Friday, September 9, 2016

Review: 'Pete Townshend’s Deep End: Face the Face'

It was a thrill when The Who reunited in 1989 for their first tour in seven years, particularly since I had just discovered them, but the decision to present their raw Rock & Roll with a veritable orchestra including multiple horn players, keyboardists, singers, and percussionists made the experience a bit less thrilling than it could have been. The format was put to better use four years earlier when Pete Townshend christened that big band Deep End for solo shows to promote White City.  Townshend’s most processed album to date ended up sounding more organic with the group, which deemphasized the use of synthesizers (the wrenching and majestic “The Sea Refuses No River” and the fierce “Rough Boys” are two unfortunate exceptions that received inappropriate synthesizer embellishments). The horn section could still overwhelm certain songs, such as the insistent “Give Blood” and the emotionally naked “Slit Skirts”, but the arrangements generally worked very well. Most important of all, Townshend seemed revitalized after his old band had gone out with a whimper rather than a bang. He certainly did a lot of dancing during this Deep End gig.

Pete Townshend wrapped up the Deep End experiment with an 85-minute appearance on German’s Rockpalast concert series in January 1986. Eagle Rock Entertainment is now releasing that show as a DVD/CD combo. One of the big treats of this set is seeing Townshend play with guest guitarist Dave Gilmour, who seems equally footloose to be performing apart from his own troubled band. He even breaks out into a little dance when Simon Phillips’s double bass drums start thundering on “Give Blood”. Gilmour is also responsible for one of the draggier numbers in the show, his own “Blue Light”, a recycling of Little Richard’s “Lucille” with a dopey lyric and a percussion solo that threatens to never end. For the most part Pete Townshend’s Deep End: Face the Face is a neat time capsule of Townshend in the mid-eighties shortly before he surrendered himself over to The Who again for good.

Video is typical of the era looking a bit like a first-generation VHS tape, but audio is totally solid. The CD includes the entire video set with the exception of “I Put a Spell on You”, which is no great loss since this Screamin’ Jay Hawkins (by way of Nina Simone) cover doesn’t work that well.
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