At the beginning of 1996, a planned staging of Quadrophenia in Italy for Vespa led Pete to approach Roger about the idea. Roger had disapproved of the style of the Tommy musical and thought it would be better to play it as a stage piece with a live rock band. On June 29 at Hyde Park Roger, Pete and John, accompanied by a band similar to the one from 1989, performed the work as part of that year’s Prince’s Trust Concert. Roger had his eye socket broken the day before the concert when guest Gary Glitter smacked him while twirling a microphone stand. Roger performed the show through the pain, wearing a "mod" eyepatch.
photo: William Snyder
Quadrophenia live crossed the Atlantic for six nights at New York’s Madison Square Garden July 16-22, 1996. A North American tour started that October. By this time, at promoter’s insistence, the band agreed to call themselves "The Who." There was one new member, drummer Zak Starkey, who was hailed by Roger and the fans as a worthy successor to Keith Moon. Concerts featured a backing film directed by Roger and guest stars such as Gary Glitter as The Godfather and Billy Idol as The Bell Boy. Pete started off the tour playing mostly acoustic guitar with his brother Simon on electric but, as the tour went on into 1997, Pete began to play more and more electric guitar.
That tendency continued after the Quadrophenia tours in 1998 as Pete performed a short solo tour using a modified amplifier setup that allowed him to play electric guitar while preserving his hearing. John, meanwhile, stayed on the road with his solo band while Roger kept his voice in tune touring with the British Rock Symphony.
Pete and Roger finally got in tune themselves after an emotional meeting May 1998 where Roger confronted Pete with a list of his grievances over Pete’s neglect and dismissal of The Who since 1982. Pete was reduced to tears and Roger’s honesty sparked a friendship between the singer and the guitarist.
With the decrease of the "Classic Rock" radio format in the United States, Pete took a controversial step September 1998 to keep his catalog alive. He sent out a three CD sample of his work solo and with The Who to advertising agencies. Soon Who tunes began to pop up in everything from movie trailers to ads for automobiles and computers. Again music writers and some Who fans were appalled.
In early 1999, Pete was invited by the BBC to revisit his Lifehouse project, this time as a radio play, for the coming millennial celebrations. Working with radio playwright Jeff Young, Pete turned his 1970-71 work into a tragic story of a man who searches for his runaway daughter and gets lost in his memories of post-war Britain.
During a short tour to promote a live solo CD, Pete announced July 28 that he would return with The Who to perform at the House of Blues in Chicago. Fans expecting another appearance by the big-band Who were shocked and delighted during the first preliminary date October 29 in Las Vegas when the Who emerged as a five-piece band with Zak Starkey on drums, John "Rabbit" Bundrick on keyboards and Pete on loud, electric guitar.
Also on October 29, Pete opened a website, www.petetownshend.co.uk making him one of the first major rock artists with his own personally controlled Internet site. The site featured Pete’s personal musings, a chat-room and a store for sale of Internet-only CD’s.
That December, shortly before the premiere of his Lifehouse radio play, Pete revealed in interviews that he was currently in a relationship with a younger musician with a pop and classical background, Rachel Fuller. He also spoke of his fear of abuse of the Internet, particularly the spread of child pornography.
At the end of the year, John was voted by Total Guitar magazine as "Bass Player of the Millennium."
On February 24, 2000, Pete released his first major private work on his website, the massive six-CD Lifehouse Chronicles, in league with two performances of the music at Sadlers Wells in London. The Lifehouse ideas would continue to appear in much of Pete’s activities with and without The Who in this decade.
The new five-man Who kicked off their first major tour June 25, 2000 and became an active band once again, never ceasing touring for more than a couple of years from this point on. The many rave reviews for their live sound sparked talk of an album of new material. Roger pushed Pete as hard as he could to make a new Who album a reality.
