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Thursday, 25 August 2011

Pete Townshend's Lifehouse Demos - Unadulterated Genius

YouTube is a treasure trove for many reasons; for me, one of the greatest reasons is the presence of the Pete Townshend Lifehouse home demos, his one-man band recordings from 1970-71 that were to form the backbone of an ambitious project involving audience participation, transcendental oneness and a mind-bogglingly complicated story. As Pete said about Lifehouse: "It was like the Brabazon aircraft of the 50s, magnificent in concept and appearance but too big to get off the ground." From the ashes of this project came The Who's massive 1971 album Who's Next, containing "Baba O'Riley", "Behind Blue Eyes" and "Won't Get Fooled Again". Great as that album is - and it is great - it is but a pale shadow of what Lifehouse would have been.

Pete's demo for 1972 non-album single "Relay", originally a part of the Lifehouse project.

For the Lifehouse project, Pete had prepared about 20 new compositions in demo form. "Demo" probably isn't the right term as it wasn't just Pete plonking away on guitar and singing along. All the instruments were overdubbed by Pete for a full band version. He was heavily into synthesizers at this time, and programmed them for the basic track, then played guitar, bass, drums and whatever else needed to be played. So before the rest of The Who had even heard the tracks, there was a set of high-quality recordings, which are great music in their own right, and set Townshend's extraordinary talent and vision in greater relief.

The quality of the Lifehouse songs is uniformly high. In fact, it seems as it Townshend was incapable of writing a bad song at this point. That's my impression listening to this stuff, anyway. Genius in full flow. Pete did release a massive 6-CD set called The Lifehouse Chronicles in 1999, and released it on his personal website. It's no longer on sale, but second-hand copies can be found around and about. have it going for $325 a pop. $325! You'd be a fool not to buy it! Nah, I'm joking. That's actually quite expensive. Pete also released a one-disc version called Lifehouse Elements at a more affordable price. Can't say I've heard it, but it sounds like a good alternative.

There's also a DVD of a concert Pete did in 2000 in which he performed all Lifehouse songs. It was a "tribute to Lifehouse" rather than a Lifehouse performance. That's an important distinction because an actual Lifehouse performance would have demanded all sorts of audience participation and searching for the universal note that expressed all the audience and players, along the lines of what Pete outlined in "Pure and Easy", the first song written for Lifehouse, and the genesis of the concept.

Lifehouse demo version of "Pure and Easy". Very long.

No, I haven't bought that DVD either, but have relied on YouTube for all my Lifehouse needs. However, someday, when money is less of an object, I will buy the Lifehouse Chronicles boxset, and it will take pride of place in my CD collection, because I think in 100 years time people will see Pete's body of work from that time in 1970/71 as one of the great songwriting achievements of rock music.

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