The Who’s Pete Townshend: Super Bowl Q&A

The Who’s Pete Townshend, in an exclusive interview with Billboard, has revealed that the band’s upcoming Super Bowl halftime performance will feature a “compact medley” of their signature classic-rock anthems.

By taking the stage at the Super Bowl on Feb. 7, British rock legends The Who will play in front of the year’s biggest TV audience. Billboard checks in with guitarist Pete Townshend about the gig, his friendship with singer Roger Daltrey, and what’s next.

How did you and Roger Daltrey decide to play the Super Bowl halftime Show?
 
We thought about it quite hard. I think Roger was doubtful that we should do it this year. We played Australia last year in March and we were considering going on and doing some more touring, and quite a lot later on this year. And then I got quite engrossed in writing, and told Roger that I would probably need another year to write. So we canceled plans for this year. We were going to play at Coachella, the New Orleans Jazz festival, we had all kinds of things planned, so I persuaded Roger we should do the Super Bowl to kick those events off. And then decided that I couldn’t do that work later this year because I felt I had to continue to write. So this must have been on the cards for quite a long time, but I think we made a final decision to go ahead in October or something like that.
 
Most bands that play the Super Bowl use it as a platform to announce other projects.
 
That won’t be the case with us, however. In a sense the Super Bowl is emblematic of where Roger and I are currently. We both have very different needs, we always have. My hearing trouble makes it quite difficult for me to work in a studio for long periods of time. I have to be quite careful not to work too much and not to tour too much. I can still hear pretty well, I don’t need a hearing aid to hear conversations and I can work with music. As I get older, I’m 65 next birthday, my hearing is naturally falling off with age, so I’m having to take great care.
 
This show, for us, is a an example of what he and I can do together, waving the Who flag, carrying the flag for the boomer generation, I suppose, just as Paul McCartney does, and a couple of other artists that have done it recently like Tom Petty and the Stones.

But it also marks kind of a watershed. The music industry is changing so much. Almost everything about my life as a writer and a performer is about four or five songs that I wrote in 1971. It’s all about television, movies, commercials. When we go out and tour we don’t play stadiums like the Rolling Stones or U2, we play arenas, and we don’t always absolutely fill them to the brim. We do pretty well because we’re quite good at what we do.

When we put out records we don’t sell very many records, not that anybody does these days. But we are facing the same changes that everybody else is facing, so for us to be playing the Super Bowl at this point of our career — two old guys standing on the crest of a wave and we don’t know where that wave is going to crash next — it’s fabulous to be doing this show. I think it will help us decide what we are going to do next, what shape that will take, and whether we should just try and put out another record, whether we should do one of the fancy things I do on the side. (Exclusive: The Who’s Super Bowl set list.)
 
The Who’s music seems to be everywhere these days.
 
I broke up the Who in 1981 — we did a tour in ’82 to say goodbye, we got back together in ’89 to reminisce — but I had that long period between 1982 and 1989 where all I did was work on some solo stuff. But I was also learning how to run my catalog, learning how to be a publisher, learning how to make money outside of making records and touring.