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Q & A with Roger Daltrey : 'I Love Playin' These Songs'


People tend to observe their 50th birthdays in special ways, but no one has marked the milestone quite the way Roger Daltrey did last February. The English singer rented Carnegie Hall for two nights, hired an orchestra, collected guest stars ranging from Eddie Vedder to the Chieftains and sang the music that made him famous--the songs Pete Townshend wrote for the Who.

Now the "Daltrey Sings Townshend" show is on a U.S. tour that arrives at the Greek Theatre on Saturday. There are no guest stars on board, but the music will be played by a full orchestra and a band that includes Pete's brother Simon Townshend on guitar, Ringo's son Zak Starkey on drums and Who bassist John Entwistle.

The Who, generally ranked behind only the Beatles and the Rolling Stones in rock stature, last convened in 1989 for a 25th anniversary tour. With Townshend having no interest in resuming, this show represents the next best thing for his two partners. In a recent interview, Daltrey talked about the enterprise and the music it salutes. *

Question: What's the difference between the Carnegie Hall concert and this touring show?


Answer: Carnegie was a very difficult show for me with all those guests. When you warm up to this stuff it's very hard to stop and start. But we needed the guests to pay for the show. They were there for the economics of it. It was the only way we got pay-per-view, which covered some of the cost of puttin' the show on. . . .

Q: How did it go from that special event to a national tour?

A: Some of the songs in that show we'd never played with an orchestra before, so the first night we were really wingin' it, and it was a nightmare for us.

But the second night, when it came together, I thought, "Wow, when it does work, this is very, very special." And I thought this would really be good to take on the road. Because it is our 30th anniversary. And Pete doesn't want to go on the road anymore. It's a shame to let this music just exist on records that are owned by a few people. 'Cause when you hear it live it's still as fresh as it was the day we first played it. The energy's still there.

Q: Were you confident that the public would go for it?

A: Well, you're never confident. But it doesn't matter to me whether it's 50, 500 or 50,000 people. An audience is an audience. And I love playin' these songs, the band's great. I could re-create the Who very, very easily if I wanted to. This isn't the Who, it's something different. People were skeptical when the Who went out in '89 with a bigger band. They went, "Oh, it won't be the same." But when they actually got to the shows, they found out that it wasn't less, it was more. And I think this show is very similar. It's not the same. It can never be the same. But it's as good in its own right.

Q: Have you changed the songs very much?

A: Some of them. "Baba O'Riley" and things like that are very different. But just to hear the music orchestrated gives it a whole different feel. It's much more dramatic. And Townshend's music really does lend itself to being orchestrated. When they're played by real instruments--I mean anything can sound better than the (expletive) synthesizer--the music really does gain a new dimension. You can only get that depth of sound with an orchestra.

Q: What makes his songs special?

A: I think his structures are totally original, where I think a lot of rock 'n' roll structures are plagiarized. I feel that his honesty in his writing takes incredible courage. They're not just glib pop lyrics. There's always a greater depth to Pete's writing than the average rock song. It's the honesty that takes that amount of courage that I admire so much.

Q: Do you still regret the Who breakup?

A: If it was up to me we would have never broken up. It seemed silly. You can have years and years off, you can have 10 years off if you want, but why break it up? For what? It seems to me we never fulfilled our capabilities. The possibilities with the Who were much greater than the things we ever achieved.

Growing up you change, and things change, and it's the staying together that's important. You end when you really can't come up with anything else. We ended when Pete couldn't come up with anything else. That doesn't necessarily mean that the band couldn't have.

That's what I find sad. It's almost like the baby had got fed up with his toy and thrown it away. That's what it feels like. I do respect that he got fed up with it, but I can't help but be honest and say that's what it feels like from my position. . . . You know, bands are about give and take. And sharing.

Q: It's interesting that so many bands from your generation--the Stones, Pink Floyd, the Moody Blues, etc.--are still performing and doing well. Does that surprise you?

A: Not really, no. They're classics. They were the original. Whatever new bands are out there, there's nothing like the original, is there? I watch bands now that I really like and I watch what goes on with them now. And apart from--I could honestly say--Nirvana, I find something very, very studied about most new bands that you see these days. It's coming from a different place than it used to in our day. There's an awful lot more coming from the head than the heart.

* Roger Daltrey plays on Saturday at the Greek Theatre, 2700 N. Vermont Ave., 8 p.m. $19.50-$39.50. (213) 480-3232.

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