C Average and Ed Pay Tribute To The Who
510 Columbia Street, Olympia, WA
14 July 1999
I don't even know where I'm supposed to begin. Tonight was just supposed to be a fun night, a night of new music, a night of old familiar favorites. Instead, it turned into being one of the greatest nights of my life as a rock and roll fan.
On Tuesday, the more-or-less annual Yoyo-a-Gogo indie music festival started in Olympia. I missed it last year because of The Tour, so I was way psyched to be here and able to attend. It goes on for six days; I didn't go down for the first night since the next few nights were pretty jampacked with shows and I didn't want to wear myself out. That night, the phone rings; it's a friend who's gone down for the opening show. "Hey," she says, "They just announced another show for tomorrow, not part of the festival, C Average are doing their Who tribute show again with a bunch of other bands." This is kind of a usual thing; during the festival, little happenings tend to spring up all over town, not necessarily anything out of the ordinary. But -- cool, I think; I missed the one over Fourth of July weekend (which by all reports was awesome) - I can head down to Olympia a little early and catch this show. Florence: "I think you should, I think you'll really enjoy it, especially Jon's 'Pete Townshend'." Hey, I'm sold; twist my arm. I need to collect people from the airport anyway. So, I did.
[Now, before y'all start in with the "5H KNEW AND THEY DIDN'T TELL US" flames, I will tell you unequivocally that *I didn't know*. The last place in the world I would expect Ed to pop up at (in terms of *performing*) would be an indie music festival. Even talking about it with the friends who were attending Yoyo with me, I completely dismissed the notion that this was even the remotest possibility. (We're looking at the lineup and on the Friday late show it says, "Special guest". My friends hold this up and say, "What do you think this means???" and I say, "Absolutely nothing".) Because I'm this fanatic Who fiend, absolutely desperate for a fix, I followed my heart and left work two hours early. Had I even imagined that this was possible, I would have been there at 6am with a lawn chair and a cooler.]
I arrive in Olympia, check in at Yoyo, pick up my festival pass, find my friends, grab some food. We head over to the venue for this in-between show; it's not even a venue, really - we later find out that it's someone's woodworking shop. It's basically an empty space, almost warehouse-like. Reminding me of a small auto shop more than anything else. The doors were supposed to open at 4:30; my friends went down there then and they were still carrying wood out and asked them to come back at 6. So not a big deal.
There were three bands before C-Average; they were all most excellent and I wish I could remember their names (besides the Bangs); however, given what transpired after they played, I'm sure you'll forgive my complete lapse of memory. It was a fun, funky, sit-on-the-floor, true indie show; very mellow, very laid back. (Jessica later: "It was indie rock summer camp.") People were there to hear music.
In addition to the highlight of the evening, there were a few interesting events; one of the PA speakers *caught fire* (I am NOT kidding) during the Bangs' set (sending the C-Average boys out on a kamikaze mission to find another PA). And just as the third band was about to play, the cops show up and we are told that the show cannot go on - the 'venue' is not licensed for alcohol or for shows, and there is both of these things going on. Luckily, the wonderful woman running the show is able to work things out with the police, and things were able to continue. Which is very important, as you've already assumed.
At some point during the first three bands, I finally notice that the guy with the hat and the cool board shorts looks familiar. VERY familar. However, it's not until he walks by where we're sitting that it dawns on me who it is. Okay, I think.... this could be interesting. Or, he could be here checking out his friends.
It took the presence of PJ tour manager Eric Johnson, and lighting tech Keith, both wearing VERY bad wigs (they looked like two truck drivers from, say, Chehalis) to finally convey the point to my THICK head that lightning was about to strike for a THIRD time, and this time, I was going to be lucky enough to be there. I am in cautious disbelief. I am floored. (Keith would later "light" the stage with a metal desk lamp and a bare lightbulb shaded by a 12-pack carton. "Nothing but the best... we had a very large lighting budget for this show," he was muttering when we cracked up at the sight of the desk lamp.)
Let me talk about C-Average's tribute to the Who. Let me tell you that these guys are top notch musical scholars - there's just no way to put it. From the "Pictures of Lily" drumset to the twin water bottles (one water, one brandy - that's how Entwistle used to do it) carefully taped to "John's" mic stand, to the authentically duct-tape wrapped microphone used by "Roger" (taped, so it didn't come apart during those trademark Daltrey mic-swinging antics), to the white boiler suit worn by "Pete"... I could go on, and on, and on. (And I did, all night, much to the amusement of my compatriots.) The attention to detail, from the perspective of a fanatic Who fan, was AMAZING. And I'm not even talking about the music yet.
