The Who Reign O’er Atlantic City

Pete Townshend talks about growing up before and after the Who formed as the U.K. rockers bring Quadrophenia and More Tour to Boardwalk Hall Feb. 22

By Ed Condran
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Feb. 20, 2013

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UPDATE: Read a review and see a photo gallery from this show

Pete Townshend is energized again. During recent Who tours, the legendary vocalist-guitarist-songwriter appeared to lack the fire, which has never left his co-conspirator vocalist Roger Daltrey’s belly.

But during the Who’s “Quadrophenia and More” show two months ago in Philadelphia, Townshend was full of vigor. (The show comes to Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City Friday, Feb. 22.)

One of the most literate rock lyricists was windmilling, jumping and smiling throughout the Who’s loud and satisfying set at the Wells Fargo Center.

“This is the time to have fun,” Townshend said during a recent book signing in Philadelphia. 

“Who knows how long it’s going to last?”

Townshend is speaking from experience. Half of the Who’s remaining original lineup — bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon are deceased — Townshend has looked back at his life, which spans from cursed to charmed, while writing his engrossing recently released memoir Who I Am.

Townshend touches on his turbulent childhood, in which he was abused by his domineering grandmother.

“I had to sit my mother down to talk about what happened to me from when I was four-and-a-half to six-and-a-half,” Townshend said.

Townshend also looks back at his father, a saxophonist, who was often on the road when he was a child and his “mum,” a singer, who constantly cheated on his father. She had five abortions.

Those dark formative years inspired some of Townshend’s finest work as the Who’s driving creative force, such as the rock opera Tommy.

But it wasn’t just personal issues, which helped form Townshend. He was a product of the times. The seminal guitarist-vocalist was born in war-torn West London in 1945.

“We were seriously disenfranchised,” Townshend said. “That’s the way it was for those born between 1945 and 1950. We didn’t know what we were going to do, so the music was really vital.”

UPDATE: Read a review and see a photo gallery from this show

Townshend, who is just glad to be around (“since I was 11, I’ve been waiting for bombs to blow us to bits,” he said to the 800 or so gathered at the Philadelphia book signing), told tales of drug indulgence as well as his favorite Keith Moon story. He waxed about how the late, loony Who drummer convinced a minister that he was possessed by an Indian couple.

“That was absolutely hilarious,” Townshend said. “I’ve never met anyone remotely like him.”

Townshend then went on to detail the ups and downs of being in the Who. He also explained how easy it is to bust a Rickenbacker and how difficult it is to break a Stratocaster. 

Townshend admitted that he was prone to destroying his guitar when he didn’t feel the show was good enough.

“These days I just try to put on the best shows so I can keep my guitars,” Townshend said.

Townshend doesn’t bash equipment much these days as a senior citizen, but he doesn’t have to engage in such destructive behavior.

There’s an elegance the elder statesman possesses now that was missing during his halcyon days. Townshend can’t jump anymore, but, yes, he can still windmill better than any other guitarist. But it’s enough to just watch him deliver the goods in his inimitable manner. 

Townshend will go down as one of the greatest rock writers in history. His music is provocative and has such great depth. It’s a pleasure to immerse yourself in the Who, which somehow to this day pulls it off live without two of its major players. 

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