The artist Paul McCartney called a “monster” live

Paul McCartney may be one of the few people in the world who knows what it’s like to get too big for live performances. While his time with The Beatles sent every audience wild whenever they played live, it was anyone’s guess whether they were ever actually going to be heard amid the screaming fans every time they got on stage. McCartney still loved the idea of delivering music to the people directly, and as far as his contemporaries, no one came close to The Who.

By the time that The Beatles got to the end of their touring life, though, McCartney seemed to be one of the only ones who still cared about the performance. He always kept that big smile on his face and tried his best to play to the best of his ability, all while John Lennon raked his elbow across the keyboard because he knew no one could hear it.

That’s not where they started, though. The Beatles were first known as one of the scruffiest bar bands in Liverpool, and just a few years later, that scene had been taken over by the Mod scene, featuring one songwriter named Pete Townshend. While Townshend finally found a home with The Who, he quickly realised that just playing the song wouldn’t be enough.

Let’s face it, The Who weren’t going to give The Beatles a run for their money from a musical perspective, so they had to do something different. That meant toying around with volume and pushing the live show as far as it could go, including Keith Moon looking like a raving lunatic whenever he sat behind his drumkit.

For McCartney, no other rock band could reach what The Who started, saying when giving Townshend the Les Paul Award, “I never had a chance to really just stand opposite you and tell you. I would probably be too embarrassed, but here it is the ideal occasion for me to just say what I think everybody in the room (wants) to say ‘You are just a great monster, man!’”.

When looking at where Townshend was going sonically, though, the late 1960s saw him and McCartney throwing song ideas back and forth. Whereas Townshend came up with the massive clangour of ‘I Can See For Miles’, McCartney could keep up with ‘Helter Skelter’, which became known as one of the first major heavy metal tracks.

If McCartney won that particular battle, Townshend won the war by bringing his music to the people. Across albums like Live at Leeds, Townshend sounds like he’s in a battle with his guitar most of the time. That was just the recorded version, with many of the band’s set ending with him smashing his guitar to bits by the night’s end.

Even when Townshend toned it down, that same kind of intensity was still there in all of his playing. Though he has recorded his own version of a ballad like ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, the strumming pattern he uses on his acoustic guitar feels almost punk rock, sounding like he’s trying to cut the strings in half with every strike.

Then again, that comes down to how Townshend approached rock and roll in the first place. Whereas most saw music as an amazing soundtrack, Townshend used it as a way to escape his own emotions.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *