With the imminent one-night-only theatrical run of "The Who: Quadrophenia - Can You See the Real Me? The Story Behind the Album" less than a week away, long-standing rumors that the surviving and central members of the legendary band would take it back on the road were already virtually confirmed.
But Wednesday morning, via a video press conference streaming live to roughly 275 music journalists, Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey made it official: The Who are bringing their massive, influential 1973 opus to an arena near you.
"'Quadrophenia' is something we both felt we could get together on," Townshend said Wednesday. "Last time we did it was 1997 (the tour began a year earlier, with Billy Idol in tow as The Punk) and we've been anxious to work together ... before we drop dead."
"Would you describe it as the Who's Mt. Everest?" the moderator of the Q&A posited.
"It is for a singer," Daltrey replied. "I'm not sure how many more years I can sing this music, but my voice is great at the moment."
The lifelong musical pairing of Daltrey, 68, and Townshend, 67 - plus the same ace band that backed them live throughout the past decade, including bassist Pino Palladino, drummer Zak Starkey and keyboardist Chris Stainton, who played on the original recording - will embark on this first tour together in four years in the fall, presenting "Quadrophenia Plus Who Classics" in 36 cities nationwide, launching Nov. 1 from Sunrise, Fla.
What follows is more from the press conference, with apologies to the moderator, whose questions (posed in advance by journalists) are paraphrased here.
Q: It's a very English piece. What do you think American audiences make of it?
Daltrey: I think it's easy to understand. It's that period of your life when you're going through adolescence, and you're trying to find out who you are. Hopefully you get there soon after your teens. Lots of other people don't get there until 30, or others until 70. ... What I find really interesting looking back is ... how much of the historical significance of it, and the events going on at the time, are apropos of today. I don't think that there's any problem (relating to it).
Q: There's a film you've made documenting the story. What was it like putting that together?
Townshend: I can tell you that for my part, the writing about the record and going back through the album was easy, but doing the documentary was quite difficult. I haven't seen it. (Daltrey laughs and scoffs.) You get to a certain age and the last thing you want to look at is yourself looking 105 going on about being 15.
When the movie (Franc Roddam's 1979 version, with Sting as Ace Face) first went to America, people couldn't understand what was being said; there was word that the movie was going around with subtitles. (But) the film gave the characters in the album flesh. That was really, really important. It's been restored and re-dubbed now - and you really can hear what people are saying. (It arrives from in a Criterion Collection edition on Aug. 28.) But I'm delighted with the response to the documentary. I put a lot of work into it, and the box set that preceded it. "Quadrophenia" is a passion of mine, I love it.
Daltrey on the album's enduring power: Once they put those cans (headphones) on, that world is in their head. That's the canvas, and they can make anything of it. That's in some way what I don't like about the film, is that it's too real. I hope that (the coming tour) still gives people something to think about, that maybe they haven't thought about "Quadrophenia" before.
Townshend on the album's metaphorical aspects: "What's very interesting is that when we talked about this idea that Jimmy (the work's central figure) reflected the band (even literally, as in the rear-view mirrors of Jimmy's Vespa on the cover) ... what we meant was that somehow it was natural to see everything upside down. The reflection process that we believed at the time was that we reflected our fans in some way. In '72-'73, we'd had a really successful time, and what we needed was to find our reflection with our fans.
The band was in peak condition, everything fell into place, the mix worked out really well. We weren't trying to be mods - we never felt like we were mods in the first place, but we really reconnected to our fans. We recorded in Battersea (an area rife with council estates), not our usual place ... and it somehow made us feel like we really had our feet on the ground after the heady days of "Tommy" and "Baba O'Riley" and "Who's Next."
Townshend on memories of the 1996-97 tour: Funnily enough, the only bit of the "Quadrophenia" experience I can remember was doing it at Madison Square Garden, which was a really chaotic experience ... it was chaos but wonderful chaos.
Daltrey: The sort of chaos the British do best.
Townshend: 30-some shows and I don't remember a one of them.
Q: How well has "Quadrophenia" aged?
Townshend: Just as a piece of music, it stands up, and it offers a journey, whether you choose to go on that journey or not. ... There's a poignancy to me of how it connects me to my early days. It's not nostalgia, and it isn't self-indulgent. You've got to remember that the Who were a very young band when we started out in '63-'64 playing to those audiences. We were just kids. ... It seems to still have some potency. Not sure how that works. Maybe because the mod image is so clean-cut - it's a cool look.
Townshend on the Who then vs. now: The other thing that Roger and I carry, apart from the fact that we can take our pick of musicians, is that we miss the other two guys very much. (Keith Moon died in 1978, John Entwistle in 2002.) Roger and I were lucky enough to tour from about 2000 onward with John Entwistle. But there is this constant drive to re-create (and) there was a sense of being liberated, I don't want to make a good thing out of two deaths, but sometimes that's what happens. I do feel freer to explore what I did as a musician back then but also find new things.
Q: What other Who classics will be in the mix on this tour?
