The Late Reviewer: Face the Face with Pete Townshend and David Gilmour

November 30, 2018- by Steven E. Greer, MD

The mid-1980’s were a Dark Ages of sorts for music. The classic rock bands had all fizzled out and were being replaced by a new phenomenon known as Pop.

1986 was when the new sensations were Madonna, Michael Jackson, and even Bruce Springsteen who had gone pop with his “Born in the USA” hit album. I distinctively remember hating all of it as a kid, and this is why I turned to the music that was many generations older than me. I became a big fan of Pink Floyd and The Who.

Everyone knows now, looking back on the career of David Gilmour, lead guitarist for Pink Floyd and the man responsible for the good sounds, that he was a superstar. Under the original Pink Floyd band, and then again with his new version of Pink Floyd sans Roger Waters, he could fill huge sports stadiums. He still can. If Gilmour and Waters reunited, it would be the biggest concert in history.

Likewise, The Who is still selling out large stadiums. In 2016 at the Desert Trip in Indio, California, they had a polo field full of 100,000 people entertained.

Well, I stumbled upon a DVD called “Face the Face”, released in 2016, that has rare footage of a brief window in history when Gilmour and Townshend were no longer stars. It was 1986, during the Dark Ages. Pete had dissolved The Who in 1982 at the same time as Gilmour broke up Pink Floyd being disgusted with Roger Waters’ cocaine-bad-temperament.

Townshend and Gilmour were both making solo albums (quite good in my opinion), but the kids of the day wanted the Pop bands. These solo efforts of the classic rock legends could not fill large venues any longer.

In 1985, Pete Townshend assembled a band to tour his new solo album White City. He had collaborated with Gilmour on that album and Gilmour joined him on the tour.

Gilmour deserves a lot of credit for being able to check his ego and work as a session guitarist for the arrogant Pete Townshend. Eric Clapton had recently done the same type of deal for Roger Waters.

At the time, Gilmour was unable to tour with his old Pink Floyd band members because Waters had quit the band. He was a superstar in limbo. So, to stay busy and keep his skills honed, he joined Townshend.

The collaboration must have been inspiring because, later in 1986, Gilmour revived Pink Floyd without Waters and made “Momentary Lapse of Reason”. Waters sued over the rights to the band and eventually settled, taking with him full rights to The Wall while Gilmour and the others could keep the Pink Floyd name.

The DVD called “Face the Face” is poor-quality analogue video with laughably bad graphics. It is footage from a Cannes, France concert that seemed to have been played in a small tent due to rain. There were only approximately 1,000 people in the audience.

But what is stunning is to watch David Gilmour, who could be the best rock guitarist ever, playing iconic The Who songs, such as Won’t Get Fooled Again. Playing the guitar, or any instrument, is not an Olympic sport where the fastest notes win. It is a complex artistic process. It is all about the use of the notes. Gilmour, Clapton, and a few others know how to play the guitar in such a way that it transports the listener to an otherworldly spiritual place.

Also fascinating is to watch Gilmour play some of his new work that is on Townshend’s “White City”. It is a unique rapid pace strumming combined with echo effects. It makes one go, “Whoa, I have never heard that before.”

During this concert from 1986, Gilmour was only 40-years-old and Townshend was 41. These are young guys who still had a lot of ambition to produce new work.

It is also interesting to watch Pete Townsend try to run his new band. This is back when he was still a sloppy drunk. The entire concert was not rehearsed very well. Townshend had to pull out song books to remind him of lyrics and so forth. It was very unprofessional, by The Who’s standards of glitzy stadium shows that have been some of the best live performances ever. Roger Daltrey was the responsible manager of The Who and he was missing.

Pete was never good at the business executive side of music. There are numerous big-idea project albums that he started and never finished over his career.  For example, the classic album “Who’s Next” was supposed to be something called “Life House”, but he never got around to finishing it.

In contrast, other iconic musicians, such as Gilmour, Waters, or Springsteen have been good bosses and have run tight ships. A big reason that The Who was so successful is that Roger Daltrey was the sober grownup. The same type of relationship was seen with Paul McCartney keeping the rest of the stoner Beatles working.

Anyway, if you want to see some rare footage of two legends of Rock and Roll during a brief time in their lives when they were humbled and no longer able to fill stadiums, watch the DVD “Face the Face”.

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