Roger Daltrey doesn't obsess much about the past, he says. The Who frontman won't even look at recently unearthed 35mm movie footage of the band's epic performance at Kilburn in 1977, now set for DVD release on November 18th. "I haven't seen it, and I never will," says Daltrey. "I don't look back. What's done is done. Maybe when I'm old and laying at home with Alzheimer's, I'll go 'Well, this is a very interesting band ...' "
He does remember the gig — actually two sets — at the Gaumont State Theater in Kilburn, North London, filmed for use in the 1979 Who documentary The Kids Are Alright. It would turn out to be the penultimate performance of the classic lineup of the Who. Drummer Keith Moon, 32, died that year from an overdose of alcohol-withdrawal medication.
At a Los Angeles screening of The Who: At Kilburn 1977 this week, Daltrey told Rolling Stone, "His drinking problem got the better of him. He wasn't at his best. So it was a very tricky time in that sense. But even Keith Moon at his worst was amazing. You can't keep a drummer out of work. They have to drum. You have to get that energy out."
At the time, Moon had just reunited with the band in England after a year of hiatus and heavy drinking in Malibu, California, to record Who Are You and participate in the making of The Kids Are Alright. The drummer did live long enough to see some Kilburn footage within a rough cut of the documentary, and he wasn't happy about what he saw, says Daltrey, who was with him.
"It had a very big psychological effect on him. Huge," says Daltrey. "He'd seen what he had become, which wasn't pretty. Then we did make plans: 'Come on, Keith, we'll get you fit. I'll get [guitarist Pete] Townshend back on the road.' He didn't live long enough, sadly."
That was three decades ago, and Daltrey prefers now to focus on the present state of the Who. On December 7th, Daltrey and Townshend are to be given lifetime achievement awards at the Kennedy Honors, and the band is currently touring with drummer Zak Starkey (click here for Rolling Stone's report and photos from the band's most recent New York-area gig). Daltrey calls the match especially organic, since it was Moon himself who gave the young son of Ringo Starr his first drum kit back in the 1970s. "There is something about the energy that Pete's music demands, and you cannot cheat that," says Daltrey of Starkey's playing in the band. "You can't cruise this music. It's top gear or nothing at all."
He doesn't make promises about the future, but Daltrey was pleased with 2006's Endless Wire, the Who's understated first album of new songs in 24 years, and he'd like to continue. "I love what we're doing now. I always thought Pete's writing will just get better with age. It's that kind of brain. He usually gets inspiration from the road. We'll go back to England and who knows? He's been writing. But we never know what it is until it's done. It might be a book."
• The Who Deliver Big at Rock Honors Tribute Featuring Pearl Jam, Foo Fighters
• What's Next for the Who? "We've Done Enough Already," Says Daltrey
• 1972 Cover: Keith Moon Bites Back