; obviously aware his guests were a bit older, he was mixing modern beats with classic rock, from Fleetwood Mac to Billy Squier. Once settled, the event began…
Introductions of the MusiCares cause and leaders brought everyone up to speed. The Who band were introduced, playing a great version of the “Overture” that preceeds Tommy.
A quick auction for a Daltrey/Townshend signed guitar raised tens of thousands quickly: as, for once, someone smart had been paying attention! The guitar sold was an Epiphone Wiltshire, the same model a young Peter Townshend had bought from a young Roger Daltrey in 1963. Former MTV VJ Colin Quinn introduced Joan Jett, a Manhattan local, and always a favorite. Joan did her two songs “Summertime Blues” and “I Can’t Explain” simply and perfectly – her voice is great on almost any rock material.
Roger Waters appeared on video, saying some very nice things about Pete and Bill Curbishley (The WHO’s manager for nearly 45 years). He’d wished he could be there, and insisted Pete invite him again anytime “before I get old!” The Waters video (as were the others seen tonight) was specially done for this event; hopefully they’ll release these, as it’s great to see the personalities and connections to Pete and Bill that they bring forth. Willie Nile played next, a raucous pair of tunes: “Substitute” and “The Kids Are Alright.” Long ago, Willie was asked to open for The Who on their Summer 1980 tour, as Pete was such a fan of his music.
Joe Walsh showed up on video next, apologizing as the Eagles “required” his attendance at all their shows – so he was away playing a gig tonight. Joe said wonderful, warm things about his long connection to Pete (“I Love you like a brother…”)
Doug Morris presented Bill Curbishley with his award. Bill is rarely seen making speeches, but he quite good at them! He mentioned his many years with The Who and how “everything we have in England came from here,” meaning the band’s great acceptance in the 1970s USA market was really responsible for their good lifestyle today.
Video of Ronnie Wood came next, also tied to shows and unable to attend personally. Mick Jagger appeared, too, both of them good friends and fans of Pete’s music. Roger Daltrey came out to play some tunes with the band. Rog mentioned how rare it was to get an honest manager like Bill in music, especially back in their day. Roger did storming versions of “The Seeker” and “Young Man Blues.” His microphone work on the latter song was classic Daltrey, as wide and far as he could swing it. Zak was baptized quickly on this one, with only a short run-through this afternoon; he’d never played this version of the song live. Roger had been scheduled to play two quieter songs, but realized this crowd would appreciate the louder, more-fun songs he chose. Well-done.
Billy Idol did “The Real Me” and “Who Are You” in his own unique style, full of attitude and grit, rather than trying to emulate any previous Who versions. He definitely made them his own tonight. Billy mentioned the substantial support and advice he’d gotten from Pete over the years, and many of you may have seen him as guest on previous Who Quadrophenia or Tommy shows. Appropriate to find him on “Who Are You” as it was written when the English punk scene had just been born (Billy in Generation X then). Pete had run into the members of the new Sex Pistols drinking in Soho, and had an identity crisis over whether The Who were musical dinosaurs or (as The Pistols felt) still valid and cool.
Sir Elton John video came on, and he called Pete one of the greatest writers of the 20th Century. MusiCares Neil Portnow introduced Bruce Springsteen next, to the typical “Brooooce” chants from the crowd. Bruce’s speech was sweet and powerful, as he is. He mentioned being a young teen in 1967, waiting in line on the Jersey Boardwalk, hoping to see The Who. He remembers seeing the poster for the gig as they went in: “Herman’s Hermits!!” as The Who were just the supporting act, opening the show that day. It was Bruce’s first big rock concert. He called it “lewd, aggressive magic” that lasted less than 30 minutes until The Who smashed their equipment. The next week, he knew he couldn’t afford to smash a guitar himself, so he bought a strobe light and a smoke bomb; he set them off and smashed a stolen vase of petunias at the Catholic school dance they were playing; not quite as effective as The Who, he decided! He mentioned when every Who LP came out, he found himself in their music. He also explained some Who tracks that inspired his own best work, “The Seeker” is the guy in “Born to Run”, “Jungleland” has chord crashes emulating Pete’s rhythm guitar. He said Pete took rock to a place that was spiritual and noble. “Thanks to Pete not just for Who’s Next and Who Are You, but who I am…”
Bruce passed Pete the award, and Pete admitted how he’d long been a big fan of Bruce as well. He recalled taking Bruce to see The Clash in London, and he’d realized they were all “out of sync, but in the same direction.”
Pete talked about his sobriety and what it meant to him, how he’d been affected by his own rough behavior and that of others. Pete also mentioned his support of the charity was not a condemnation of those who choose to drink or take drugs, only “it didn’t work for me.”
Pete and the band did “My Generation” with Bruce along on guitar. Roger and Bruce took turns with the vocals. Pete followed with “I’m One,” the centerpiece song of Quadrophenia. Starting “Eminence Front”, Pete suddenly called “halt!!” and they stopped as his electric guitar had failed. The technicians Alan and Ian tried hard to solve it quickly, but the solution was not found before Pete said to move on, and signaled for the final song instead…
“Won’t Get Fooled Again” hit hard with the previous guests all assembled onstage together, singing and playing. As Pete told them in rehearsal, “The only way to do these kinds of things is to just start out laughing and keep laughing all the way until it ends!” It’s hard to corral a diverse and large group musically, so it was EMI (Every Man for ‘Imself) and it worked well given the talented and tasteful people onstage. The song was quite similar at the recent Chicago charity event, but with even more singers and players here. Pete politely played acoustic guitar, leaving room for Willie and Bruce to stretch out on their electrics.
This last pic is everyone onstage together, thanks to Lucy Pridden Willnut; daughter of our great soundman, Bobby Pridden!
Pete, Bill and Roger had a great time re-connecting to many friends in the music business tonight, proving that they are well-liked and respected by so many of the major players in the music world. So good to be able to use their connections for such a great cause. MusiCares rocks!