HIS GEN­ER­A­TION

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Arts -

PETE Town­shend of­ten feels sleepy be­fore a show. At 63 the Who’s chief song­writer and gui­tar crafts­man could be for­given 40 winks be­fore turn­ing his at­ten­tion to en­ter­tain­ing a crowd, but the af­flic­tion is noth­ing new. He has been calm to the point of doz­ing in the dress­ing room since the 1960s.

‘‘ Maybe that’s just my pe­cu­liar va­ri­ety of nerves,’’ he says. ‘‘ I am very calm be­fore a show. I don’t psy­che my­self up. Quite the con­trary.’’

This prepara­tory in­ner peace could ex­plain why Town­shend has be­come, in a ca­reer span­ning 45 years, syn­ony­mous with an ex­plo­sive, dy­namic and of­ten ex­tremely loud stage pres­ence. The en­ergy has to come out some­where. As the foil to singer Roger Dal­trey in what, at its peak, was known as the great­est rock ’ n’ roll band in the world, Town­shend’s sig­na­ture wind­mills and pierc­ing riffs are the stuff of rock leg­end.

Aus­tralia got to see that Town­shend en­ergy, that crafts­man­ship, when the Who made their first visit here in 36 years in 2004. As the two sur­viv­ing orig­i­nal mem­bers, Dal­trey and Town­shend were the fo­cal points on that trip, de­spite the ex­pe­ri­enced play­ers around them that in­cluded Ringo Starr’s son Zac Starkey on drums. But it was Town­shend who daz­zled most.

Now, af­ter a more ac­cept­able gap, they’re com­ing back, this time for a hand­ful of shows that in­cludes an ap­pear­ance at the Aus­tralian Grand Prix.

Town­shend is ex­cited about the visit: he has friends here as well as fans. He ac­knowl­edges that the ex­traor­di­nary ab­sence of the group from th­ese shores for most of its ca­reer, af­ter they were thrown out of the coun­try for what was a mi­nor mis­de­meanour on an aero­plane in 1968, was a mis­take on their part. Two vis­its in the past five years, how­ever, are not just about mak­ing amends for all the years we — and they — missed out on.

‘‘ Of course I have re­grets,’’ Town­shend says. ‘‘ But it’s a big world, and I didn’t feel we had enough time to con­sis­tently tour all the places we should have vis­ited. Ja­pan was an­other coun­try we just skipped. I had a fam­ily and I wanted to be a proper fa­ther, and I think I man­aged that. In the end, Amer­ica and Bri­tain tried to swal­low us up.’’

Given the Lon­doner’s dis­like of the rock ’ n’ roll life­style, for which he was a poster boy in the Who’s early ca­reer, per­haps we should be grate­ful that Town­shend is com­ing to Aus­tralia at all.

‘‘ I re­sist tour­ing and have done all my life,’’ he goes on. ‘‘ I am never will­ing to do as much road work as my band-mates would like. I think we are play­ing Aus­tralia now out of a real de­sire to make a con­nec­tion, to en­joy the peo­ple and the coun­try, and not to make amends, sell records or make money. I have so many re­ally good friends there, or from there. We are com­ing be­cause Aus­tralia is a part of our world, and our lives as artists. It re­ally means some­thing to us.’’

Town­shend and Dal­trey stand in 2009 as two of rock’s great sur­vivors, not least in their own band, which lost drum­mer Keith Moon in 1978 and bassist John En­twistle in 2002, both to dru­gre­lated causes. More than that, how­ever, the two re­main­ing mem­bers have emerged, five decades into their ca­reers, as friends and with the Who’s cred­i­bil­ity and pulling power in­tact.

In De­cem­ber last year Dal­trey and Town- shend were hon­oured at the John F. Kennedy Cen­tre for the Per­form­ing Arts in Wash­ing­ton, DC, for their achieve­ments in the Who. The band is the first rock en­sem­ble to re­ceive what is one of the US’s most pres­ti­gious cul­tural awards.

To see the two mu­sos with their arms around each other and singing each other’s praises, as they did af­ter that cer­e­mony, is not some­thing that would have come so read­ily to ei­ther man dur­ing the Who’s hey­day. Bust-ups were not un­com­mon, and that’s be­fore we get to the an­tics of volatile drum­mer Moon.

They cul­ti­vated that hos­tile im­age on stage by smash­ing up their equip­ment on a reg­u­lar ba­sis, but there was real an­i­mos­ity bub­bling un­der­neath, par­tic­u­larly be­tween the singer and gui­tarist. It was this fric­tion, to a de­gree, that gave the Who an edge over other rock bands at the time. Now, how­ever, there’s a mu­tual re­spect — what Dal­trey calls fra­ter­nal — as well as an ac­knowl­edg­ment that they should en­joy life and mu­sic and what they have cre­ated as they get old. As Dal­trey pointed out on their last visit, he can still get away with singing My Gen­er­a­tion in the noughties, be­cause there are plenty of fans from his gen­er­a­tion com­ing to see them play it.

In the beginning, when Town­shend and En­twistle formed an un­likely banjo and French

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