March 9 was the night before The Who were set to appear at Chicago’s United Center, but it was also the night that the band’s talented second guitarist, Simon Townshend, treated both veteran and new fans to a 90-minute, acoustic solo show at Lincoln Hall.
Simon has deep roots in the creative world. His older brother, Pete Townshend, has performed and written for The Who for fifty years and his parents both worked as professional musicians. Besides touring internationally, Simon also devotes time to recording, producing, writing and contributing his talents to Teen Cancer America.
The well-balanced set pulled from his early discography and more recent albums: Looking Out, Looking In and Denial.
Townshend had had little time to spare as his flight from Boston had landed only about an hour earlier, which meant he had missed out on soundcheck, but as the energetic British singer-songwriter checked cords and tuned instruments, he assured the audience that “we’ll get through this.” “The man with the guitar” did more than “get through this,” however. By the eve’s end, he had cultivated a sensual circle of intimacy through heartfelt narratives, intelligent instrumentation and versatile vocals.
Simon began his original set with ‘Leaving This Town’, criss crossing the stage to connect with fans on both sides of the room. With equal enthuse, he plunged into ‘Comeback’ and then the wildly rhythmic ‘The Way It Is’.
His voice softened for the reflective ‘She Asked Me’. Then, gazing out into a growing crowd, he recounted the deja vu experience (“Those eyes…”) that inspired so-gentle ‘Bare Essence’. Scanning the stage, he picked up one of the several acoustic instruments that surrounded him. Then, big hands cradling a tiny mandolin, he strummed the chords to the romantic and remorseful ‘Bed of Roses’.
After a few stanzas of the yearnful “Mother,” he eased into “Still Love,” one from the vaults that still, unarguably, warrants solid recognition. As Simon’s voice rose delicately over a series of intricate string passages, the fans in the softly lit room grew pin-drop quiet. Bringing the audience into that aforementioned circle of trust, Simon disclosed the significance of the title song from his most recent release, Denial and reflected that depth in a forceful performance.
After another couple of engaging ballads, “Time Bomb” went for the jugular, shifting mood and tempo vis a vis a dynamic, throbbing bass line and jarring thirds. He sang the title song of Looking Out Looking In, the anthemic “I’m The Answer” and the hopeful “Forever and a Day” before dedicating “Stay” to an insistent fan. Simon finished off the set with “Ecstacy Heaven” and a touching tribute to his forever bride, “Girl From New York.”