Pete Townshend Discusses The Live Who by Don Paulsen
One feels like a target when Pete Townshend begins firing sentences at you from his machine-gun mind.
"I suppose we're a hipper Paul Revere & The Raiders," says the exuberant Who guitarist who destroys a guitar or two every week in the normal line of duty. "Essentially, we're a tear-away stage group."
But the mass destruction tactics of the Who are a form of showmanship. While the group was touring the United States, Pete gave us several of his many views on performing. He expressed his concern for the kids who shell out four or five dollars for a concert. "What happened in England is happening over here. The kids aren't getting their money's worth. They really aren't. There are very few performers who do give you your money's worth.
"The groups are getting lazy, the promoters are getting lazy and the shows are bad. You might have three or four bad groups and one star attraction. The bad groups take half an hour to set up their gear, so the audience has to wait half an hour between each act. When the big group finally comes on, hours later, the audience is bored, restless and worn out. This is why tours aren't doing well.
"We've had success in England but we want to get into a completely different thing over there. We hope to have our own traveling show, like the James Brown Show, with its own band and several supporting acts, like the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band or the Crazy World Of Arthur Brown. If we can cut expenses, I'd like to put a reasonable price tag on the package and take it around to various theatres.
"The main problem in England at the moment is that a star group comes on, plays half an hour or fifteen minutes and that's it. The rest of the time the audience has had to wait through trash. We would give them a complete show.
"At outdoor concerts, instead of remaining on a stationary stage, the performers could move around on a truck and let the audience have a closer look."
Pete defined the Who's current plans:
"Our aim is to keep making it on the stage. If we can keep going on the stage, we'll keep going on records. I don't think that we can do without personal appearances, even in Europe. I don't think we're in the position of people like the Beatles who can say, 'We're going to stop work and just record.'
"Anyway, I don't want to. Being of gypsy descent I prefer the kind of circus of moving around, rather than being stuck in one place.
"It's one thing to tour around and another thing to record. But if you can equate the two, then you can become really comfortable. How long you'll last, I don't know. There's obviously a time limit on everything.
"If you look at the stock stage acts, they earn and earn and earn for the rest of their lives. James Brown, Paul Revere and people like that are still around and basically it's because they're still great stage performers."
It took personal appearances to get the Who really established in America. For the past three years the Who have been chopping up stages, amplifiers and expensive guitars and have continually assaulted the top of the British record charts with their rumbling, reverberating beat. But their American record distributor, more oriented toward the Lawrence Welk-lovers didn't know what to do with them. While English groups with much less talent flourished in this country because of better publicity and promotion, the Who became an underground legend.
Finally, the Who's manager launched a modest publicity campaign, a few disc jockeys started playing the group's single, "Happy Jack," the Who came to America for a series of concerts, including the first annual Monterey Pop Festival, and suddenly - recognition.
Their wrecking-crew antics made everyone notice the Who. But when the smoke had cleared away and the audiences went home to listen to the Who's music on their phonographs, they realized that the four far-out Britishers were incredibly talented and original musicians.
The Who has two excellent albums on Decca, "The Who Sings My Generation" (DL 74664) and "Happy Jack" (DL 74892). But Pete regrets that much of the group's early material, like "I'm A Boy" and "Substitute," are still •unavailable on records in this country. "Our fans are missing a large piece of our history," he says. "It's difficult for them to truly understate. what we're doing in numbers like 'A Quick One' and 'Happy Jack' unless they're familiar with what we've done in the past."
The next Who album, "The Who's Greatest Flops," includes most of the records that established the group in England but failed to dent the American record charts.
The Who still include several of their earlier works in the repertoire.
After a considerable amount of practice we now can recreate our record sound onstage," Pete says. "Besides, most of our tracks are just guitar, bass and drums. In England we're going to start bringing a portable recording studio with us on tour. It'll be part of the whole kibosh, part of the lights, part of the explosions. The whole bit would be played through 4-track tape recorders.
"I don't think there's much point in using tapes in concert simply to duplicate what you've already done on records. I'd rather do something that people haven't heard before.
"For example, if John wants to lay down his bass guitar and play his French horn, the tapes would take over with a bass track that he had prerecorded," Pete explained.
"The Beatles are always talking about rehearsing with a huge orchestra and giving a great free concert where everyone could go to see them recreate their records live. A far better thing that the Beatles could do is appear with brand new material on an eight-or sixteen-track tape recorder which could be mixed as they were playing along with it in the theatre. I think that would have much more impact."
It certainly would. But I'd rather see the Who do it first.