Just days after wrapping The Who's Quadrophenia tour back east, Simon Townshend unveiled new material from his upcoming album, at Martyr's venue. At his last appearance there last November, he premiered original material from his eleven-track CD,"Looking Out, Looking In"(Eagle Rock), where the British singer-songwriter and producer attracted a mighty strong Chicago following.
On Sunday evening, March 3, many of those fans returned, and sat at sold out tables with friends and family members. Townshend's solidly structured songs were frequently requested by name, something he made mental note of while tuning his guitar.
Once the set began, a local who hadn't yet heard Townshend's repertoire, remarked: "I guess we're lucky in Chicago to have Simon come here this evening." On his last stop, he performed on the Quad Tour with The Who, at The Allstate Arena.
Townshend's performance schedule has been a whirlwind, so, yes, we really were lucky to get CDs signed, photos snapped and to embrace the familiar and hear even more powerful, riff-driven ideas flow before he supports Heart in Canada on their North American tour.
Onstage, the energetic showman was keen to gauge reaction to his new material, and by the time he finished, I'd say he had a pretty good idea of what would remain on the touring list. The wildly romantic 'Stay' ignited the set and 'She Asked Me' with its minor-edged, jostling bass and confessional lyrics was sung with bittersweet angst. 'My Body, My Vessel' was effectively eerie as fans, old and new, stood transfixed watching his silhouette move in tandem with the chords. 'Bed of Roses,' in which he lamented over what could have been, has one of the most intriguing and unpredictable melodies on his recent CD.
Of course, it wouldn't be a Simon Townshend performance without the caustic, apocalyptic 'Time Bomb,' the joyous ode about his 'Electric Friend' or the raw and gripping 'Denial.'
Lyrics in Simon's world get straight to the point: "Does anybody know how to feel?" he sings coarsely, while raising his impassioned face towards the ceiling like a thirsty flower gasping for water.
The crowd demanded an encore, which ended with the anthemic "I Am The Answer" and included an older offering, "Ecstacy Heaven" from SimonTownshendis. The performance grew more passionate and energizing as he abandoned acoustic for electric and mandolin.
And despite jet lag, a frantic schedule and an early Monday morning flight, he played one riveting hit after another, sprinkling the set with new songs about surviving the human experience and trying out new arrangements with the standards. The fact that he was there, solo, on a cold Chicago night in a neighborhood watering hole continued to intrigue the patrons. "Hey, why isn't this guy on the radio?" asked a chunky guy on a bar stool, to no one in particular.
Hey, pal, your guess is as good as mine...