It’s been 28 years since The Who asked itself the musical question “Who Are You?” And it’s just as relevant — if not more so — today as it was in 1978.
Two of the original Who members — drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle — are dead. Kenney Jones, who replaced Moon for a threeyear period, is long gone.
That leaves just guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey. They opted to continue after Entwistle died on the eve the group’s 2002 North American tour, and this year, they’re not only back on the road, they’re also bringing fresh material from “Endless Wire,” the forthcoming Who album that’s the group’s fi rst collection of all-new songs since “It’s Hard” in 1982.
All of that, according to Townshend, is about the group redefining its identity 42 years after forming in London.
“When The Who stopped recording in 1982, I just couldn’t do it anymore,” he explains. “I felt what The Who had done was triumphant, huge, innovative, groundbreaking, massive, unsurpassable, and that there was no way that I could ever come close again. ... What we would do would be a shadow of what we’d done before.”
It’s certainly a formidable legacy. From politically charged anthems such as “My Generation” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” to concept pieces like “A Quick One” and “Lifehouse” and the full-scale rock operas “Tommy” and “Quadrophenia,” The Who made a substantial footprint on popular culture in its 17 years of active recording — and also established itself as one of rock’s most powerful live bands.
As far as Daltrey, 62, is concerned, the music’s durability is all down to Townshend.
“Pete,” he notes, “doesn’t write in just a fl ippant pop sense — although he can. (But) there’s a depth to his writing that I feel has something to say today.”
The 61-year-old Townshend, for his part, refers to Daltrey as “a fantastic singer of my material, the greatest interpreter that a writer could ever want.” But whenever he would start to focus on writing some new Who material, he says, “something would change. Something would shift.”
The most dramatic, of course, was Entwistle’s death.
“That changed the balance in the band,” acknowledges Daltrey, who focused on TV and fi lm more than music when he wasn’t touring with The Who. “Pete and I are kind of two opposite ends of the globe, if you like, and John was the equator.
“Now it’s very different, and we had to come to terms with that.”
Townshend — who says he’s written 450 songs and 1,400 pieces of music since 1982 — agrees that Entwistle’s death “polarized” the two remaining Who members but also brought their relationship into “much clearer” focus.
“It just meant I’m the writer, Roger’s the singer,” Townshend explains. “Whatever you call it, whether it’s The Who or not, we always have that. But it made it very clear for us to work.”
‘Our lack of accord’
Townshend and Daltrey recorded a pair of songs for the 2004 compilation “Then and Now,” and then the guitarist set to work on “Endless Wire” — which is due out Oct. 31 and was originally titled “Who2” in reference to the band’s current lineup and as a friendly jab at good friends U2.
The album includes a new “mini-opera” called “Wire and Glass,” as well as several songs The Who are playing in concert, including “Mike Post Theme” and the single “It’s Not Enough.”
“We’re doing some pretty wild material on this record,” Townshend says, ranging from songs with electronic dance beats underneath to the stark voice-and-guitar “rage and protest” song “Man in a Purple Dress.”
“So from one extreme to the other,” he notes, “it’s very, very varied material.”
“I’m very pleased with what he’s written,” Daltrey affirms. “It doesn’t matter that it’s taken 25 years. However long it takes, as long as it’s good — and it is good.”
The “opposite poles” relationship between Townshend and Daltrey still exists, however; “Roger and I are in full accord about our lack of accord. Always have been,” Townshend noted in a posting on his Web site. “The Who is a partnership, neither of us get exactly what we want.” And the two locked horns this year over distributing streaming video of Who concerts online to raise money for charity — though Daltrey’s objections were more about the method than the concept.
Ultimately, however, Townshend says he’s more optimistic about The Who than he has been in years — in decades, even — and feels a new era is at hand, accompanied by a clarity.
“When I started to write and we started to play our own music, what we suddenly realized is that we weren’t speaking for our audience — our audience (would) tell us what to say,” Townshend explains. “When people say to me, ‘Hey Pete, your songs are very personal ...,’ they’re not personal at all. My songs are your songs.
“That’s a (process) I continue to honor today. Meet the new boss, y’know — it’s the same as the old boss. And that boss is you, not us.”
The Who and moe. perform 7:30 p.m. Friday (September 29th)at The Palace, Lapeer Road at I-75, Auburn Hills. Tickets are $54.40-$99.50. Call (248) 377-0100 or visit
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