Pete’s efforts to get more use of Who music in soundtracks paid off in a big way when a CBS-TV program, C.S.I.: Crime Scene Investigation, selected "Who Are You" as its theme song. The show, premiering October 6, 2000, became a success around the world and spawned two spin-offs, both using Who songs as the main theme.
photo: Dave Benett
The Who had one of its finest hours after the terrorist attack on New York when they performed at an all-star benefit for police and firefighters at Madison Square Garden October 20, 2001. The concert was televised around the world. Unlike their fellow artists who presented sets restrained by the solemnity of the occasion, The Who blasted out with a fury, turning the musical wake into a fist-pumping spectacle of rage and solidarity.
Meanwhile, Roger took up the cause of Britain’s Teenage Cancer Trust, staging annual benefit concerts at the Royal Albert Hall. The first of what became a popular yearly concert event featured two nights of his own band, The Who, performing on February 7th and 8th, 2002.
photo: Joe Cavaretta
Unfortunately, these shows were the last with John. On June 27, 2002, John died in his sleep at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas of a heart attack induced by cocaine. The Who were one day away from beginning a heavily publicized North American tour.
Who fans, already in grief, were doubly shocked the next day when Pete announced that the band would continue the tour without John. Session bassist Pino Palladino was flown in to replace him. Music writers and many Who fans damned the decision as another example of The Who putting money before everything. Pete and Roger later explained that too many people other than themselves had their livelihoods dependent on the tour. In any case, the band, dubbed "The Two" by fans, played blistering sets that proved their entertainment power undiminished.
The sadness of 2002 continued into the next year. On January 11, 2003 Pete admitted that he was the "famous British rock star" named in an international child pornography sting. He explained that he had used his credit card to access a site advertising child porn, then reported his findings to anti-child pornography agencies. He was questioned by police and his computers were seized as press around the world branded Pete a pedophile and mocked his "research" excuse.
Roger spoke out, calling the investigation a "witch hunt." Four months after it began, the thorough police examination confirmed every detail of Pete’s story. He was not charged but was given a "caution" and placed on a mandatory "sexual offenders" list for five years based solely on what he had admitted in his initial statement. Pete decided not to fight the result.
After a year of wondering whether he still had a career, Pete returned with Roger, Pino, Zak and Rabbit as The Who to the cheers of fans at the Kentish Town Forum March 24, 2004. On March 30, another Who best-of, Then and Now! 1964-2004 was released with the first newly recorded Who studio tracks in thirteen years, "Real Good Looking Boy" and "Old Red Wine." The latter song was a tribute to John.
The 2004 tour that followed the release had The Who giving their first performance in Japan and their first in Australia in thirty-six years. Honours for Roger began 2005 as he received a CBE from Queen Elizabeth II February 9 for his charity work with the Teenage Cancer Trust.
On September 24, 2005, Pete started a blog to serialize a new novella, The Boy Who Heard Music. Written in 2000, this sequel to Psychoderelict formed the spine to many of the songs Pete was then writing for the new Who album.
After premiering some of the new songs on Rachel Fuller’s webcast show In The Attic, Pete joined Roger and the rest of The Who to launch a world tour featuring old and new music by returning to Leeds University’s Refectory June 17, 2006 where the band had recorded their famous live album over thirty-six years before. The new album, Endless Wire, a combination of acoustic and rock numbers with a mini-opera based on The Boy Who Heard Music, was released October 31, 2006.
The new album peaks at #9 in the U.K. charts and reaches #7 in the U.S. with a number of favorable reviews. Nevertheless, Pete later declares subsequent sales to be "disappointing" and, to date, reports of a follow-up album have led to no definite plans. He and Roger continue touring as The Who, launching another world tour in late 2008.
At the time of the announcement of that new world tour comes a surprise announcement of another kind as Pete and Roger, representing The Who, are chosen to receive the prestigious Kennedy Center Honors, the first band to ever get that recognition. Both attend the formal awarding ceremony at the White House on Dec. 6th, 2008 where they are praised by then-president George W. Bush for their 2001 performance at the Concert For New York. On the following night they are serenaded by a chorus of New York policemen and fireman singing "Baba O’Riley."