Let me mention that this venue was small, and the stage even smaller. We could fit four people across the front, and that was it. The stage was about three feet high, and we planted ourselves there shortly after the third band had finished playing. Not that there was this huge hysterical crush; word got out, quietly, slowly. But the place wasn't really full until very close to showtime, and even then it was never crushed or terribly packed. There was room to move, there was room to headbang, there was room to pound the stage out of sheer ecstasy.
So I knew that these guys generally dressed the part for the show. But what, I thought, was "Roger" going to be wearing?! The first thought that crossed my mind, the trademark Daltrey image, is, of course, Woodstock. But it was about as likely that Roger Daltrey himself was going to show up and sing as it was that Ed Vedder was going to go out there shirtless, wearing nothing but an open fringed vest. (Although the thought was *extremely* amusing for about five minutes, I'll give you that.) Then, around the corner, there's yet another really bad wig, this time a shoulder-length, curly blonde one, with the visage underneath it unmistakable.
This is really going to happen.
One of the other thoughts I had on the way down today was how sad I was that, no matter if the Who tour again, or I cart myself out for this year's Townshend solo shows, unlike other bands of that era who are still making music (Page/Plant, the Stones), live Who no longer comes even the tiniest bit close to capturing that manic energy of the band in their prime (or even, say, 1982). *sigh* This show, no matter who the lead singer was going to be, was going to transport me back to a time I wasn't even lucky enough to witness. I was as excited as I have been at any Who show.... just still in utter disbelief that I'm about to see my favorite lead singer, too. My two favorite bands. Together.
The band is onstage, joined by the lead singer; I look down at Ed's notes and I see "On top of the sky there's a place where you go..." and my adrenaline soars way UP, I scrawl down "Heaven and Hell," and wait for them to start. Okay, we're a little rough; the vocals are a little buried; I can hear, though. But it's perfect, dead-on, say, The Who At The Isle of Wight, really. Musically they're rich, they're fluid, I am finding nothing out of place. "I Can't Explain," and FINALLY I get to hear Ed sing it the RIGHT way, not sloppy, he's enunciating every word (as he would all night). The delivery was dead-on Daltrey. And the man had Roger's stage presence DOWN. This was not Ed Vedder on stage singing Who songs, this was ROGER DALTREY. The stance, the little hook back with the hip, and, yes, the mic swinging (even though we had to move out of the way, by request, so he could really get one going: after ICE, "Roger" steps up with a really bad English accent and asks us to move, "So I can practice a bit" He got it. He has the toss DOWN. Too bad he had no room and no height to really swing the mic, that would have been fucking awesome.) Okay, the English accents left a little to be desired, I will forgive them that, because everything else was beyond reproach.
I can't see the setlist. I don't want to see the setlist. I don't think I could handle seeing the setlist....and then those opening chords to "Young Man Blues," and the drums kick in, and I am beating on the stage along with "Keith". You have to understand, I totally lost it. I realized tonight just how restrained I am, really, at PJ shows. During this song (as I related later), I saw visions. I saw god/goddess/Buddah/Allah/Jesus/insert name of deity here. I am not kidding. I was transported. I don't think I even breathed. And I thought "The What" (Ed's who cover band from the end of the '96 tour, him with Kurt and Mike of the Fastbacks on drums) was something. And don't get me wrong, it was. But it wasn't this. These guys are amazing fucking musicians. The Who are NOT an easy band to copy, and they're an even harder band to copy and GET IT RIGHT. Entwistle still has few peers; Townshend, well, jesus, do I have to explain it? And KEITH MOON? Always imitated, never copied. Never. Not well, anyway. Or copied, but missing some essential element of spirit. In any event, you're not going to be able to pull it off - no, not just pull it off, completely go out there and TAKE NO PRISONERS - unless you can fucking PLAY to begin with.