Daltrey: You won't get them all - that would be a five-hour show. But we'll do a good portion of stuff and try to vary that - I hope, anyway. I saw Paul McCartney recently (and) I really realized when I saw that concert that people do so much want to hear the hits. It's great that we can get a good show out of "Quadrophenia," but to kiss it goodnight, what better way than with "Baba O'Riley" or "Won't Get Fooled Again"?
Townshend: Wheel out the old chestnuts.
Q: How does the album's youth issues apply today, when young people are so hyper-connected? Are the themes that made you want to write it still prevalent?
Townshend: I think the situation is sharpened by (connectivity). If you're one of those people who gets left out of the loop ... if you can't do Twitter ... God, that must feel lonely. And this is about a man who doesn't fit in.
Today ... there's a lot of interest in the album format, lots of new artists are playing their albums on stage. That's just an echo. What happened in the '60s was that singles were what pop artists did. Nobody did albums. It was "Sgt. Pepper" and "Pet Sounds" that made this thing about the album that was something worth sitting down and listening to from start to finish. Now that the Internet is getting faster ... the idea that people have short attention spans is just rubbish. Music is becoming a richer deeper field. When people find something they love, they will give it their attention.
But I do think that people, not just young people, who are communicating through email, texting, Facebook ... one of the difficulties with that is (how to) be authentic to yourself. That's what "Quadrophenia" is about: this young man who realizes he hasn't quite solved the problems of growing up, and all he can do is sit and offer it up to the universe for answers.
Townshend on his longstanding hearing problems: Well, I'm all right at the moment. The problems that I've had have been tinnitus, but I've gone through long periods of being careful about it. I love sailing, and that's not good for it, either, the wind hitting your ears. My problems were created in the studio, not on the stage. I've had some trauma on stage (related to that), but I can't imagine what it's been like for Roger. I don't actually protect my ears (live). I don't use in-ear monitors either, because they actually give me very bad tinnitus.
Q: In light of Roger Waters going all out with "The Wall" recently, would you ever expand "Quadrophenia" into a larger production in the future?
Townshend: I would, he wouldn't (pointing to Daltrey). As the composer, I like the idea of it being as grand as possible. I think what Roger wants is to be able to sing the story authentically - to really feel it. That's why I think it's important that Roger should drive this.
Daltrey: For me, as a singer, you have to know what you're inhabiting when you're singing it. It's a strange process; you can't just be in a vacuum. That's always been a bit of my difficulty with "Quadrophenia," in the production from '96-'97. One of the problems I think Pete in some ways had in putting this music into stage form is that people tend to put it into a standard Broadway production. His music and the things he writes about are so different, you almost have to invent a whole new staging, a whole new world to inhabit. That's what we're trying to do with this.
Q: Many people consider it your crowning achievement, maybe your masterpiece.
Daltrey: I think Pete's written equally good stuff, but as an album that holds together most, maybe it's this one, because there was no input from the other writers.
Townshend: It's funny, I was thinking just the other day, someone asked me to comment on "It's Hard" (1982), the last Who album before we split up. I always think of it as an unsuccessful album, but it's actually quite extraordinary. ... "One Life Is Enough" has one of the most extraordinary vocal performances ... (turning to Daltrey) It reminds me of when you cracked that "see me, feel me, touch me, heal me" part on "Tommy."
All of the albums have their qualities. We're not prolific like AC/ DC or the Rolling Stones. If the Beatles had kept making albums, they'd have made about 150 by now. We didn't really make that many. We took our time. But it's the most successful rendition of the band as a guitar/ bass/ drums band. Funny enough, there's lots of brass, lots of synthesizers, I play some violin here and there badly, but the most important thing for me is that the band was on fire. I gave the band a really great piece of music, then jumped in and it worked.
Q: What can you tell us about your upcoming performance at the Olympics?
Daltrey: Has it been announced that we're gonna be there? We've prepared ... well, I've prepared something and Pete's given me free rein to do it ... it's a great finale. But it's not a rock show. W can't do it live. We could do it live standing on our heads after 50 years, but there's athletics going on, so we can't do it live.
(The ceremony) is about all the great music that has come out of this country. It isn't about us being on the end of the Olympics. It's not about the Who being on a TV show. It's about making great music that is apropos to that event. People have given years of their lives to be on that field.
Q: Will there be any new Who material? Will you record together again?
Townshend: I'm writing right now. Once I put down this bloody life story (he's prepping memoirs for publication), I went back to music. The only thing is that I'm not sure if what I write today, whether you can rubber-stamp it as Who music, though with the last album (2006's "Endless Wire"), we proved that we can adapt.
Daltrey: I just think that whatever you're writing, even if it's a bit of a jazz instrumental ... if you write it, and I sing it, that's Who music.
Townshend: I agree with that. But as a Bruce Springsteen fan from the very, very start, I want to hear him grow within that framework that he's always been in, not some hee-haw-on-the-Hudson-River nonsense.
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