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Who's coming to Tahoe? The Who, that's who

Mark Earnest  |  Best Bets

In an interview in July with the Los Angeles Times, Who guitarist and chief songwriter Pete Townsend distilled the essence of his work with Who singer Roger Daltrey. He was describing Daltrey’s performance of the classic song from their album “Quadrophenia” called “Love Reign O’er Me.”

“What he’d done was to find a new way of expressing fear and anxiety and loss, and it was coming deep, deep, deep from his soul,” Townshend said of Daltrey. “It’s something Roger happens to be very, very good at.”

This dynamic duo of classic rock returns to bring more heavy music with a soul to our region with a show on Aug. 16 at Lake Tahoe Outdoor Arena. Although the band has been on and off the reunion circuit for decades, Daltrey told the New Musical Express magazine in April that this could be the final tour for the band.

“We seriously don’t know if we’ll ever play again after this,” Daltrey said. “People at our age have been popping their clogs (over the last year), so let’s just get real here, where we are in our lives. We’re doing remarkably well for where we are, but we just don’t know.”

“If we get through this year, we’re going to need some time off. We’ll rethink it after that. Obviously as a singer, I’ve got to keep working if I want to keep singing because that’s how voices work. If I stop singing now for a year, it’ll be all over.”

Listening to Who

Daltrey has fronted the band since it started in the wildly popular mod scene in England in the early ‘60s. The Who was one of the bands in the wake of the Beatles to mix pop melodies with R&B covers and extra-loud guitars. The original lineup featured Townsend and Daltrey along with John Entwistle on bass and Keith Moon on drums. The band earned a following in Europe among mod fans and teens with early songs such as “My Generation,” “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute.”

Two other songs – “I Can See for Miles” and “Happy Jack” – hit the American charts in those early Who days. They toured America several times in the mid-'60s and played the famous Monterrey Pop festival in California in 1967, but didn’t become superstars until 1969’s “Tommy,” an ambitious rock opera about a “deaf, dumb and blind boy” who becomes a spiritual leader. It featured songs such as “Pinball Wizard” and “See Me Feel Me.” The album sold two million copies and was later turned into a film and Broadway musical.

Townshend told the Los Angeles Times in July that early Who manger Kit Lambert inspired him to pursue more ambitious fare like “Tommy.”

“He brought me away from my art school friends and when I was about 18, took me to a flat in London and set me up with a tape machine,” Townsend said. “He always watched opera and ballet, and he encouraged me to be as audacious and experimental as a composer as I wanted to be.”

From that point, the Who did indeed become more ambitious, as well as one of the most popular live bands of the '70s. In that decade, they released several top 10 multi-platinum albums, including “Who’s Next,” “Quadrophenia” and “Who Are You.” The Who’s '70s hits are still ubiquitously played on classic rock radio: “Baba O’Reilly,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Love Reign O’er Me,” “Squeeze Box” and the title track to “Who Are You.”

It was Moon’s death in 1978 that signaled the end of the original lineup. The band did soldier on with drummer Kenney Jones and released two more albums before its first breakup in 1983. Songs from this era like “You Better You Bet” and “Eminence Front” still play on the radio today.

The music must change

Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle all started solo careers in the late '70s, but the Who seemed to always be in range. The band reformed several times over the next three decades, often for concert tours only but with some occasional studio work.

Entwistle died in 2002 while the group was on one of those tours, leaving Daltrey and Townshend to continue the group’s work on stages around the world. Townshend and Daltrey last released a Who album in 2006, called “Endless Wire,” and it was then that the group became a fully-fledged one again.

For this year’s touring through Canada, the U.S. and South America, the band features Pete Townshend's brother, Simon, on guitar; Zak Starkey, son of ex-Beatle Ringo Starr, on drums; Jon Button on bass; and Loren Gold, John Corey and Frank Simes on keyboards, backing vocals and percussion. The tour included a two-week residency in Las Vegas at Caesar’s Palace, which ended Aug. 11.

Give it a try

Daltrey told the NME that it was simply wanting to give a residency a try in Vegas that led to the Who setting up those shows.

“We’re not tired of playing,” Daltrey said. “We’re not tired of getting on that stage. We love it, but we’re tired of the scheduling, the time changes and the different hotels, the different beds, the ‘Where am I?’ in the middle of the night. I’ve had 53 years of that.”

As for the sets they are playing in Vegas, and if that’s a harbinger of what to expect for the rest of the tour, the Who are hitting on all eras of their work, although Daltrey hinted at some possible themes.

“We’ve got so much material we could do the hits one night, we could do ‘Tommy’ the next night and ‘Quadrophenia’ the next,” he said. “But, whether that’ll work at this stage, I ain’t got a clue.”

No matter what they are plotting, for his part, Townshend still enjoys performing as a member and founder of The Who.

“It’s much nicer to play our music to younger audiences who really haven’t grown up with it,” he told Rolling Stone in a recent interview. “I just feel, like, ‘Wow: I’m alive to see a new generation of people really get this stuff.’”