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The Who hits 50 -- and looks forward
That exclamation point at the end of the Who Hits 50! symbolizes triumph.
And perhaps surprise.
This is, after all, the band that declared "Hope I die before I get old" in its first big hit, 1965's "My Generation." And while two of its members -- drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle -- have passed away, the Who remains very much a living concern, widely acknowledged as one of rock's upper echelon bands with a richly inventive catalog that includes rock operas ("Tommy" and "Quadrophenia"), sonic advancements (the early synthesizers of 1971's "Who's Next") and Pete Townshend's pointed, self-aware social commentary. The result has been a treasure trove of enduring classics such as "I Can't Explain," "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again" and "Who Are You," the latter enjoying a second life as the theme for CBS's "CSI: Crime Scene Investigation."
And as they celebrate their band's golden anniversary this year and last, guitarist Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey are making a case that the Who is, in fact, not too old to rock 'n' roll.
"Any band that survives in this business, like the (Rolling) Stones, it's extraordinary," Daltrey, 71, says by phone from the Who's offices in London. "The crap that the world as it was back then, and all those things that we had to deal wtih...We've lost two of us, and the Stones lost one.
"It's remarkable that any of us have survived, really. But I'm proud we have."
Townshend, meanwhile, has a different perspective on that survival.
"I think it's a real stretch calling what we do the Who," Townshend, 70, explains from New York. "It makes me sound very sour to say this, but it does feel to me like what we're doing is we're working with a brand -- the Who, which is something people identify as very different from what it is now."
This divide is something Townshend and Daltrey have dealt with, sometimes violently, for decades, and it has in its own way fueled the Who's ride -- and has kept the group coming back even after ostensibly calling it quits back in 1982. Daltrey calls most of the experience "a blur. It's really weird. I can't remember things. I can remember all the shows; I don't know why that is, but the rest of it is, like, a blur."
Townshend, meanwhile, feels that he's sharpened his perspective on the Who in general, and on a relationship with Daltrey that's tighter now than it's ever been.
"Roger and I have discovered something very new between us," Townshend says. "Roger is very much in line with the general malaise of old-timer Who fans. he exalts the music. He exalts the history. He has a deep and passionate connection to it. He expresses himself best through that music, and whenever (the Who) is not functioning, whenever he's not on stage singing, I think he misses it more than I do.
"And whether I see the Who as an abstract or not, I care about Roger more than I used to, and I think I care more about trying to make sure Roger still has a way of expressing that stuff."
That's been in jeopardy recently; Daltrey has battled vocal problems in recent years, forcing the Who to cancel shows and even an entire North American tour leg that was to have taken place last fall. Daltrey was diagnosed with viral meningitis and received treatment and rest during the band's time off. "When he's singing these days, he's singing better than ever," Townshend reports. "So I think there's certainly stuff we can do."
That's undoubtably good news for Who fans -- although their likely to hear more from Daltrey and Townshend than see them in the future. The Who Hits 50! trek is widely viewed as the duo's final full-scale outing, although one-off concerts, particularly for benefits, will continue. "We're going to be doing events and shows," says Daltrey, who launched the Teenage Cancer Trust charity in the U.K. along with Teen Cancer America. "We may do other things more experimental. But it won't be those long, extended tours. We can't do that any more."
And while Townshend predicts that "it might be tricky for us to work out what we do next," the sometimes reticent guitarist is certainly game.
"I think behind that (Who) banner things have changed, but I have to say both of us are quite excited about what we might do," explains Townshend, who has a litany of his own projects, including deluxe editions of his solo albums, orchestra adaptations of Who works and a multi-media "magnum opus" called "The Age of Anxiety."I think beyond the big birthday we will do things, and I think for me it would have to be new. It would have to be completely free of everything we've don't in the past. There's definitely a lot to be done, though, and that's exciting and somewhat inspiring to me at this point of my life.
"And if we happen to do an album together or whatever it is, it would be stupid not to call it the Who. It would be as much the Who as anything we've ever done."
The Who and Tal Wilkenfeld
7:30 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 27.
Joe Louis Arena, 19 Steve Yzerman Drive, Detroit.
Tickets are $39.50-$139.50. Tickets for the original Oct. 17 show will be honored.
Call 313-471-6606 or visit olympiaentertainment.com.
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