Simon Townshend just rolled through New York City Wednesday night and elegantly and gracefully gifted the Cutting Room with a very sublime and passionate mostly acoustic set on the first night of his five-stop tour of the Northeast
Originally, Simon was also supposed to be playing Madison Square Garden with his brother Pete Townshend’s legendary band The Who this time around, but Roger Daltrey came down with a throat illness and a few dates had to be rescheduled. Simon forged on regardless of Daltrey’s ailment and anyone familiar with Simon’s solo output bore witness to a songwriting artist in league with many great songwriters of this day and age in rock and roll.
The crowd was in a somewhat subdued but anticipatory mood on a torridly rainy night, but the enthusiasm was tangible… and the Cutting Room lights were so low that it was surprising that there weren’t more waiter collisions and reading the menu was mostly by osmosis – but Simon provided a much better show than circumstances might have allowed and it was measured, focused, and warm, remarkable considering Simon had just flown in from the UK the night before and he was likely still reigning in his jet lag.
Simon’s music is simultaneously all his own and also reminiscent of his brother’s in a way that suggests an evolution of Pete’s original heartfelt mission; Simon’s having been blessed by Pete’s tutelage and guidance suggests that the amazingly bright light Pete has shone on the rock and roll world for so long – 50 years – is also being carried forth and honored and enhanced by the additional reality of Simon and the equally strong spirit of another Townshend passion.
To ignore the influence of Pete is to be coy… but Simon is not just Pete’s younger brother. Simon is the natural progression of this type of intelligent, spiritual, and strong rock and roll, something rare and essential – and Simon continues this tradition without missing a step or a beat or a note, adding his own originality and vision and personality.
Simon has been playing music since he was 9 years old and appeared in the Who’s Tommy film directed by Ken Russell at age 15 in 1975 and has toured with the Who for the past 20 years since the 1990s. But Simon’s now being an integral and continuing part of the Who and having helped carry on the tradition is one of the clear sources of where his music comes from. And that can only be good. It means that Simon’s music is imbued with a similar depth and resonance. And it is also the reason that Simon is such a soulful songwriter.
None of us wants to be compared to anyone else if it means who we are is reliant on someone else’s life that intensely, particularly in the world of rock and roll where originality is so essential, but this is just the fabric of how life is interwoven – we need someone to listen to our music and the music comes from somewhere and without an audience the music is in vain… it’s ultimately not an individual thing. It’s not about one person. We shine through each other and there is as much of Simon in Pete as there is Pete in Simon – and so on with who the rest of us are. We are all part of something else. We are all part of a whole. This is the interesting significance of the title of Simon’s most recent solo album, Denial. Simon being part of the Who is a sign that Simon knows that he need not deny the aesthetics of his songwriting. Simon’s Denial album is the culmination of many years of committed and evolving songwriting and it appears to be Simon’s strongest album. And that is why this tour is the time to see Simon play live. He remains in rare form and the show at The Cutting Room was evidence of that. Simon allowed himself to be fragile and emotionally vulnerable on stage and before the audience, even discussing alcoholism during a particularly candid moment which reflected the frank generosity of Simon’s performance Wednesday night. Simon played a cross section of his best songs from his recent works and brought out an array of guitars to create a full range of sounds for his songs, on stage solo for the duration.
Simon’s music and his performance are marks of Simon as having distinguished himself within the rock and roll artform as very powerful and Simon seems to know what and who he is, what it is that his music evokes, and why he’s playing it. And this is why people take Simon seriously. Simon is much more than a member of the Who and this solo tour is Simon revealing what that means.
Simon has two more shows on this Northeast swing. In Philadelphia tonight at the Tin Angel and in the DC area on Tuesday at Jammin Java. Then he’ll be back sometime next year for more.
It was a short tour but quite sweet. If you want more of Simon, you can listen to some of his albums online and you can find out anything else you need to know about Mr. Townshend on his website, SimonTownshend.com.