The Oceanic Concerts

In his complex and often confounding career, Pete Townshend has proved himself a master of apparently contradictory impulses. Around 1980, while regularly leading the Who through bruisingly loud expressions of adolescent fury in massive sports arenas, he staged a pair of intimate and contemplative acoustic concerts for fellow disciples of Persian guru Meher Baba at his suburban London recording studio. On this delicate and lovely live album, Townshend gently renders a diverse but pointed selection of Who standards ("The Seeker," "Bargain," "Drowned," even the comical "Tattoo"), solo tunes ("Let My Love Open the Door," the sexy "A Little Is Enough") and hymns ("O'Parvardigar," Baba's words set to Townshend's music) in his thin, vulnerable tenor, washing them clean of anger and arrogance to illuminate their spiritual underpinnings. Young American piano and harp (and that's not slang for harmonica here) player Raphael Rudd provides handsome-going-on-frilly accompaniment and performs his own instrumental compositions, which fill about half the album and give it a mild and inoffensive aura of New Age preciousness. With flashes of Townshend's unguarded religiosity that are hard to reconcile with the bitter blast of his best rock, The Oceanic Concerts couldn't be further from the teenage wasteland — or closer to the artist's soul.