20 Years Ago: The Who Carries on Without John Entwistle
There's been no shortage of shocking and ill-timed rock 'n' roll deaths over the years. But by any standards, John Entwistle's death on June 27, 2002, ranks as a doozy.
The Who was a day away from starting a North American tour when their 57-year-old bassist was found dead in his bed in Room 658 of the Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Paradise, Nev., after spending the night with a local stripper. Entwistle had significant coronary health issues, and the Clark County medical examiner determined that he died from a heart attack induced after partying the night before.
Bandmates Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, who'd already suffered the death of drummer Keith Moon in 1978, posted a farewell to Townshend's official website: "The Ox has left the building. We've lost another great friend. Thanks for your support and love."
And then the Who carried on, with Pino Palladino installed in Entwistle's place. The decision was based partly on financial liabilities if the pending dates were to be canceled, and Entwistle's family publicly supported the decision. He was buried on July 10.
Rather than serving as a last gasp, the tour that followed became the launch for the Who's next era. Townshend and Daltrey may have been down to half the original lineup, but they kept the brand alive with touring, new music and archival projects.
"When John Entwistle died, we then didn't have Keith Moon and we didn't have John Entwistle," Townshend told this writer in 2012. "And what happened to me, I don't know about for Roger, there was a sense of being liberated, a sense of being free to – I don't want to make a good thing out of two deaths, but sometimes that's just what happens. I'm not saying that what I do now is better than what I did then, but I do feel freer to explore what I did as a musician back then and also find new things."
Part of that, Townshend added, was a new appreciation of his relationship with Daltrey – personally and as a muse for his writings for the Who. "What happened was I started listening to this guy, to Roger," Townshend said, "and working in a much more musical way, in a sense, in a more complementary way with Roger's voice. I suddenly realized I had to be quite careful not to get in the way and that everything I played really mattered to whatever it was Roger did – playing so that you support the person that's got the job of delivering the song. That's kind of been a new field for me, and that's something that's still going on."
Here are 10 notable ways the Who carried on after being pared to a duo.
'Old Red Wine' / 'Real Good Looking Boy' (2004)
Townshend and Daltrey recorded a pair of new songs, "Old Red Wine" and "Real Good Looking Boy," for the 2004 compilation Then and Now. Drummer Zak Starkey, Ringo Starr's son, played on both. Palladino took bass duties on "Old Red Wine" and Greg Lake held down the bottom on the "Real Good Looking Boy."
'Wire & Glass' / 'Endless Wire' (2006)
The Who offered an impressive batch of new music in 2006. Wire & Glass, a six-song, 11-and-a-half minute mini-rock opera, was released on July 17, three months before Endless Wire, the Who's first album of all-new material since It's Hard in 1982. Recorded under the working title WHO2, Wire & Glass was co-produced by Townshend and longtime Who engineer Bob Pridden, while Billy Nicholls recorded Daltrey's vocals. Endless Wire then debuted at No. 7 on the Billboard 200 before many of the songs appeared as part of The Boy Who Heard Music, a stage musical by Townshend and his wife Rachel Fuller. Based on Townshend's novella of the same name, The Boy Who Heard Music premiered in July 2007 during the Vassar College Powerhouse Summer Theater series.
Electric Proms (2006)
The Who was part of the inaugural BBC Radio 2 Electric Proms festival, which took place Oct. 29, 2006, at the Roundhouse in London's Camden district. They were part of a bill presented by Paul Weller that also included Amy Winehouse; James Brown with the Sugababes; Klaxons; the Zutons; the Good, the Bad & the Queen; the Raconteurs and others. The Who presented 10 tracks from Endless Wire, which came out four days later.
Super Bowl XLIV Halftime Show (2010)
The Who was the halftime act at Super Bowl XLIV on Feb. 7. 2010, in Miami Gardens, Fla., performing a mini-set that included portions of "Baba O' Riley," "Pinball Wizard," "Who Are You," "See Me, Feel Me" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." The New Orleans Saints defeated the Indianapolis Colts in the game, 31-17, and the Who's performance later became a downloadable add-on for the Rock Band video game as "The Who Super Bowl S-mashup."
A Symphony of British Music (2012)
Townshend and Daltrey were part of "A Symphony of British Music," which closed the 2012 Summer Olympics Games on Aug. 12 at London's Olympic Stadium. Some 54 acts played that night, including Queen, David Bowie, Electric Light Orchestra, Annie Lennox, the Spice Girls, George Michael and others, before the Who closed the musical portion of the evening with a medley of "Baba O' Riley," "See Me, Feel Me" and "My Generation."
Quadrophenia and More Tour (2012-2013)
The Who performed Quadrophenia for the Teenage Cancer Trust concert series in 2010, then took the rock opera on the road for the Quadrophenia and More Tour, which launched in November 2012 at Sunrise, Fla., and ran through July 2013 at Wembley Arena. They added an appearance at the Concert For Sandy Relief in December 2012 at New York's Madison Square Garden, before tendonitis forced Zak Starkey off the road in February 2013. Scott Devours from Daltrey's solo band replaced him, having had less than four hours' notice for the first date. As the title suggests, these shows featured Quadrophenia in its entirety along with a selection of other favorites. The Who released a commemorative album taken from the final stop, Quadrophenia Live in London.
The Who Hits 50! (2014-2016)
The Who celebrated their golden anniversary with The Who Hits 50!, a tour that began in November 2014 and ran through May 2016, with a pause during the fall 2015 North American leg after Daltrey contracted viral meningitis. Townshend declared these to be the band's final dates, while Daltrey said this tour was serving as a "long goodbye. We can't go on touring forever. It could be open-ended, but it will have a finality to it." The opening date was the Who's first-ever appearance in the United Arab Emirates. The tour was accompanied by a compilation, also called The Who Hits 50!, and included headlining shows at London's Hyde Park Festival and the Glastonbury Festival.
Another Un-Retirement (2016)
In the that-didn't-last-long department, the Who's latest retirement was over before the end of the same year. They returned to the road later in 2016 with the short 13-date Back to the Who Tour 51!, which included performances at the Isle of Wight Festival in England and the Desert Trip festival in Indio, Calif.
Moving On! Tour (2019-2020)
After a handful of shows in 2017, Townshend and Daltrey went big two years later with the Moving On! Tour, which found the Who performing with full orchestras in each city with a band-only mini-set in the middle. The tour kicked off in May 2019 in Grand Rapids, Mich., but was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic after a pair of 2020 shows in England. They resumed in 2022 with a new tour title, The Who Hits Back!
Coinciding with Moving On!, they released the Who studio project in December 2019. Townshend wrote 10 of the tracks on the band's first new album in 15 years while collaborating with Josh Hunsacker for "Beads on One String." (His younger brother Simon Townshend wrote "Break the News.") Townshend sang lead on three tracks, appearing with a variety of drummers including Starkey. Benmont Tench of Tom Petty's Heartbreakers guested on keyboards. Famed British pop artist Peter Blake created the cover montage, having done the same for 1981's Face Dances. Who debuted at No. 2 on the Billboard 200, tying Quadrophenia and Who Are You for their highest chart placement in the U.S.
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