"Break your guitar, Pete!" --> Anonymous guy in the crowd"Fortune Teller" (which just RULED... here they finally relaxed and REALLY swung into things), "Tattoo" (again, best version I've ever heard Ed do), and then... "Keith" climbs out from behind the drumset to the microphone and joins the other guys at the mics. "Roger," gesturing: "Keith". Guy in the crowd: "Keith! Drink something!!" "Roger," shaking his head and laughing: "'Drink something'?????" So they're up there, and I'm thinking... what? "Tommy Can You Hear Me"???? (LOL, I KNOW, but there aren't a lot of songs all four of them sang on, okay??)
"Her man's been gone"A Quick One," the first effort at rock opera by Mr. Townshend. This is - unexpected. This is serendipitous. This is downright WEIRD, because exactly a month ago, packing for the TFC, I was listening to this song and idly musing how this would be a cool cover for Ed to sing... and then earlier this week, someone on the 5h message board posts the IDENTICAL thought. Anyway, if you're not familiar with it, THIS IS NOT AN EASY SONG TO ATTEMPT. This is not an easy song to do. There are about four parts to this song, they're all different, they're all unique, they don't bear any musical relationship one to the other, and yet they ALL FIT. (I highly recommend the live version from the The Kids Are Alright soundtrack, which is also the same one on the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. They completely blew the Stones away, no wonder Mick wouldn't let it be released until a few years ago...) And it was fucking PERFECT, it kicked ass, and in my mind's eye I can see the Who on Rock and Roll Circus and it's matching perfectly, it's running counterpoint, I can't help it, I'm not consciously comparing - but I don't need to. I know what's going to happen next, I know every note of this music by heart, and it's just all there.
For neigh on a year
He was due home yesterday
But he ain't here...."
So at the end, we're at the "You are forgiven" chorus/finale, and Ed is just WAILING, he is totally and utterly letting it rip, just letting that magnificent voice SOAR beyond belief. I am standing there pinching myself because I DO NOT BELIEVE THIS IS REALLY HAPPENING. Surely, I am dreaming this, right? This cannot be happening. Not three feet from me. Not this song. Only a crazed Who fan would dream this up. (Uhhhh...okay. Guilty as charged!)
Shortly after this we had some amusing onstage banter... "Roger" beckoning the crew to perform some small task for him, I think maybe help him take off his jacket, or maybe it was pick the mic off the floor, gesturing royally at Eric and Keith. (LOL) Ed then makes some comment about "Lazy English roadies." Me: "'Sloppy stagehands'!" (REFERENCE: Opening scene of TKAA. Smothers Brothers show. Keith Moon.) Me, thinking: "FUCK I can't believe I just said that out loud." But "Roger" knows the reference and corrects himself, saying, "Sloppy stagehands..." (One of my pet theories since the very beginning of being a Pearl Jam fan has been that Ed has seen TKAA as many times as I have, probably more. Tonight confirmed this. See later. And go rent the fucking thing NOW!)
I realized I haven't talked about the outfits. It was at this point in the show where I made notes about it, so I'll mention them here. "Pete": trademark white boiler suit and Docs. "John": brown leather jacket, brown turtleneck, black "flame" bellbottoms. "Keith": striped pop-art tshirt. "Roger": cream-colored fine-wale corduroy "suit" - jean-style jacket and straight-legged pants. Blue and white thin-striped t-shirt. Desert boots. (Think Daltrey circa '66, I'd say, pre-"Adonis" look.) All of which (to my eye at least) looked *brand new*. Dude planned for this effort, imo, which wouldn't surprise me, nothing he ever does is accidental, or trivial, or unimportant. (The more I follow this band, the more I am convinced of this.)
I need to stress this: Ed's voice. Ed's voice. Ed's voice. He's just never sounded better. I've been saying this since the TFC. Go find that show and REALLY LISTEN, compare it to any 1998 show. I don't know what it is, but whatever it is, keep doing it.
