EmptyVenue: The Troubadour, West Hollywood (Friday, Nov. 7).
It wasn't as monumental as the Who "Live at Leeds." The special-guest Dylan was Jakob, not Bob, and the Who frontman Roger Daltrey was nowhere to be found. Nonetheless, Townshend at the Troub was pretty damn special.
The show was presented by Best Buy to promote its exclusive forthcoming CD/DVD set of acoustic all-star jams, initially staged as webcasts by Townshend and his longtime girlfriend, singer-songwriter Rachel Fuller.
Townshend opted to strip things down and shine the spotlight on relatively new talents in an intimate setting before the Who's two-night stand at the Nokia Theatre in downtown Los Angeles. Townshend, who a quarter-century ago championed the Clash, always has had an eye for exposing rising stars.
On this night, the newest of the bunch was She & Him, the duo of Zooey Deschanel and indie stalwart M. Ward, which proved much more than another actress's musical vanity project.
The show's format allowed the artists to play a few songs each before being joined by Townshend. Dylan, an unannounced special guest, still lives in his father's shadow but did an admirable job sharing the stage with another legend on his Wallflowers hit "One Headlight" and the Who's "The Kids Are Alright."
Mark Everett of eels jokingly apologized to Dylan for any awkwardness evoked when Everett performed Bob Dylan's "The Girl From North Country," offered a heartfelt reading of his own "Bus Stop Boxer" and was joined by Death Cab for Cutie's Ben Gibbard and Townshend for a playful run through the latter's 1980 solo hit "Let My Love Open the Door" that was the show's first-half high point.
Townshend's solo spot was the night's ultimate peak. Attacking his acoustic guitar and using a combination of picking and power chords, Townshend tore into "The Acid Queen" from "Tommy," spitting out the lyrics with such passion you could see spray coming from his mouth. "Drowned" -- from his other rock opera, "Quadrophenia" -- followed, then he launched into an extended monologue before "Won't Get Fooled Again." He mocked himself, explained the absence of his "other wife" Daltrey and noted the pendulum effect of politics before launching into the Who showstopper.
After he finished the song, Townshend acknowledged the lyric "Meet the new boss/Same as the old boss" might no longer be applicable, given the election of Sen. Barack Obama. It was a nice revelation, capped with an all-star rendition of "I'm One," bringing an appropriate climax to one special night.