Roger Daltrey is livid. At rehearsal a week before his sold-out Daltrey Sings Townshend concerts at Carnegie Hall, the former Who vocalist has a 65-piece orchestra from Juilliard, a 100-person technical crew, a pay-per-view TV special and the egos of guest stars such as Lou Reed, Sinéad O’Connor and Eddie Vedder to worry about. But that’s not what’s bothering him. It’s former band mate Pete Townshend who has got Daltrey’s blood pressure on the rise. Shaking his full head of curly blond tresses in disbelief, Daltrey complains about Townshend to orchestra conductor Michael Kamen: “What do you mean he’s decided to perform ‘The Shout’? I don’t even know that song. I just think that to do something that obscure at that point in the show is suicide.”
Kamen tries to appease Daltrey, but the well-tanned singer isn’t having any of it. “He changes his mind every day,” Daltrey says with a stomp. “You just don’t do that to friends, do you? He’s mad, isn’t he? The man’s obscene.” (Daltrey ended up winning.)
Not much has changed in the 34 years Daltrey and Townshend have known each other. They began their relationship with clenched fists and went on to build a legendary band out of mutual antagonism. Considering that Townshend once called Daltrey’s voice “terrible,” it’s surprising that he even consented to perform.
“I was never really unhappy with Roger’s voice,” says Townshend now. “In those days, we used to say things for effect.” The only thing Townshend’s unhappy about at the moment is performing in front of an orchestra. Last time he attempted it, in 1972, he was so drunk and frustrated that he stormed offstage midway through the performance. “It just seemed like I’d spent my whole life trying to evolve rock & roll, in a way advance it within its own terms,” Townshend explains, “and somehow it was being co-opted and swamped by a much greater tradition, which was the tradition of the orchestra and classical music. We had our own version of ‘Pomp and Circumstance,’ and that was smashing a few guitars.”
According to Daltrey, the impetus for the pomp of the Carnegie Hall concerts, held Feb. 23 and 24, was his 50th birthday (which was actually March 1). “I know this is going to sound cliched,” Daltrey says, “but I was the guy who sang, `I hope I die before I get old.’ And I’ve survived, much to my surprise . . . I wanted to celebrate my 50th birthday in a grand way with music, because without rock & roll, I would have been a factory worker.”
In a celebration of youth – and also because older stars such as Mick Jagger, Bruce Springsteen, Robert Plant, Jon Bon Jovi and the Kinks‘ Ray Davies couldn’t attend – Daltrey recruited a fresh crop of singers to perform with him. These were pop stars motivated more by their awe of the 5-foot-5-inch rock titan than by faith in his project.
“When you only have one record out and you’re having someone like Roger Daltrey notice you, it’s really mind-blowing,” says 4 Non Blondes frontwoman Linda Perry, who sang a wicked version of “Acid Queen.”
Pearl Jam‘s Eddie Vedder said beforehand that he didn’t know which was more bizarre, “singing with Roger Daltrey or singing in front of an orchestra.” Vedder opted for neither and performed solo versions of “The Kids Are Alright” and “My Generation” instead. Vedder took his role to heart and, much to Carnegie Hall’s outrage, trashed his dressing room, splattered his blood all over the wall and scrawled, THIS IS MY GENERATION, BABY, in the bathroom.
Despite other onstage celebrants such as the Spin Doctors, the Chieftains, Reed, Alice Cooper, O’Connor and former Who bassist John Entwistle, the audience was unfazed by the special guests. Most of the fans were there to see Daltrey and Townshend share the same stage after a four-year silence.
In response to mutterings that Daltrey was just staging a glitzy affair for the money, his manager, Richard Flanzer, confides that the $2 million production will probably end up in the red. “Between the concert, the pay-per-view special and worldwide sales of the album [documenting the performance], maybe we’ll break even,” he says. Even Daltrey admits that “the economics are absolutely stupid,” though that won’t stop him from trying to take the show on the road this spring.
Daltrey says he’s just in it “for the fun.” Townshend says it’s “not fun but a need.” They both agree that the whole affair is a liberating step. “Just as Roger has had a problem being marginalized as a singer of my songs,” Townshend says, “I think I’ve been marginalized by the idea that only he can sing my songs, so they rarely get treated in any new way. I think what Roger’s trying to do is not just to sing my stuff but also to demonstrate that he can do so in an imaginative and fresh way. I think a lot of people that are close to Roger – me included – hope that what this will do will free him to go on to do other material.”
This story is from the April 7th, 1994 issue of Rolling Stone.