As a result, Townshend plans to open the second set with about forty minutes of solo material: acoustic versions of more obscure Who tunes like "Mary-Anne With the Shaky Hands," from The Who Sell Out, three songs from his new Iron Man album, full-band versions of his solo hits and covers like Robert Parker's "Barefootin'" and the Capitols' "Cool Jerk."
But that still leaves the Who's own set – and at the moment, nobody's thrilled with it. "The set list is boring," says Townshend, who adds that he drew it up for Entwistle and especially the "tremendously conservative" Daltrey. But Daltrey – the Who's acknowledged leader in the early days, before he resigned himself to being a voice that sang tunes written by somebody else – says that he's not as conservative as Townshend thinks he is and that the current set list is not the one he would have made up.
And Entwistle, who'd rather play raw rock & roll songs that would let the band improvise, puts it bluntly: "I don't think any of us are happy with the set."
In other words, these guys still don't agree. That's certainly no surprise: From the start the members of the Who have been nearly as legendary for their friction, onstage and off as for their music. Says Entwistle, "We have got different ideas about the music, different ideas about how the Who should sound and what the Who should play, and well never, ever agree on that."
By now, they all say, they've learned to talk instead of fight. Now, instead of Townshend drawing up the set list he wants to play, he draws up what he thinks Daltrey and Entwistle want to play – and if nobody wants to take credit for the list and everybody's equally unhappy, at least they're still friends. "There's something spiritual about it," says Daltrey. "I mean, I've missed 'em over the past few years. Even someone like John, who I've got nothing in common with, I'd do anything for the geezer. I never had a brother, but I should imagine maybe it's like that. You can be totally different, but there's something underneath it all which bonds you together." That's not to say there's no longer any tension – but these days, perhaps, they can joke about the tension. When Daltrey leaves the room to make a phone call about a movie role he's trying to sandwich in between rehearsals and the tour, Townshend leaves his booth and approaches Simon Phillips.
"Hey, Simon," he says, "have you asked Roger about putting 'Boris the Spider' in the set?"
"No," says Philips hesitantly. "I haven't had a chance."
"You haven't had a chance?" asks Townshend in a mocking tone. "Right. You're a fucking coward, that's what you are. C'mon with me. We're gonna find him, and we're gonna tell him together." He grabs Phillips by the arm and begins dragging him toward the door, looking around at the musicians and staffers in the room. "Anybody know where Roger is?"
"I think he's on the phone," says one staffer.
"Oh," says Townshend, who does an abrupt about-face as his exaggerated determination dissolves into exaggerated relief. "He's on the phone? Never mind, Simon. We certainly can't disturb him now."
Do we have a chart for this song?"
Behind his bank of keyboards, John "Rabbit" Bundrick leafs through a stack of sheet music – and in me middle of the room, Roger Daltrey rolls his eyes. "This is 'My Generation,'" he says. "It's dead easy. You don't need a chart for this."
They rip into the Who's first real anthem, Daltrey singing from his stool and the band doing a reasonable job of capturing the record's passion. As me final chords fade away, the door to the studio opens, and Pete Townshend walks in. "That sounded good," he says as he walks over to his booth and picks up an acoustic guitar.
With Townshend on hand, the band plays the early hits "I'm a Boy" and "Pictures of Lily," the latter a song Townshend once described as "merely a ditty about masturbation and the importance of it to a young man." The backup singers, though, can't quite figure out what they should contribute to this ditty, and the part they've worked out threatens to drown out Daltrey's vocals.
"I don't think we need any vocals on the last chorus," Townshend says when the song ends. "It makes it a bit sugary – and we don't want to make this powerful rock classic in any way sugary." He fiddles with his guitar, then mutters into the microphone, "Why can't I write tear-jerkers like this anymore? That's what I wanna know."
At this, Roger Daltrey turns, eyes Townshend and lets out a short laugh. "Tear-jerkers?"
Townshend shrugs. "Hey," he says, "it's genuinely moving."
But if spirits are high while the band rehearses theo oldies, they flag a bit when they get to more recent material. At the end of the 1982 song "Eminence Front," for example, Daltrey shakes his head. "You know," he says quietly, "we gotta do that one before we do the Quadrophenia songs. Because if we don't, it's gonna sound really weak next to the other stuff."
Today the Who is playing just about everything: half a dozen early songs, chunks of Tommy and Quadrophenia, plenty of Who's Next and four post-1978 tracks. But Townshend, for one, says the last Who album he was proud of was 1973's Quadrophenia. "I don't think there was anything wrong with the records that followed," he says, "except that they just didn't hit the mark. 'Who Are You' is a useful song, but it's only an echo of 'Won't Get Fooled Again.' 'Sister Disco' is a useful song, but it's an ancient sentiment, and it's musical snobbery. 'You Better You Bet' is okay . . .
"You know," he says, "I think the Who stopped two albums too late. I think if I'd stopped two albums earlier, when Keith died, I would never have ended up with a drinking problem, and I would never have ended up creating the kind of emotional havoc that I played not only in my family's life but in the life of loads of others."
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