Featuring: Mick Berry
Directed by: Bobby Weinapple
When: July 10-28, 2013
Where: Eureka Theatre, 215 Jackson Street, San Francisco, California
Tickets:$40; call 1-800-838-3006 or visit brownpapertickets.com
the bass drum really hard
There is a story going around that the organizers of the 2012 London Olympics asked Keith Moon to perform in the closing ceremony's "Symphony of Rock."
Bill Curbishley, The Who's longtime manager, had to inform them that Keith had a prior commitment, having lived up to Pete Townsend's line "I hope I die before I get old" in 1978.
But in Mick Berry's "Keith Moon: The Real Me," the drummer known as "Moon the Loon" is very much alive.
Berry's one-man play starts with The Who's "Baba O'Reilly," which sets the scene nicely for Moon's and Berry's drumming skills. But although the play is peppered with Who songs, this is a show about Moon the man, as much as Moon the drummer.
His loves, his paranoia, his feelings of inadequacy, and of course his drinking and drug use.
Berry starts us off with Moon asking the great Carlo Little for lessons, after one of his gigs with Screaming Lord Sutch. Little is not impressed and says he doesn't give lessons. But as Keith is persistent and only lives down the road, he agrees for ten bob (ten shillings) for 30 minutes. Little tells him that good drumming is all about hitting the bass drum hard. Keith is a quick learner and soon graduates to playing with a number of local bands.
But he's clearly still looking for something, and he finds it when he sees The Who playing with a session drummer. Telling them he could play "better than that wanker," he proceeds to play the second set and more or less destroys the drumkit in the process. And so begins his career with The Who.
Berry does a passable English accent and looks close enough to Moon to be believable, with flashing eyes and teeth. But he really becomes Moon when he's behind his forest of drums, juggling sticks and, yes, hitting that bass drum really hard.
And the rest of the band do a great job on numbers such as "My Generation" and "Won't Get Fooled Again," even without Roger Daltrey prancing around at the front. The stage band includes Jef Labes on keyboard and vocals, Ric Wilson on guitar and vocals, Vicky Grossi on bass and vocals, and Jesse Scott on bass and vocals.
Berry said he got the idea for the show ten years ago, after reading a biography of Keith Moon. The show has been four years in the making, and boasts music direction by Frank Simes, The Who's own musical director.
Berry plays not only Moon, but Moon's first wife Kim, as well as Roger Daltrey and Pete Townsend, both of whom were consulted on the script.
By 1964's "My Generation," Townsend and the rest of the band's equipment-smashing (started when Townsend accidentally broke a guitar during a gig) had landed the band 60,000 pounds in debt, though this didn't stop Moon from professing his professional ambition "to smash 100 drumkits."
Berry tells the story of the infamous birthday party at the Holiday Inn where Moon drove a Lincoln Continental into the swimming pool, though he informs us later on that the story was all a myth (still a good story, though).
The Who, somewhat laughably now, were apparently starting for Herman's Hermits on their U.S. tour.
By the age of 22, Moon has married his first wife Kim, but descends into a constant round of pills, booze, and paranoia, feeling that The Who might be at the end of its short existence. Then Townsend has the brilliant idea of writing a rock opera, and "Tommy" gives the band a new lease of life.
But the more successful the band is, the more paranoid Moon gets, always wondering if his drumming is good enough, if he is good enough for the band. He is overjoyed when Townsend writes the singing part of "Bellboy" for him in The Who's second rock opera, "Quadrophenia," in 1973, and attempts rehab. But after a year he is back on the booze, and five years later, he dies from an overdose.
Mick Berry nicely captures Moon's mood swings, from master rock drummer to inadequate husband and father. His extensive research has resulted in an uncensored yet sympathetic view of one of rock's greatest drummers, and one of its greatest characters. If Keith Moon had written an autobiography, I think this would be it.