Pete Townshend

Live: The Empire

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A single disc recorded on-stage at the Shepherd's Bush Empire, London, on November 9, 1998, Live: The Empire is an invaluable document of Townshend's first solo U.K. concert since the mid-'80s. He's well-aware of the significance, too, taking the stage with one of the most sympathetic-sounding bands that he's ever worked with (John Bundrick, Chucho Merchán, rapper Hame, and former Medicine Head alumni Peter Hope-Evans) , for a performance that truly stands as one of the finest he's ever consigned to disc. Twenty-five tracks see Townshend range not only throughout his own catalog, but also across the music that inspired him to start playing in the first place -- there's a mercurial "Three Steps to Heaven," a gentle "North Country Girl," and enough Who classics to send even the hardest-core acolyte home grinning -- "Anyway Anyhow Anywhere" and "Mary Ann with the Shaky Hand" might be the evening's biggest surprises, but "The Kids Are Alright" and "Acid Queen" come close. And then there's "Magic Bus," rattling out of the dying chords of the inevitable "Won't Get Fooled Again," to conjure memories of the marathon journeys the song used to take during 1969-1970. Of course it's nowhere near as protracted today, but the old bus still possesses the dramatic madness that Townshend has only occasionally come close to recapturing, and it's almost a shock when it does wind up, to be succeeded by "I'm One." There are a few low points: though it's certainly used sparingly, the rapping really doesn't work, and Bundrick's keyboards could be scaled back in places. But Townshend is in fine form regardless, and the success of the evening carries across on CD.

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