19 Apr 2017
BIRMINGHAM, ENGLAND – National Indoor Arena – Wednesday, Apr 12, 2017
Last show of the “tour” as short as it this outing has been. Not quite a month, but it did take a chunk of our lives and brought the current Who show to some areas that had not yet seen it.
As pleased as we are to be out here (everyone does love their job and feel honoured to be part of the team) most are ready for home. Sadly, this last year, our longterm monitor/sound man Bob Pridden was told he should stay off the road by his doctors, so he’s been away – the first times since 1966 when he joined! About 20-some years ago, a young monitor engineer came in to assist Bob, who needed an active assistant who knew the new equipment. As with any field, rarely do we keep the old vintage gear active, it’s replaced by state-of-the-art modern versions that have a steeper learning curve. Bob’s new assistant was Simon Higgs, himself a talented monitor engineer. (Monitor engineers control the sound that the band heard onstage. Although the audience never hears it, the job completely affects each show – and can make a disaster into a triumph, or the opposite!) Over the years, both Pete and Roger came to trust Simon and Bob Pridden as assigned to the monitor system for Pete alone, while Simon ran the whole band… and Roger. The singer’s monitors are the most important of any band, as it’s such a difficult thing to do. Simon’s been out with many bands (Skunk Anansie, Sparks, Duran Duran…) but always remains loyal to The Who – and so have they to him. This last year he was called to work with Lady Gaga while The Who were on break. (As we were on our “final tour” it seemed to make sense to open options. Gaga had gone through nearly a dozen monitor engineers in half a year. Our Simon was recommended, and succeeded so well he’s been asked to stay on. As this is a much more-consistent income from touring than the sporadic Who tours can offer, tonight is Simon’s last night working stage-side for The Who! He will be greatly missed, as his intense workload each day has been handled skilfully and reliably. We hope he’d return someday, but you never know! Simon has often been visible right off Pete’s side of the stage. You’ll see Roger making strange movements onstage: He and Simon have developed a complex set of hieroglyphic gestures to communicate what changes Roger needs from moment to moment. For now – farewell Simon! Hope to see you back someday.
Oddly enough, this is a very long room. It’s about 30% deeper than any other place we normally play. We even had to move the sound and video board forward to get into a better position. Pete mentioned to the band at soundcheck (unattended as no VIP seats are sold at these shows) that this was a “last show” but the band should not overplay; they ought to conserve some energy, even if they felt motivated to play harder.
Yet, as soon as the show started, it seemed as if Pete was ignoring his own advice: Leaps and jumps, swinging arms and strutting legs – this was already one of those shows where the band and audience push each other higher.
Many of these recent shows have been “makeup shows” – one’s we’d scheduled for last year and did not play for various reasons. Oddly enough, Pete started his stage comments talking about having too much makeup on! It seemed for a minute to be a line from a KISS show… He called Birmingham “the centre of the building universe” as there was so much new construction happening. “The city’s rocking!” he exclaimed.
Birmingham has a great music history. It’s in the midlands, more of a working-class town than London, like Detroit is in America. (There is also a famous town called Birmingham in the USA, so I joke that this arena – called the “NIA” means “Not In Alabama”!) This Birmingham boasts the seeds of ELO, Black Sabbath, Traffic, The Moody Blues, Judas Priest, the great Christine McVie. All great artists with unique styles.
Speaking of the musical past, Pete mentioned one song they had tried to stop playing around ’68-’69, as they thought it was “too old” – ‘My Generation’. Then he mentioned remembering how he used to think that being age 34-35, that his life was over, what would he do? And then you’re 50, and 60 etc… it just goes on. He did say that he was still capable of playing shows now, but he needed something behind him to keep him propped up. In this case, he said, “it’s Zak Starkey!”
After ‘Join Together’ Rog said “You’re sounding good, Brum!” using the familiar nickname for Birmingham. I saw audience members in tears during The Rock – the visual component on the big screens shows some heavy stuff from human history, and it still affects people along with this powerful music. Pete offered that his voice was going, so he’d try to sing I’m One and the gruffness really suited it.
The noisy audience really drove the band to higher heights, and the band responded. It got to the point that Pete attempted a knee slide (unexpectedly) in ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. Not perfectly executed, nonetheless it was a hit and this audience caught a rarity.
At the end (feeling generous with a rare unscheduled “encore”) they played ‘Relay’, which Roger said had not been done in four to five years. Always a great track, it’s popular with this crowd, and a classic era of The Who. Pete shocked everyone by saying he had never really thought their shows were “very good” nor was the playing of them “very enjoyable.” Hmm, the legendary contrarian sometimes emerges. Yet, he did say it was good for the soul to do what they do onstage. Interpret that how you will.
We hope to see you again, somewhere in the world.