"Roger": "Next up, 'My Generation'"Okay, an odd choice... but it lovely, it's light... Ed needs the words for the last verse. "Pete" is then changing guitars, fucking around..."Roger" chimes in: "Either sit down or stand up, lie down or get up, or PLAY THE FUCKING GUITAR!" (Thanks to my friend Eric K, who reminds me this is Long Beach '71!) And then, indeed, the aforementioned "My Generation," and finally I get to hear it sung "right". He's not screaming, he's not screeching, he's singing it the way it should be sung. Don't get me wrong, I love hearing Pearl Jam do Who covers - but as a "member of the Faith," I always hear the Who in my head in the background and compare the two versions. Pearl Jam effectively capture the spirit and some of the magic, but this ensemble tonight captured the spirit, the magic, and the music. (And with all due respect to the rest of Pearl Jam, they COULD NOT have played those songs last night as well as C-Average and "John" did. Before you send your flame mail, read every word I have written over the past few years about the prowess of McCready, Gossard, Ament, and [insert drummer here, but let's just use Matt Cameron, because I will say with NO reservations in the world that he could not have been Keith Moon as well as Brad was Keith Moon last night]. There is no one better to play Pearl Jam's music. But if I'm gonna see a Who tribute show, I want to see the lineup I saw last night - hell, even without Vedder I want to see that lineup again. End of shameless gushing.)
"Pete": "Wait for it, wait for it... it's our most popular song. We'll do 'I'm A Boy' instead, and THEN 'My Generation'"
I'll even go so far to say that last night had absolutely nothing to do with Pearl Jam whatsoever, except for the fact that they shared the same lead singer. Ed was in character; they were all in character. The audience was GREAT. For a bunch of indie-rock kids, there was no heckling of Ed (I've seen more heckling in a Pearl Jam audience), no one was disrespectful, no one was fucking with him. This night was about MUSIC. You would have to be "deaf, dumb and blind" (or really fucking stubborn and so trendy it's painful) to not have acknowledged that. One of the funniest moments of the evening (that wasn't onstage activity) was watching this chick who was side-stage, ROCKING OUT the whole time; at some point, I see her friend say something to her - she stops, she looks - he points again and I can lip-read and see that he's saying, "THAT'S EDDIE VEDDER!" and I am watching her completely dumbfounded face as it dawns on her that it really IS him....
Back to the show. So "My Generation" kicks ass all over the place, and then they transition into a well-known unnamed live Who jam that transitions into - OF ALL THINGS! - "Sparks" from Tommy. (Ed played this three years ago on the Radio Fritz Berlin after-show dj section... we've been waiting for this to pop up ever since!). Ed's not singing here, he puts the mic down and drops back by the drums, assuming once again that classic Daltrey stance. Eric Johnson tosses him two tambourines, and *just like Roger*, Ed is playing, hitting, striking them together... keeps tossing them into the audience and Eric keeps feeding him more. At the end he was hitting them so hard the bells were breaking and shrapnel is littering the stage... it was focused, it was intense, and we were all transported on that music to another place (which is what "Sparks" has always done for me).
And then, they bring the music up into a crescendo, "Roger" tosses his crib notes aside, and I couldn't believe what was about to happen next:"See me..."Pete" strumming those chords as gently as a kiss. Never in my wildest PJ/Who fantasies would I ever let myself imagine that I would ever hear this. It's such an emotional song to begin with, it was such a huge point of a Who show... I'm just getting choked up here (hey, I would get choked up at a Who show, too), and I am told I was crying, but I have zero recall of this, really. In my mind's eye, I am seeing the lights go up on the stage, I am anticipating the utterly emotional crescendo that is "Listening To You," and that band onstage in front of me delivered. They delivered, because they know as well as I do what that feeling was like.
At the end, "Pete" goes back to force the feedback out of the amps, and the auto-destruct orgy begins (well, *controlled* auto-destruction, C-Average don't have quite the same budget for this that the Who did...) I don't know where to look first. "John" is doing what Entwistle always did during these frenzies, moves to the side and stands there motionless. "Roger" is smashing the cymbals with his mic. And then, finally, "Keith" kicks one of the bass drums over, "Pete" is still semi-smashing, "Roger" is REALLY getting into it, stuff is flying everywhere, drums falling over... and by that point we know it is well and truly over.
Thundering applause, screaming, yelling, and the guys are looking like they're about to walk offstage, but "Roger" brings them back, hopping over the fallen kick drum, and they put their arms around each other JUST like at the end of The Kids Are Alright - they are sweating so hard that when they bow, anyone down front ended up getting drenched (I didn't realize what it was at first, I thought it was someone with a waterbottle behind me!). Okay, it's a small detail, and if you don't know I can't beat you over the head and convince you why that little detail just finished the whole evening off for me.
"House lights" come on, and people start leaving. Me, I am speechless. I am hoarse. I have sung every word. I was playing air drums, I found myself fingering chords of songs I haven't tried playing in years. I still don't believe that just happened.... I don't know that I ever will. I couldn't have dreamed this one up if I tried.
I said earlier that this night had nothing to do with Pearl Jam, or rather "Pearl Jam" - but that's not exactly true. We were sitting the parking lot after the show, catching our breath, and quietly trying to put into words what we'd just experienced. Jessica said something along the lines of, if you could say something to Ed right now, what would it be? And I stopped, and thought, and said, I would want to try to find the words to explain to him how much that show meant to me, but there is no way I could do it. The detail, the care, the attention to musicianship and historical accuracy, the little things that mean so much to you as a fan and an amateur rock and roll historian. How much the Who mean to me.
And then I stopped.
I wouldn't even need to, because he knows. He knows. Ed, Mike, Stone, and Jeff are still, at the end of the day, music fans. They are like we are, except that they get way better seats and don't have to wait in line. Seriously, though, they *understand*. They approach their music from that place.... which the Who also did (Pete especially... I will not bore you with further quotations from Chairman Townshend).
I am always looking for answers. Why the Who, why the Stones, why Springsteen, why do I love whoever's music I love as much as I love it. I am always asking the questions. I am constantly examining and re-examining my love for Pearl Jam in the same way and the same reasons. The paragraph above is probably as close to an answer as I'll ever get.
While writing this, I am reminded of (and inspired by) a legendary article by Jon Landau about Springsteen, the infamous "I have seen rock and roll future and its name is Bruce Springsteen" article. I am quoting from memory here, but there is a line in there somewhere that talks about him seeing his rock and roll past flash before his eyes. I am reminded of that line because that's exactly what happened to me at this show. I know this article is highly personal; it's as much about my life as a music fan as it is about the show. But (as another rock critic said once), I don't write about music, I write about listening to music. I just don't know how to do it any other way.
check out the who's catalog
(or look for stuff used in your local used cd store)
What's been puzzling me: What's been puzzling me over the past few weeks is that I haven't seen *any* discussion about these Vedder outings beyond people complaining that they lived 20 minutes away and they didn't know about it. I've seen very very very few people actually lamenting missing the show because of the music; everyone seems to be pissed they weren't there so they could be three feet from Ed. (I would have stood on the other side of the street, knee deep in water, next to a garbage dumpster, in the pouring rain just to have *heard* that show...or the Encinitas shows for that matter.)
What I Did On My Summer Vacation: So this summer has been sort of a busman's holiday for the band. Jeff out with Three Fish. Mike working on the Rockfords. Stone in New Mexico producing Nash Kato's solo album. For argument's sake, Matt Cameron working on Wellwater. Added to the mix, Mr. Vedder finally gets himself an extra-curricular activity. All of the guys are out doing their own thing; they haven't recorded yet, as we all know, they're only at the trading demos stage. Which means that the music is potentially in a state where it can be totally influenced by whatever the band has done over the past few months. It can still grow and change.
So when I look at these EV excursions, all I can think is "What is this going to mean for the PJ album next year????" Taking into account everything else that's gone on, my personal feeling is that the next record will likely be the best one yet. For those of us who thought Yield was the best thing since sliced bread, I don't think we've seen *anything* yet; but I'm also going to go out on a limb and predict that the next album will be even more experimental than No Code.
Gratuitous plug for C-Average: I finally got to see C-Avg as themselves the night after the Who tribute, playing on a bill with Dead Moon ("oh, the irony," to quote Jessica). I thought they were great from a garage band perspective, based on the TFC/Palladium/La Paloma shows I saw/heard; based on the evening related above, I now *knew* that these guys were kick ass musicians. After seeing them do their thing, all I can say is - the image of them being this little garage band Ed picked up in Olympia does NOT do them the respect or justice that they deserve. I completely and unreservedly recommend you check out their record and by all means see them if they come to your town. (Hell, I don't even care if you go there to see them because you think Ed is going to be there.)
taping update: Well, despite thinking that the world must've taped this show, as of November 1999, the only known sources are two analog ones (one slightly better than the other - one of which is the treed source out there). Ed did not even tape this show for himself. As for video, there were two people vidtaping it -- one didn't come out, and the other one was for Ed's personal use.
copyright © 1999 Caryn Rose
Photos © 1999 Caryn Rose and Jessica Letkemann