Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey meet in middle to keep the Who moving

Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey meet in middle to keep the Who moving

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Performances by the Who, Tony Bennett, Maren Morris and DMX highlight the music roster for May.
David Lindquist/IndyStar, David Lindquist/IndyStar

Pete Townshend says the Who are back in business because an “awkward compromise” is working out beautifully.

Guitarist-songwriter Townshend recapped the situation in an email interview before the Who perform Saturday at Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center:

Townshend wasn’t up for a Who tour without a commitment to eventually record new music. Vocalist Roger Daltrey initially didn’t warm to Townshend’s latest songs, and Daltrey wanted to the Who to tour with an orchestra — an idea that wasn’t an instant hit for the guitarist.

Fortunately, the Rock and Roll Hall of Famers met in the middle.

“We agreed to each reserve our judgment and jumped into the breach,” Townshend said. “(Daltrey) committed to the songs, I committed to the orchestra. It’s a blast! An awkward compromise has led to one of the most interesting and challenging times in Who history.”

The Who (Roger Daltrey, left, and Pete Townshend) will perform May 18 at Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center. (Photo: Photo provided by Firefly Media)

This give-and-take resonates in the title Townshend and Daltrey assigned to the tour: “Movin’ On!”

They’re the surviving members from a Who quartet that formed in 1964. Drummer Keith Moon died in 1978. Bass player John Entwistle died in 2002. Along the way, the band recorded rock classics ranging from “My Generation” and “I Can’t Explain” to “Baba O’Riley” and “Pinball Wizard.”

At the Ruoff amphitheater, Townshend and Daltrey will be accompanied by drummer Zak Starkey, guitarist Simon Townshend, keyboard player Loren Gold, bass player Jon Button and an orchestra led by conductor Keith Levenson.

London native Pete Townshend fielded IndyStar questions about a Who album that’s expected to arrive this year, the universal appeal of certain songs and what inspired his wardrobe choices in the late 1960s:

Question: You wrote on Instagram recently, “Can’t believe how loud an orchestra can be.” That makes me think we shouldn’t expect a delicate presentation when the tour makes it to Indianapolis? Is there a particular song or two that especially benefits from this format?

Answer: The orchestrations are all by David Campbell, who is the father of the more famous Beck. They are all entirely appropriate to the songs. Where the songs are bombastic, like the finale of “Tommy,” or the end of “Love, Reign O’er Me” in “Quadrophenia,” the orchestra complement and supplement that bombast, and the level of intensity is extraordinary. On the other hand, songs like “I’m One” and “Drowned,” for example, are treated with great care and love. David does very much what I would have done on the original recordings if that had been in my skill set at the time.

Today, with the help of my wife, Rachel, I can and do orchestrate, and have done so on a couple or tracks on the forthcoming Who album.

Q: The Who is making an album, which is great news. Can you share any lyrical themes or musical ideas that are represented on the recording?

A: I took a one-year sabbatical from October 2017 to October 2018. I wanted to study, devote my time entirely to my own creative and spiritual needs. By the time 2018 opened up – and it seems like yesterday to me – I was starting to think about trying to write some songs that would suit Roger. At first, this wasn’t entirely about the Who. I had worked a little with Roger on his solo album, and although I felt it was a very strong performance, and I loved it, it was based mainly on old songs.

As I began to write, I started to feel that something quite strange was happening. The prospect of touring with Roger – subject to having new songs by the Who in development – made me feel there could be more distance for us to travel. We have been relying on our old stuff (like Stan and Ollie) for so long now that touring for me was starting to feel rather “Groundhog Day.” I made a real gamble and set aside the summer to write at least 12 songs for a prospective Who album, each song directly aimed at what I thought would most engage Roger and suit his voice.

It won’t surprise longstanding, insider Who fans to know that it took some time for Roger to respond to the songs. Indeed, when he finally discussed them with me, he confessed that he felt they were better suited to me than to him. I had not tried to write solo album songs. I had already written about 40 songs for my own forthcoming solo project which will be based on my novel, “The Age of Anxiety,” to be published on Nov. 5. I have no plans at the moment for a conventional solo album. I didn’t want to tour again without the promise of new music from the Who, and Roger was only willing to tour if we did something brave and audacious — like work with an orchestra as he had done last year with “Tommy.” We each had our reservations.

We agreed to each reserve our…

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