Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Allianz Parque Stadium, São Paulo, Brazil, September 21, 2017

Today the São Paulo Trip festival begins, and the first Who show in South America will happen. The mood is pretty calm. The people organizing the show have handled things well, and despite some real unknowns for us here, it seems to be going ok. The streets have a nice mix of historic buildings and modern structures, but it’s pretty rough – we’re warned to be very careful not to wander around.

The stadium is very new, we are among the first shows here this year. The situation outside is pretty good – to enter the neighborhood, all participants go through a security check, and shops all around the arena are open and bustling. Police are everywhere, many armed, keeping us mindful that sometimes things can get extreme here. Yet we have no expectations anything will happen – this kind of music rarely has any issues of conflict. Yet it’s good to be safe; they know the wild world of football fans so well, and are prepared to show that strength is ready where needed.

Opening the show today are Alter Bridge – who brought a great light show and seem to be well-known by the crowd here. Following them, The Cult. They are old friends of ours from about 10 years ago – they opened a bunch of our shows around the Endless Wire tour. Some of their band/crew people are newer, but Ian and Billy are well-known to our people – and the fans. Their hard rock sound has become classic and they tour here often, so we’re new to these fans and they have built a solid following.

Things go well for the first two bands, and the stadium has finally filled with the crowd for today. As I mentioned before, we’re the first show of a four-day festival, and tickets are really expensive. The floor is divided into front and back halves by a big fence, with seats in the $750/$1,000 range, I’m told. The whole field is full, with mostly young, happy, brunette people – certainly an enthusiastic bunch. A middle seating section is just above the pitch/field, yet is the most empty; the sides are full but the back is mainly open – seemingly not many wanted to book seats all the way across from the stage. And up above, a top tier of seats rings around the stadium. These are filled completely, and early, so the stories that many people would love to be here – but cannot afford to – are buying up all the less-expensive seats. They’ll get a great show, despite the distances, as the view is clear and three huge video screens cover the activity all around. I walked out front in the crowd for both bands before us – and the sound is full and pretty loud, damn good for a festival. The weather is nearly perfect – cooled from the warm day, but no need for jackets at all – balmy and comfortable, it’s quite a lucky thing.

The backing band saunters onstage, followed shortly by Pete and Roger – clearly enjoying the moment. It’s an amazing sight to see tens of thousands, and even more impressive to hear the roar they make. The show starts with ‘I Can’t Explain’ (a classic Who opener) and the crowd erupts. It’s not often one can be literal, but some people have waited their entire lives for this night.

Our longtime lighting director (since 1832!) is Tom Kenny, but he was booked elsewhere before this leg of the tour was set up. So he’s away, but his light show continues, operated by Jim Mustapha of our crew, who’s always done the show alongside Tom Kenny. Luckily, the dust of the arena makes enough particulate float in the air that the light beams become visible – giving us the three-dimensional array of lights all around the stage. (Most bands spray a chemical “fog” into the air during their shows, but we’ve not used this in years as it affects Roger’s voice too much – a fair trade.) As you’ll see in the photos today, the light beams really help the show look cool!

Speaking of crew, our own Scott Williams mans the main camera just in front of the stage lip; he’s seen hundreds and hundreds of Who shows over the years, twice as close as any front-row ticket! With that much experience, he has a good chance to catch the exact moments you’d want to see on the big screens – microphone twirls, guitar solos, special instances of faces and interactions that really make a show magic. He usually sneaks in and out of the show without anyone really knowing who he is – now you know. Camera is not his main thing – he does rigging and stage management and whatever else is needed on many other tours. But the camera position was open – and it’s damn near the best place to see the show!

Not much chatter today from either Roger or Pete. Rog introduced a few numbers, and Pete said a few thanks for everyone coming. But it was not the usual banter – maybe as they understood the language barrier could be an issue, perhaps not. This kept the show steaming ahead musically, with only minimal breaks for instrument changes and other preparations. ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ is not usually a “sing-along” number, but tonight Roger had thousands of singers belting out the lyrics along with him. It almost sounded like a football anthem.

Speaking of breaks, our long-term soundman Bob Pridden started with The Who back in 1966. Last year, he was given doctor’s orders to stop touring – too stressful. In his place, I’m now tasked with starting those backing tracks we all know from ‘Baba’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled’ and more. (A few intrepid souls have learned to play these complex pieces of Townshend studio effort live on piano or other instruments [look on YouTube] but it would generally be impossible to recreate those parts each night.) And so each show I attempt to start the pieces when it’s time. One of the longest breaks tonight was unplanned: ‘Eminence Front’ requires a guitar change, both for Roger and Pete. Then Pete sometimes speaks about the song or whatever comes up. This time, I waited, and waited – looking for a cue to start – or not! Pete must have been waiting for me, and eventually laughed aloud at the long pause with everyone standing about. And so we went… It’s good this band is loose and not worried about perfection. They realize that spontaneity and having a unique show is better than slickness. I have sometimes started the tracks (which have a count-off for the drummer and musicians that is inaudible to the public) and then Pete will wander up to the microphone to speak as the music starts under his words. Tricky – it’s just a guessing game, although it usually works well.

This crowd was quite young. Not all, but many, were in their 20s and 30s. I saw hundreds and hundreds coming in with their Who shirts already on, fans ready for this big night. They sang along with almost everything, but there was a noticeable lack of enthusiasm during the short Quadrophenia set. Even ‘Love Reign’ – usually a show highlight anywhere – didn’t generate a huge response. And ‘Eminence Front’ – our funky and most-grooving song – did not hit as hard as usual. Yet somehow, these young fans knew ALL the ’60s songs, and virtually everything from Who’s Next era. ‘Join Together’ was immense, as it sounds SO good with thousands chanting along, and Roger really loved hearing it from the house’s best position. He’s more and more a master of getting the crowd involved, and his back and forth on the stage really excites the people off to the sides. He’s happy when they’re happy…

Toward the very end, those in the front brought out colored balloons. I’m told there was an online plan among various Who fans, and this was organized as a welcome to the guys – using “mod colors” for the balloons. Thank you! Those seeing their first show with this band were not disappointed, with all these extra things added to a great show.

The setlist had held back two songs for encores. Encores are something we rarely, if ever, have nowadays. The big ending of ‘Won’t Get Fooled’ . . . happened as it does, then introductions and bows were taken. The band was unsure about leaving the stage at all – until Pete made it clear with a gesture: They should get off! Briefly leaving to the wings of the stage, the audience seemed confused whether it was all done, and Roger got everyone back out quickly before the energy was lost.

‘5:15’ started off and sounded great – yet the audience still seemed not to know the mid-’70s material. So again, the band ended and took some bows – as it seemed to be all finished for the night, as the song wasn’t quite a success.

Everyone walked off to big applause, but the feeling was – unusual, not clear, a bit strange. Are they done or not? I think some of the crew felt it was all over, and nearly started packing up . . . and then the band were back on again! Or. . . some of them were; the others had started to take-off too! In moments, everyone ran back out, and Pete launched into an anthemic version of ‘Substitute’!

This crowd knows their old Who and both Rog and Pete started jumping with the beat – and tens of thousands started jumping along. They were happy to hear that song, but also so happy to have more music. A brilliant moment, and everyone was singing along to the end. Finally it was indeed over, with all questions now answered – and we’ve begun this rather special Who tour leg officially.

Onward!