"It's people getting together that don't quite know the words," said Pete Townshend of the "In the Attic" acoustic performances he's been doing with various guests on days off from the Who's world tour over the past three years. Organized by Rachel Fuller, his "beloved partner" for the past 12 years, they started as a way for her to keep busy while traveling with Townshend.
"I can only shop so much before I go completely mad," Fuller joked. "In the Attic" started off as Webcasts from various European festivals and turned into a series of shows at intimate American venues, with guests ranging from Lou Reed to Tenacious D.; a CD/DVD package of two of the Stateside shows will be available next March at Best Buy.
On November 7th, at the tiny Troubadour nightclub in Hollywood, Fuller organized one more "In the Attic," this one featuring Ben Gibbard of Death Cab for Cutie, E from the Eels, Jakob Dylan and She and Him. Generally, guest performers did three or four of their own songs, and then summoned Townshend onstage for a Who cover.
"I don't want to be pejorative about the Who," Townshend said backstage before the show. "It's what pays the rent and it's who I am, to a great extent. But the Who format is very rigid, very Groundhog Day. And this is different. A lot of the songs that I've written, the Who wouldn't be able to do them justice. It's only recently that Roger [Daltrey] has risen to the challenge of some of the more eclectic material that I've produced."
She & Him chose to perform a relative obscurity from the Townshend catalog: "Blue, Red and Gray," from The Who by Numbers. Before the show, singer (and actress) Zooey Deschanel was carefully copying down key lyrics onto her left hand, hoping not to sweat them off. "I'm just trying not to screw it up," she said. Deschanel's first exposure to Townshend's music came at age 13 — she played the Acid Queen in a summer-camp production of Tommy.
"It's kind of blowing my mind," Gibbard confided, "sitting back here, hanging out with Pete Townshend."
If the show, like a summer-camp musical, had more enthusiasm than polish, that was part of the appeal. Shortly after walking onstage to join Fuller for "Sunrise," Townshend realized he had forgotten his reading glasses and darted offstage to fetch them. Highlights included guitarist Mike Campbell joining Jakob Dylan onstage to replicate the slide part he contributed to "Sixth Avenue Heartache," E doing a stately piano version of Bob Dylan's "Girl from the North Country," and Gibbard and Townshend collaborating on a rough but joyful version of "Mary-Anne with the Shaky Hand." The show concluded with a group performance of Quadrophenia's "I'm One." All the performers traded lyrics — except for E, who hung out at the back of the stage and seemed to be checking his e-mail.