(Martyrs club, Chicago, IL - March 3rd, 2013)
To anyone who knows anything about rock music, the very name conjures up images of smashed guitars, epic rock operas, and eardrum-shattering power and volume. But visitors to Martyr's club in Chicago who may have come to the show expecting similar theatrics from Simon Townshend (yes, he’s Pete’s brother) were in for a bit of a different story, as he was armed only with an arsenal of acoustic guitars.
Decked out in a cool pair of sunglasses, he set right to work. As a longtime listener of his music, I was immediately struck by how much he sounded exactly as on the records--a fact I always find comforting at a first performance. After a few songs, Townshend took care to plug his forthcoming album, due for a UK release in July of this year. Here's hoping there's a US date coming soon. Next came "She Asked Me" off most recent release Looking Out, Looking In, an interesting twist on the art of songwriting.
"This is a song about trust in relationships," was the intro to "Making Waves," during which Simon Townshend proved himself as forceful and as skilled an axeman as any other rockstar in the business. Another new tune, "All So Real," is now in contention for the title of Personal Favorite, despite it being, by Mr. Townshend's own admission: "All about getting naked, actually...something I've never done," he added with a sly grin. A lighthearted exchange with an audience member about sexual innuendo after the song was over demonstrated Townshend's mastery of engaging the audience--another of my personsal favorite aspects of his performance as a whole.
"Gone" was another new track, attached to a poignant message about seizing every moment that's given to us; written in celebration of New Year 2013. Lyric sheets were required for this one, and he made a great joke of having to kind of squint to see the words on the page, explaining that the Joe Cool shades from earlier were actually bifocals, but wouldn't stay on; so if we saw him wander away from the mic for a bit, that'd be why.
It's all in the facial expressions, I guess.
The prize for Best Riff went to "Leaving This Town," which also received the biggest ovation thus far. Any fan of Simon's has to give him credit for being very frank and open about the inspirations behind his lyrics. Indeed, a string of songs including "Denial" offer a retrospect on a substance habit, one which he's proudly vanquished. That having been said, we were all a little confused when the management brought him a beer in the middle of the set. He politely declined the offer, brandishing a water bottle. "I've got this," he said, taking a swig, "Vodka." And there was that smirk again. We laughed and applauded, and some lucky fan (alas, not me) got to slam a free beer.
Two songs from Looking Out followed: The album's title track, and "Forever and a Day," which made brilliant use of a 12-string guitar. (But I hold fast to my belief that the latter was lacking without the drums to provide a backing.) We cheered and cheered as the good humor kept flowing, with Simon making a momentary disappearance by hiding behind a pillar, and then behind a curtain before emerging for what I'll consider his encore set. (The club was literally so small that there was no backstage area.)
He then offered us something of a "self assessment," explaining that these intimate kinds of gigs were good, because it allows him to gauge what songs work the best, and so on. It was at this point--to raucous applause by we disciples smooshed at the foot of the stage--that he mentioned his recent involvement in The Who's North American tour, as well as gently plugging his upcoming stint as opener for Heart on their Canadian series of shows.
Crowd-pleaser "The Way It Is" happened then, followed by "Ecstasy Heaven," a cut off of 1996's Among Us. But the evening wouldn't be complete without one more song, so he busted out the 12-string again, and gave us "I'm the Answer," which has become my go-to song whenever I need cheering up.
(Oddly enough, it's playing as I type this. Convenient.)
Though the concert was over, he stayed and hung out with us, taking pictures and signing copies of his CD's. Prior to this, I'd seen Simon Townshend play live twice before, but never so close, and never his own material. And to actually meet him? That made it even more special.
On a personal note, he's the nicest guy--incredibly gracious, and he truly does value the support the listeners give him. You can tell. And there was a lot of support there, that night, as something like twenty--perhaps more-- of his devoted fans from all across the Twitterverse gathered to hang out with each other, and take in the show. It was a very cool thing to be a part of.
Bottom line: I can't wait to see what Simon does next. Whatever it is, I'm sure I'll dig it. But I may be a little biased. For as far as Townshends go, Simon is hands-down my favorite.
Review by: Ashley J. Trombley
Photos by: Lisa Ann Volpe