He started out as the enigmatic lead guitarist of a radical pop art/rock ‘n roll outfit that came on as dangerous, busting his instruments to bits after windmilling on his 12 string Rickenbacker until the tips of his fingers bled. The antics on stage – apparently mindless, but actually a sly (and very expensive) form of social commentary with its intellectual roots in the 20th century “auto-destructive” art movement – were almost enough to obscure the scathing intelligence and gifted songwriting of the “nose on a stick”, as he flailed away behind the rough-looking lead singer, competing for attention with the irrepressible berserker on drums.
The songs as recorded for radio play, it turned out, were often less compelling than the solo demos recorded as the templates, with Pete alone on guitar, his ringing voice clear as brass above the crafty chord progressions that complimented the soaring melodies. It turned out he was a better vocalist than the front man, and the songs often had a melancholy, philosophical quality that was somewhat lost when they emerged from the studio treatment.
In later years, the erstwhile proto-punk became elder statesman, and more or less invented the “unplugged” movement, appearing alone with his acoustic guitar to play the songs the way they’d been written, all those years ago. The Kids Are All Right, performed here at the Brooklyn Academy of Music, is revealed as something close to a wistful ballad, having masqueraded all those years as an angry and raucous anthem of disaffected youth, the frantic drums and slashing electric chords obscuring the almost resigned and ambivalent inner thoughts of the nervous, doubtful kid residing at the center.