I don’t know how it qualifies as ‘Uncut. Uncensored. Unrepentant.’ – which is how the ads for the new American tour word it – but The Who are certainly proving boisterous about their return. After ten solid years of touring the hits – long enough to lose a second founding member in the process – Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey are finally unleashing new recorded music, and with it, a new world tour. A press conference held in Berlin on Thursday, linked to an audience of journalists in New York, broadcast simultaneously on the Web to The Who’s fans via yet another Who web site, all in the aid of announcing these shows, served to demonstrate both that some things have changed and some have not.
In the former regard, The Who, perhaps more than any other group, old or young, have embraced the powers of the Internet as a means by which to communicate worldwide and instantaneously with one’s fans. I spent some time Thursday evening watching the July 1 concert from Hyde Park on my computer, and I was astounded by the quality of both audio and, particularly, the picture: even blowing the feed up to full screen size delivered something quite close to television quality. If I had the time and the dedication, I could be sitting at home most days watching Who concerts fed live through the Internet from around the world. I’ve managed to avoid that level of obsession – I’m actually not a big one for concert videos/DVDs/TV shows in general – but for the thousands of Who fans that have never been able to let go, Townshend’s Internet involvement must feel like a gift from God.
An as for the new album, provisionally entitled Who 2, and the new mini rock opera, more concretely entitled Wire & Glass, I’ll put down my disappointment with ‘Real Good Looking Boy’ and ‘Old Red Wine,’ the two “new” songs that showed up on the last of many compilations, Then and Now, and allow myself just a little of the musical optimism I felt back in 1979 – when Townshend made many promises about a new, Moon-less Who as a vehicle for increased musical freedom and experimentation. A large part of me still wishes this new music (and touring band) was not under the name of The Who but just Townshend and Daltrey (a la Page and Plant), but ten years of touring the hits under the old monikor has worn that resistance down. Which, of course, may have been the point.
And as for some things staying the same, it was almost a relief for me to personally hear Thursday’s press conference not over the Internet, but good old-fashioned terrestial radio (WDST in Woodstock), and to note that Townshend was still perfectly capable of a five-minute monologue that the broadcasters found impossible to edit. Likewise the acoustic performance of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again.’ I can’t for the life of me figure why, with the world (wide web) at their fingertips, and with a new album to promote for the first time in 24 years, we couldn’t have heard a new song, but, again, maybe I expect too much. I’ll look forward to that opportunity on the upcoming tour, instead.