Preview: The Who, Japan, 2008

It's surprising. Japan is a country that loves rock legends, but for the Who – a group often mentioned in the same breath as the Beatles and the Rolling Stones – it remains virtually unexplored territory.

In their creative heyday in the 1960s, when they were part of a musical revolution, they never managed to make it over, and later, as a major touring force, they somehow missed out on one of the most appreciative rock audiences on the planet as they crisscrossed other continents.

Japanese fans had to wait until 2004 to get their first taste of the Who, but that was only a fleeting glimpse as part of the Rock Odyssey festival line up. This omission in the group’s touring history will be partly rectified this November when the Who make their first full tour of Japan.

At their performing peak in the 1970s, the Who were considered the most exciting live act in the World. Powered by the percussive bass of John Entwistle, their live sets showcased the power chords and guitar pyrotechnics of Pete Townshend, alongside the explosive drumming of Keith Moon and the soaring, testosterone-fuelled vocals of Roger Daltrey.

More than any of the other great bands to emerge from 1960s Britain, the Who were defined by their musical chemistry and the way their different styles interlocked. With Entwistle's bass fulfilling the drummer’s role of keeping time, Moon was able to turn his drum kit into a much more proactive and expressive instrument, adding a whole new dimension to classic songs like I Can See For Miles and Won't Get Fooled Again.

Because the Who were so much more than the sum of their parts, the death of Moon in 1978, from a drugs overdose, had a massive impact. After struggling on for a few more years, the remaining members temporarily split up in the 1980s, before being brought back together by a number of concert tour reunions. However, a further blow was suffered in 2002, when Entwistle died from a cocaine-induced heart attack in a Las Vegas hotel room.

Since then, driven by a sense of legacy, Townshend, the main songwriter, and Daltrey have been working steadily towards reestablishing the Who as a going concern. They have toured more regularly, establishing a new line up that features Ringo Starr's son, Zak Starkey, on drums, and Pino Palladino on bass. In 2006 they also released Endless Wire, their first studio album since 1982's It's Hard.

In a recent email to Rolling Stone magazine, Townshend revealed that, at the age of 63, he is taking a different approach to music.
"I have been playing piano since last July, and only acoustic guitar (on the sofa while watching episodes of Medium or Boston Legal as my way of remembering America)," he wrote. "Electric guitar and arm-swinging is not what I do between dog-walks and arthritis." 
Although fans are unlikely to see Townshend smashing out power chords with wind-milling arms and crashing guitars into banks of Marshall amps as he did in his younger days, or a bare-chested Daltrey bending the mike stand with his powerful roar, they can be sure of seeing a strong ensemble recreate most of the Who's more famous moments.

C.B. Liddell
The International Herald Tribune Asahi Shimbun
26th September, 2008

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