In less than a month, the Who will kick off their Moving On! tour at the Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Michigan, where they will be joined every night by a local symphony orchestra. This may come as a surprise to some since they said that their 2014 Who Hits 50 tour was the “beginning of the long goodbye,” but they never said exactly how long that long goodbye would be. And besides, why shouldn’t Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey keep touring until it’s no longer physically possible?
“We’re old men now,” Daltrey told Rolling Stone earlier this year. “We’ve lost the looks. We’ve lost the glamour. What we’re left with is the music and we’re going to present it in a way which is as fresh and powerful as ever.”
The Who virtually invented the farewell tour back in 1982 when they went out in support of It’s Hard and said it was the last hurrah, but just three years later they agreed to reunite at Live Aid along with Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, CSNY and Black Sabbath. Initially, Pete Townshend was very reluctant to play the event. In his memoir Who I Am, Pete Townshend remembers the reaction of Live Aid Bob Geldof organizer when he learned about his ambivalence. “If the Who appear we know we will get an additional million pounds of revenue,'” Townshend recalls him saying. “‘Every pound we make will save a life. Do the fucking math. And do the fucking show.'”
He agreed to do the show, but the band didn’t spend much time rehearsing and were woefully under-prepared when they took the stage at Wembley Stadium right after David Bowie in a prime-time slot. (Queen finished up their historic set just an hour earlier.) Making matters worse, the satellite feed crapped out right when they began their set with “My Generation” and wouldn’t return until the end of their second song, “Pinball Wizard.” If that wasn’t bad enough, John Entwistle’s bass was on the fritz during the set and kept cutting out.
They wrapped up with “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” which you can watch right here. It was the best moment of their brief set, but they still lost their way during the instrumental breakdown and never quite recovered. “The Who were out of practice,” Townshend wrote in his book, “and should probably have left it to Queen and George Michael, who stole the show.”
Three years later, they reunited again at the Royal Albert Hall for the British Photographic Industry Awards and the next year they went on an extensive stadium tour. Their only real activity in the Nineties was a Quadrophenia tour in 1996–97, but in 2000 they returned the road and have been there ever since, even though Entwistle died days before their 2002 tour began. It’s quite possible their upcoming symphonic tour will indeed be the last one, but in all likelihood they’ll do at least one more. If they can survive that Live Aid set, they can survive most anything.