"The Who Hits 50!" could be the legendary band's final tour -- the chance to commemorate one milestone with another.
Singer Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend will spend the bulk of their golden anniversary year on the road, with an extensive tour that makes several area appearances this month, starting with Wednesday night's show at the Nassau Coliseum, one night after Townshend's 70th birthday.
In some ways, it would be the perfect way to close this chapter of The Who's career. However, The Who prides itself on being imperfect, being far more rock 'n' roll than that. And, at this point, Daltrey and Townshend don't seem to be on the same page concerning what may happen after this tour ends in November.
"This time it really is our last," Daltrey recently told The Daily Express in England. "This is a circus. We're 70 years old. We don't know how long it will go on for, it could be another 18 months but that will be it. I've got to the point where I'm having physical problems with my body now, joints going and all that. . . . Everything from the past catches up."
The Who had to cancel three shows earlier this month after doctors ordered Daltrey to rest his voice for a week due to swollen vocal cords, though the rest of the tour isn't expected to be affected.
Townshend isn't sure that the band is ready to stop just yet. In addition to the current tour, The Who recently signed on to headline the final night of the Glastonbury Festival in June.
"We've been in this place before," he recently told Rolling Stone, noting that the band has already played three "farewell" tours. "I don't know what's going to happen next."
Daltrey and Townshend are sure, though, that they want the shows on the current tour to be as strong as they can be.
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The Who is currently bigger than it has been in years, with Daltrey and Townshend backed by a six-piece band that includes Zak Starkey on drums, Townshend's brother Simon on guitar, and bassist Pino Palladino.
"This is the 50th anniversary of the band and for me as a songwriter," Townshend told Rolling Stone. "It feels to me like something that I couldn't just let go by. Also, this isn't just about me, and it's not just about Roger. It was important to give some sense of the measure of the commitment, and I suppose the gratitude, that we feel to the fans. We're still here, and so many people aren't."
Townshend said in a statement that he has no intention of playing any "crap gigs" on this tour. "I have done it many times in the past [especially in the late '70s] and it didn't make much difference to Who fans -- I think they knew I was playing a role," he said. "I'm out here on our 50th because I am sincerely pleased to see old faces, old friends, and do my best to be as much of an [expletive] as ever. . . . Some shows are tougher than others. Funnily enough you might see me appear to have a better time during what is a harder show, that's because I sometimes find what we find so serious on stage to be ridiculous. Who cares if we sound like [expletive]? We are The Who."
After all, The Who's legacy has continued to grow even after previous farewells. Its 1985 appearance at Live Aid was one of the benefit concert's highlights, following the band's 1982 "farewell" tour.
The Who's performance at "The Concert for New York City," following the terrorist attacks of 9/11, has become part of not just the band's legend, but the city's as well. That night at Madison Square Garden, with footage of the World Trade Center's twin towers rolling behind them, Townshend's windmilling arms and snarling guitar drove the crowd of first responders wild, tapping into the mix of rage, sadness and defiance as they screamed along with "Won't Get Fooled Again." As Daltrey left the stage, he told the crowd what so many still believe, "We could never follow what you did."
After the death of bassist John Entwistle in 2002, Daltrey and Townshend considered breaking up for good, but decided to continue.
"What Roger and I have realized is that there was a gift in it, which was that it made us look again at we two, at me as a songwriter and Roger as a singer, without any of this sense of glorifying the group, glorifying the gang," Townshend told Rolling Stone. "We found a way to work together, which turned out to be fairly simple. It was Roger telling me what songs he wanted to sing and me trying to find some way of providing the music that sustained him in doing that."
WHEN|WHERE 7:30 p.m. May 20, Nassau Coliseum, Uniondale. Also, 7:30 p.m. May 26, Barclays Center, Brooklyn; and 7:30 p.m. May 30, Forest Hills Stadium, Queens.
The Who set list has remained more or less intact on the current leg of "The Who Hits 50!" American tour. Here's what the band played at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival on April 25:
"I Can't Explain"
"Who Are You"
"I Can See for Miles"
"Behind Blue Eyes"
"You Better You Bet"
"Love Reign O'er Me"
Suite from "Tommy": "Amazing Journey," "Captain Walker (It's a Boy)," "Sparks," "Pinball Wizard," "See Me, Feel Me"
"Won't Get Fooled Again"
WHAT CRITICS SAY
"They wasted no time flashing the moves the crowd had come to see -- [Pete] Townshend with his guitar windmills and Roger Daltrey with the microphone twirl -- as they opened with "I Can't Explain." . . . [It's] a 22-song set that was pretty much all money shots from start to finish." -- David Menconi, Raleigh News & Observer, April 22
"The Who can still be a breathlessly exciting live act, especially in rooms smaller than this 20,000-capacity barn, but tonight they seem constantly to be trying to catch up with themselves. . . . In the last third of the set, though, what had been a disjointed ragbag of a show finally starts coming together." -- Michael Hann, The Guardian, March 24
"If this is indeed The Who's last waltz, they're leaving fans with plenty of memories." -- Melissa Ruggieri, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, April 24