The Who Lives On

A strange half-century rock-star journey lands at Target Center

**The Who has postponed their 2015 tour after Roger Daltrey was diagnosed with viral meningitis; the band says they will reschedule concerts for next spring.**

A recent New York Times editorial laid out a provocative premise: The age of the rock star is over. Or, rather, the term is now used more often to refer to a talented computer coder or a social-media guru than a hotel-devastating, microphone-clutching terror of the counterculture. Part of this is due to the triumph of advertising and the business world, which have swallowed up everything out of the mainstream into their dual maws of commerce and imagery. The other part, of course, is because the diversification of our culture and technology have eclipsed the day when, say, Led Zeppelin could put out a new album and have it be a cultural phenomenon. (Right: Photo by Jay Blakesberg.)

So where does this leave The Who? In an odd position, as always. They’re touring in their 50th year, and though ostensibly this is your last chance to catch them, they embarked on their first farewell tour in 1982 during the early years of the Reagan administration. The Who have set the template for the I’m-done-no-wait-I’m-not two-step of aging rock bands who probably very much want out of the touring grind amid aches and aging—until boredom and bank account balances lure them back into the arenas. 

But that’s not all that’s been strange about the Who. In their early days they nestled alongside their British contemporaries, but they were never as prolific or wide-ranging as the Beatles nor as consistently earthy and groove-driven as the Rolling Stones. This was largely because all their vision rested on the scrawny shoulders of Pete Townshend, while his rivals had multiple writers, and Townshend has always been prone to wed his music to narrative, even when a shotgun was required to get the two to the altar.

Still, let’s not forget the flashes of uncanny brilliance: the bravado of “Behind Blue Eyes,” the teen-angst-writ-large of “5:15,” the been-there-done-that thunder of “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” And while some would argue that they haven’t really been the Who since lunatic drummer Keith Moon’s death in 1978, or bassist John Entwistle’s demise on the road in 2002, (or maybe since singer Roger Daltrey’s vocal cords cried uncle sometime around the dawn of the century), it’s probably really beside the point. 

Because the Who have endured on the strength of a complicated, knotty, sometimes homely vision that has evolved with the times. Their through line is a voice like a passionate poet drunk in your ear toward bar close, or a dining room revolutionary high on furor—the voice that yearns to defy the culture, whether there’s still anything like a rock star or not.

The Who
Target Center
October 10

Quinton Skinner is a writer and editor based in the Twin Cities. A former senior editor of Minnesota Monthly, he held the same post at Twin Cities METRO and 
has written for major national and local publications. He is the co-founder of Logosphere Storysmiths and author of several novels, including his latest, Odd One Out.