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The Who Renews Its Bond With Detroit
The Who is going to be in the U.S. for all of two and a half weeks this fall, playing just 10 shows mostly as a vehicle to lead up to a benefit for actor Michael J. Fox's Parkinson's disease foundation in Los Angeles and a subsequent run in Japan.
But, as the song says, it won't forget the Motor City -- where the group opens its road trip on Tuesday (Oct. 21).
"The Detroit radio stations picked up on 'Can't Explain' as our first single before anyone else in the States," recalls Who singer Roger Daltrey, who joins guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend as the only original members left in the band after the deaths of drummer Keith Moon (1978) and bassist John Entwistle (2002)
"It's been an incredible relationship. Our audience has been incredibly loyal, and it's great that you kind of 'get' our music, and hopefully in the same way we do. We've kind of grown up together.
"It's totally bonded, that's for sure."
That connection goes back 41 years, to when the Who opened its first full-scale U.S. tour on June 14, 1967 at the Fifth Dimension Club in Ann Arbor. Five months later, on Nov. 22, the group played at Southfield High School. "School girls!" Daltrey, 64, recalls with a laugh. "I do remember the gymnasium; it reminded me of our old school that I got thrown out of back in London -- a little bit bigger, but very similar."
Other Who landmarks in these parts included Moon's notorious 21st birthday party in 1967 at the Flint Holiday Inn -- during which a car wound up in the hotel's swimming pool -- and the U.S. debut of its rock opera "Tommy" on May 9, 1969 at Detroit's Grande Ballroom.
Those memories, Daltrey says, are what inspired he and Townshend to donate the proceeds from Tuesday's concert to a pair of local charities, the Gleaners Food Bank and Focus: HOPE.
"We're blue collar guys, our audience are blue collar and we're aware of how hard they've been hit in the last two years," he explains. "I'm aware this is going to be a tough winter for an awful lot of people out there. I just do not feel right taking money out of this economy.
"Even knowing that the people who come to see us will be able to afford to come see us. It's not the issue. We can't do this everywhere, but we can at least make a gesture to the people who gave us our first support in the United States, which was the people of Michigan.
"So we can do a little bit. And if everyone did a little bit, it would all get done."
Even with this rich past, however, there's a Who present to be reckoned with. In 2006, Daltrey and Townshend released "Endless Wire," the Who's first album of all-new material in 24 years. Last year the duo released the DVD documentary "Amazing Journey: The Story of the Who," and in July they were feted at the annual VH1 Rock Honors. A DVD from a 1977 performance in Kilburn, England -- done for the 1979 documentary "The Kids Are Alright" -- comes out Nov. 18, and the group will be a recipient of a Kennedy Center Honor on Dec. 7.
"I was flabbergasted," Daltrey says of the latter. "It really is an honor indeed. Coming from where we come from, being totally inspired by American music at such a young age and now being honored by the country that inspired me, it's unbelievable."
Daltrey -- who's also been working on a film biography about Moon but hasn't yet found a script he likes -- also has his sights set on some new music in the near future, too. He predicts that he has "one more good (solo) album in me" and expects the Who will have something fresh to offer as well.
"I think Pete's got every intention of writing more new Who stuff," Daltrey says, "but he hates to say that until he's actually written it 'cause it's in the lap of the gods, isn't it? "I wish I could write it, 'cause we'd be doing it tomorrow. But, sadly, I'm not the writer that Townshend is. One genius is enough in a band."
Daltrey adds that there's little he can do to push Townshend, either. "You just have to be there for him if he needs you," the singer explains. "That's my function. I'm just an instrument for him, and...I'm quite happy with that."
As for what's said to be a combative relationship with his longtime partner, Daltrey notes that "there will always be a tension with Pete and I, 'cause we're such different people on so many levels, but we're one and the same on others. People say that, 'There's something about being in an audience when you and Townshend hit the stage together. Something happens. There's a tension in the air...'
"I can't explain that to you, 'cause there's other sides of our life where we're like brothers...really, really close. But it's a creative thing, and I value it tremendously.
"And," Daltrey adds, "I love playing (Townshend's) music -- old, new, whatever. And we've got no intention of stopping. As long as he wants to be in a band, I'll be there with him."
Five mandatory Who tracks...
* "I Can't Explain" (1965)
* "My Generation" (1965)
* "Summertime Blues" (live, 1970)
* "Won't Get Fooled Again" (1971)
* "Who Are You" (1978)
And one wild card...
* "Heatwave" (Martha & the Vandellas cover, released 1987)
The Who and Inward Eye perform at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday (October 21st) at the Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $97.50, $59.50 and $39.50. Proceeds will go to the Gleaners Food Bank and Focus: Hope. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit www.palacenet.com.
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