Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Anfiteatro Beira Rio, Porto Alegre, Brazil – September 26, 2017

A night for the history books, for sure.

Porto Alegre is down at the southern-most end of Brazil. Most of us were not familiar with the place, yet it is a city surrounded by nearly five million people. As with most cities here, it is a complex mixture of the poor, rich, and working classes. The Who is not as popular here as those who have toured constantly over the years – Aerosmith, Bon Jovi, McCartney, etc. so we know the show will not be one of the larger ones on this leg.

But somehow, this show had the possibility of something great.

For one, we have Def Leppard on the bill. Originally, I’d heard we were opening for them – which is possible as they are quite popular here (and everywhere) – certainly a headlining act of their own. Such a strong double bill promises a lot for a crowd like this.

Secondly, this was to be much smaller than the other shows just before. (Especially that last show in Rio, which was more than twelve times this size.) The event has sold something like 7,000-8,000 tickets. Not a lot of bodies, especially in a huge stadium that holds many times this amount (they use it for all kinds of events, but it’s mainly designed for futbol/soccer. For different-sized concerts (like ours) they move the stage location to work with the audience size. We’re down in a third of the field, so several thousand people stand and fill the field, and about a double number fill the seats up in the stadium bleachers.

Def Leppard did a great show – certainly pleased the audience. Many of our crew went out front to watch, which was the place to be. Out in front, the PA system is LOUD and clear. I was quite impressed by their mix – as people say, “they sound like a record” as they have layered guitars and voices with the thick effects of a finished/produced record. They have figured out ways to achieve their complex studio sound in a live setting. Plus – they have a huge video system going all around the stage, too. It looks and sounds great, and I honestly thought we might have some trouble following them. Soon, they were done with their set, and all their gear rolled away to be packed on trucks. Ours rolled out, looking somewhat tiny in comparison, but business as usual, for us. There was even time to go on slightly early, which was good for everyone. The band came out onstage, and suddenly, it all clicked.

From the very first moment, the night was completely electric – magic. Nothing subtle about it – this was one of the mythical nights we rarely get to see. Not just a good gig, not just a great one – an AMAZING one.

There’s still always a chance for something to go wrong, gear to break, a voice to blow out, or some such thing. But not on a truly magic night. The band had easily 20-30% more energy than usual, but the playing was also intense and of really exceptional quality. Roger can win over the shyest audience, but tonight he had the audience in his hand from the get-go, and at times tonight, I saw him smile as much as any night ever.

The crowd was loud – not quite as loud as Mexico City last year (well, they were indoors, which helps), but as intense and physically more active, waving their arms and jumping and singing. They even sang the opening chords of ‘Baba’, something that only happens in Latin countries, sometimes. Certainly, the band played better than in Mexico City, and some in the crew felt it was the best show in the last 10 years, maybe more. (There are only a few show this strong that I’ve seen since joining in 2002: We remember fondly a private show at The Orpheum Theater in Los Angeles that might be one of the greatest Who shows in any decade. Palacio de Deportes in Madrid 2006 was exceptional too. And tonight was about that good, certainly in the top five of modern-era Who evenings.)

‘The Seeker’ was back in our set. We’d heard that Guns N Roses might play it the night we opened for them, as it was not in our shortened set that night – but they didn’t. Otherwise, the set was rather similar to ones you may have seen recently. Jon Button was adding extra bass bits throughout, clearly comfortable in his new-ish role, and growing stronger each week. Pete did a few “jazz” moments with strange artsy playing, always unexpected but welcome as they are clearly intentional parts, designed to take the music “out” in a new, wilder direction.

Roger introduced ‘The Rock’ simply as “a classical instrumental” tonight. The short version of his favorite speech. Some of you may wonder where Roger goes to while this instrumental is played? He doesn’t even leave the stage (unlike most singers.) He simply sits on the back of Zak’s drum platform, drinking tea or water, and watches the video playing (which he helped create for our Quadrophenia and More tour.) As soon as ‘The Rock’ is done, he moves back out rested and ready for the focus on ‘Love Reign O’er Me’.


Physically, I don’t know how they did it. Zak, pushing harder than ever, Pete windmilling up a storm and running/jumping etc all around. Roger, since he’s exploring the whole stage now (a great improvement from the vintage shows where he was locked between the giant amp guys) really gets the show down close to the people on all sides. The night was comfortably cool, otherwise they would not have been able to keep up the pace.

At one point, Pete even took a moment and sat down on a monitor speaker, just to play the opening bits of ‘Behind Blue Eye’s while Roger commanded the attention center-stage. It’s not often you’ll see either Townshend brother sitting down while playing!

Toward the end, it seemed like someone would have to run out of steam, which would be critical during ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – but no, they all pounded through them with as much force as you could hope. There was a great moment with Roger’s scream and Pete’s knee-slide, which brought the night to a peak.

 

The band moved offstage, but Roger held his ground, clearly not having the “let’s pretend to go away and you pretend to bring us back” nonsense! “It’s Bull****!” Roger yelled – and the band came back asap for some encores. ‘5:15’ rolled on through followed by ‘Substitute’, again to bouncing fans having the time of their life. Most people here had never seen this band before, some had only seen them before this very week, and a few had come from parts beyond, wearing their shirts from previous tours. What a night to catch this.

Def Leppard members were present for the whole of our show, watching from the wings on both sides. Singer Joe Elliot had joined us for a charity event in London a few years ago on Roger’s behalf, so he’s friendly with us already. They all expressed their wonder at this “classic rock” band (from almost 20 years before their own MTV generation) playing as strong and energetically as they had tonight. The Who band were friendly and welcoming to them tonight, before and after the show. We hope to do more with them someday!

What made tonight special? It’s hard to say for sure. For one, these Latin audiences (Mexico, Spain, Italy, Brazil) have always responded SO generously to this music. They enjoy themselves, have less inhibition, and music seems to mean a lot to their lives. It’s a joy to see them so happy.

The sound of this place was good. We’ve done enough Who shows now to understand what they like. I told Pete ahead of time he’d enjoy the guitar sound on this stage, but the drums were fat-sounding yet tight, the bass felt big without rumble, Roger’s voice carried with the natural echo of the place. It was a great big, outdoor concert sound – perfect for our music. The curved shell of the arena helped bounce the voices of this audience back to the stage, making them seem almost as loud as an indoor crowd.

Another thing that may contribute: festival seating. Normally The Who don’t allow seats without assigned places – You’re used to this if you see us in the UK or USA. For safety reasons, it makes total sense. But when these multi-band festivals happen, you have to let people come and go near the front. With good control – it can work. What happens is, the wealthy and privileged no longer control the front rows. Those who care the most are down front, and they really DO appreciate being so close. For the band, this makes the greatest energy, the loudest singers, the freshest faces each night.

Whatever the reasons, it was wonderful and thoroughly enjoyable. Many moments of surprise and powerful expression, too. I don’t think you could have picked any place on planet Earth today that provided a more positive event. Indeed, this was THE place to be tonight.

Onward!

SETLIST
I Can’t Explain
The Seeker
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See for Miles
My Generation (with ‘Cry If You Want’ coda)
Bargain
Behind Blue Eyes
Join Together
You Better You Bet
I’m One
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Eminence Front
Amazing Journey
Sparks
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again
5:15
Substitute