The Who: Last Time Around

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Rock & roll glamour is in similarly short supply in each of the other band members' rooms. Entwistle, the stolid bassist, is in the grip of a backache that won't give up. Kenney Jones, the drummer – who is weathering a divorce and has kicked a debilitating booze habit – fidgets away the offstage hours compulsively gulping Perrier. Daltrey, a fitness buff, has beaten back the gout that plagued him on previous tours but is still pained by a back injury he sustained while filming Tommy eight years ago. Only Tim Gorman, the affable, conservatory-trained Californian who's playing keyboards on this tour, seems unscarred by his calling, happily munching cheese and crudités from a vast room-service platter as he waits for show-time.

Is this how it all ends – in a whimper of cheese and Perrier? Not exactly; Who fans needn't wear out their arms waving goodbye. Because, although it's billed as their U.S. swan song, this latest excursion (which kicked off September 22nd near Washington D.C.) is also the longest tour the Who have mounted in twelve years; given the group's well-known volatility, anything might happen between now and mid-December, when the tour concludes. And they do have a future, however ambiguous: The band will tour Britain and Europe in the new year, then Australia, and for the first time, Japan. And Bill Curbishley, the group's enterprising manager, is already talking about the possibility of playing a quick cluster of dates sometime in 1984 and perhaps fulfilling the Who's longstanding plan to play Eastern Europe – maybe even doing Tommy at Moscow's opera house. As Kenney Jones says: "Little and often is the word – one-off concerts, or three or four days somewhere."

So there is a master plan, of sorts: the Who will leave the road because it's killing them – or, more precisely, because it was killing Townshend – and in the future will congregate only to record albums and perhaps perform the occasional brief burst of concerts. They've had it all, and now the three original members – Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle – are crowding forty. Their generation – the pill-head Mods and flower kids of the Sixties – is just another blip in the cultural memory bank. Hanging on to traipse on stages for yet another new wave of fans, they would run an increasing risk of becoming ridiculous. Or worse, boring. As Daltrey says one evening, squinting into the setting sun outside his hotel-room window: "I can't see the Who without its energy. If I go downhill, and if Pete gets slower . . . well, like it or not, the arm swingin' and the mike twirlin' are important to the Who. I mean, could you see us just standin' onstage, just playin'?" Daltrey's brow bunches up over his pale blue eyes, twin reflections of Townshend's own azure orbs. "Do you really want to see the Who like that?" he asks.

On this tour, at least, no one has seen the Who like that. Buoyed by what they conceive as a sprint toward some sort of final curtain, they have been burning through their two-hour-plus sets, lashing out the songs from their new album, It's Hard, with all the fire of their great, anthemic hits. So far, it seems like a great way to go out – on top, as Roger says. Even Mick Jagger, who turned up with his daughter, Jade, for the Who's second concert, at John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, was suitably impressed – and not just because his old pals had set a house ticket-sales record at the same stadium where the Rolling Stones had played one year earlier.

"Mick was up on the side of the stage," Daltrey recalls, "and afterward, I said, 'Are you waitin' to go out and do it again?' And I think, suddenly, he really might have looked out at that crowd and saw what we were doin', and thought, 'Maybe we should have called that our last tour, too.'"

The Who and the Stones go way back, but Pete is still bemused by Mick's tough business head. They spoke briefly in Philadelphia. "He was saying to me, 'Well, we started off in Philly, and then we went to Buffalo – it's 400 miles, you know, a very heavy thing for the trucks.'" Pete cackles appreciatively. "I don't give a shit how far it is for the trucks. I just play."

Which is not to say that Townshend is a complete dummy about the mechanics of taking a rock band on the road. There are several levels of touring, and the Who have been through them all. They started, of course, at the penniless-unknown level, in which aspiring rockers commandeer a friendly automobile, pile their pathetic equipment into it and drive off to spend the night in some forlorn pub, playing for free beer and change. If they're really penniless – as Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle were when they first came together as teenagers in a West London band called the Detours – they have to build their own instruments.

The next level is opening up for established acts. The Detours opened for the Rolling Stones before that band had even cut a record, and after Keith Moon joined the lineup in 1964, Townshend and company opened for the Beatles and the Kinks. In the days of package tours, they also played support for such briefly celebrated bands as Screaming Lord Sutch, and Johnny Kidd and the Pirates (whose guitarist, Mick Green, had developed a hybrid style of lead and rhythm playing that exerted a heavy influence on the young Townshend). Those shows were a lot of fun. Entwistle recalls a time the band played a package that included the Herd, a teen-pop band that featured Peter Frampton. For a laugh, he says, "I tied Frampton to a radiator by his scarf and wouldn't let him go onstage." No one took the music business too seriously in those days.

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