Townshend pursues ‘original spirit’

PETE TOWNSHEND has lived through several decades of rock ‘n’ roll, but he’s not close to extinction.

“I may look like a dinosaur, but I don’t think I behave like one,” joked the British rocker, whose new Atlantic album, “Psychoderelict,” was released last week.

“I’m always trying to do different things and discover different ways to find that original spirit of rock ‘n’ roll.”

Next month, Townshend embarks on his first North American solo tour to promote “Psychoderelict,” a conceptual opus that mixes music and spoken word. He isn’t counting on support from rock radio to break the new project.

“I need to do this tour because I really don’t think the album is going to get much radio play at all,” Townshend said. “I have to draw attention to it in other ways.”

Continued rock radio support of Who classics has had some benefit, according to Townshend, but he has grown weary of the late ’60s to mid-’70s programming.

“In a way, the format holds me back,” he said. “I want radio to change for me. I’m the artist. Let them change for me. It may sound arrogant or egotistical , but I think artists have to be the engine of life.”

Even with sponsorship support from clothing designer Tommy Hilfiger, Townshend reckons his tour will set him back “somewhere between $ 300,000 to $ 500,000.” The tour starts July 10 in Toronto and continues through Aug. 3, with stops in theater-size venues in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Berkeley. In Los Angeles, he performs July 29 at the Wiltern Theatre.

This year, Townshend has witnessed the hugely successful Broadway launch of “The Who’s Tommy.” The box office hit garnered five Tony awards, including his own for original music score.

Townshend is proud his 23-year-old rock opera has stood the test of time. “I’m not surprised at its longevity, because I think it’s unique,” he noted. “That’s one of the reasons people have paid attention every time it’s had a reincarnation.”

Whether the new “Psychoderelict” will have such staying power remains to be seen. Townshend is aware that these may not be the best of times for mass acceptance of a concept album. However, he is optimistic that the work will find its audience.

TO PARAPHRASE MARTHA & the Vandellas, summer’s here and the time is right for busting nightclubs. Dragstrip 66, a once-monthly gay/straight drag club that operates at Rudolpho’s restaurant in Silverlake, was investigated by the fire marshall June 12. According to club official Paul V., the fire marshall, acting on a tip that the club was overcrowded, conducted what the marshall described as a “routine head count.”

Not to be caught unprepared by the possibility of an angry crowd of ferocious drag queens, the marshall was assisted by a half-dozen L.A. Police Dept. black and whites, paddywagons and helicopter.

After a head count revealed the club was about 60 people over its legal limit of 300, police asked the crowd to disperse, ending the evening.

Captain Bob Riley of the LAPD’s Northeast division acknowledged the response to the incident, but said the show of force is routine when fire officials request assistance. “We are investigating,” Riley said.

Angered by the loss of revenue, the club owners and promoters demanded a hearing with the LAPD, which is expected to take place in July.

L.A. SEEN: Happy birthday to PR firm Levine-Schneider, which recently turned 10 and celebrated with a bash at trendy Thai eatery Tommy Tang’s on Melrose. The theme was silver and black — and, not surprisingly, many of the guests were dressed to match.

Scarfing sushi, spicy Thai dishes and chocolate-dipped strawberries were a constellation of stars, mixed in with the working (and in this case, partying) press. Spotted were Charlton Heston, producer/Poetry in Motion coordinator Eve Brandstein, members of metal band Shotgun Messiah, “Star Trek: The Next Generation’s” Michael Dorn, KROQ DJ Rodney Bingenheimer, author Pamela des Barres with squeeze Jimmy Thrill in tow, Blues Saraceno, Stevie Salas and the very easy-on-the-eyes Sass Jordan.

“RAGING SLAB has taken a riff-rock sound of 20 years ago and finely honed it into a riff-rock sound of 20 years ago.” That’s how Slab singer/guitarist Greg Strzempka would review his band’s new Def American album, the aptly titled “Dynamite Monster Boogie Concert.”

It’s been three years since the band — also featuring slide guitarist Elyse Steinman, guitarist Mark Middleton, bassist Alec Morton and drummer Paul Sheehan — left RCA Records, but Strzempka feels the group’s early, independent EP releases (“True Death” and “Assmaster”) coupled with endless budget touring, were what culminated in the massive, three-guitar, ’70s-influenced monster boogie sound unique to the Slab.

Clearly, humor is a big part of the mix, especially as evidenced by the video for the album’s first single, “Anywhere but Here,” featuring diminutive “Diff’rent Strokes” star Gary Coleman romping in a somewhat Kafkaesque scenario involving a minature golf course and marionettes. “He was totally cool; I think we made a friend,”Strzempka said of their co-star.

The Slab have enjoyed other, well, brushes with celebrity. Though William Shatner turned down an offer to read the band’s one-page record company biography for a cassette-bio release, Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones did the string arrangements on “Lynn,” a gentle ballad written for Strzempka’s sister, while the tune “Pearly” is aimed at ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons and his legendary guitar.

THE MUFFS are the first new band in a blue moon with the real rock ‘n’ roll spirit.

The band’s Warner Bros. debut is 18 cuts deep of ’70s punk-influenced pop anthems that will bring it all back to anyone who ever loved the Buzzcocks, Ramones, Rezillos, Undertones or any of the great acts of that genre. The Muffs don’t mind the comparison. As bassist Ronnie Barnett puts it, “It’s better to be compared to people you love, not those who suck.”

Produced by the band’s two A&R men, Rob Cavallo and David Katz-Nelson, the Muffs’ self-titled debut is a clean, clear testimony to lead Kim Shattuck’s songwriting skills. Some fans find it too pristine, unlike the band’s anarchic live performances, but in the vein of vintage Who, it’s a studio expansion that sells the live show. Key tracks include the debut single, “Lucky Guy,” the ballad “Everywhere I Go” and Barnett’s instrumental opus, “North Pole,” which the bassist claims “took me 10 years to write.”

The Muffs are touring the U.S. with label mates the Goo-Goo Dolls, and if their recent L.A. show was any indicator, the Muffs may become more like another WB punk act of the past, the Sex Pistols, in terms of self-destruction.

At the Palace, they destroyed microphones, refused to leave the stage when asked, and spit all over their audience as their amps fed back incessantly. Barnett, clad in a full-length gown out of “Alice in Wonderland,” was flattened by Shattuck with one vicious swing of her guitar. Ah, punk, back from the grave in the hands of the depraved.

IT SEEMS STRANGE for singer-songwriter David Crosby to make a solo album consisting almost entirely of other people’s compositions. But on his new Atlantic album, “Thousand Roads,” Crosby is the sole auteur of only one track.

“After I’d heard ‘Nick of Time,’ Bonnie Raitt’s album of a few years back, I decided to try the same approach (using outside writers) because I thought it was one of the most brilliant records I’d heard in ages,” Crosby said.

Indeed, the outside writers on “Thousands Road,” from new kids Marc Cohn and Bonnie Hayes to old hands John Hiatt and Phil Collins, lend the album an air of pleasantly unexpected variety, mainly light California rock, but not of the overbearing Eagles-derived blend that gave the genre such a bad rep.

Produced by longtime board whiz Glyn Johns, it’s a somewhat earthy record, very real and alive-sounding. Crosby’s singing is pure and clear as it was back in the heyday of the Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, when Crosby’s so-called “invisible third harmony” was that band’s trademark. Crosby intends to do some tour dates this summer, perhaps with Graham Nash, but not with the full CSN band.