Pete Townshend

Live The Empire 1998, Live Sadler's Wells 2000 (Eel Pie)

Split between the unfamiliar ("Time Is Passing," the gorgeous "Mary," "I Don't Even Know Myself" and the beautiful new song) and the formidable (disc two, which contains everything from "Baba O'Riley" to "Who Are You" to "Won't Get Fooled Again" to "The Song Is Over," plays like its own best-of), Sadler's Wellsis almost the antithesis of the Empiredisc. Where the 1998 disc is Townshend in miniature -- the Who, minus Daltrey's beloved macho bombast -- this year's model is grand and splendid, even when the songs are tiny and intimate. This time around, Townshend is aided and abetted by an enormous ensemble that includes longtime Who keyboardist John "Rabbit" Bundrick and the London Chamber Orchestra, which manages to fill in the blanks without turning the familiar into soggy, Muzaked mush. Indeed, they lend a resonance to the material; where Townshend once sought to take rock to the opera house -- he wanted to make his music "respectable," which accounts for the pretentious, ridiculous Tommy, admit it -- he now brings the opera house into his world. For the first time in his career, he's struck the right balance between classical and classic-rock (unlike Sir Paul McCartney, whose "classical" forays sound like the strains of a music-theory grad student writing his thesis on sheet music). When the orchestra lights into "Baba O'Riley," never for a moment does it sound forced, silly or overwrought. It kinda sounds like home.

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