Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Estadio Ciudad de la Plata; Buenos Aires, Argentina – October 1, 2017

The South American tour is done. And no question; it was a wonderful experience. We had to undergo some serious breaks from the norm to get us here and back. Strangeness and challenges abounded, but all in all, it seemed pretty cool and was a very new experience – hard to find that in this very long career of things-done.

The last of five shows is tonight in Buenos Aires, Argentina. Another stadium, and another show with Guns N Roses. I mentioned challenges – our gear and their gear was traveling together this time. Somehow, the plane was forced to stop at the wrong continent (really!) on the way to this event – and everything was held back 24 or more hours. There should have been setup going on the day before, as GnR carry an enormous mega-buck show for every appearance. So the morning of the show, they were still waiting for their stuff to appear at the stadium. Hmm…

Given the crunch, they pulled it together, putting us back only a few hours, but squeezing us tightly even to make our setup happen, and forcing the smaller opening acts to make do with almost no setup time – they were loading some things onto stage as the audience were filling the seats. Close.

Meanwhile, it’s been a day of drizzle and even full rain. Not fun, and certainly less than comfortable, but workable. As our set time came up, the rain started in, and the front of the stage was getting soaked. Someone had built the roof over the stage. Well – over most of it – leaving a downward slope in front that fed rain down onto the first 6 feet of the stage, where we do tend to put a lot of the important gear. With plastic tarps over Pete’s and Simon Townshend’s monitors and pedals, and local helpers sweeping water from the lip of the stage, we started checking our sounds just before the band emerge. House sound-man Robert Collins said he heard some kind of electronic noise on many of the channels, then realized it was the sound of the rain itself over many microphones – it was that loud. Our monitor team (Dee, Trevor and John) had to build a clear tent over their consoles and watch the show through the plastic sheets.

But our set began to our fifth stadium cheer – always a welcome sound. ‘I Can’t Explain’ started up, and the crowd began jumping in unison. I remember it being called pogo dancing in the punk era, and it’s certainly still raw fun no matter what music they do it to. In a thick crowd like this, it’s about the only direction you have available: up or down.

Some memorable moments tonight. Again, we had Axl Rose’s piano stage out in front of us, and Roger was used to it from the last show. This time, it was soaked and slippery wet – so he had a new challenge to add. But from this platform, he was really featured, perfect for the spotlights beaming out in the rain. He commanded a whole stadium full of people from this point – at notable moments of peak vocal lines. I’m sure quite a few of the GnR fans were struck clearly with the fact that this vocalist has nearly 25 years experience on their favorite guy, and Rog still sounds a lot more like he did when he was young.

Pete was also in good form, and moving more and more out onto the thrust stage. At least, as far as his cables would allow! After ‘You Better You Bet’ the whole crowd started in a “Who Who Who Who Who” chant, completely unprompted, so they are certainly in a great mood, and not afraid to show it. John Corey played the piano intro to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ tonight – each day he composes his own music to introduce the piece; it’s a nice break in the show. Tonight, he surprised everyone by playing ‘Tattoo’ as an instrumental for a minute (and then a few notes of ‘Desperado’, as he was The Eagles’ pianist on their reunion tour) I know Pete and Roger were pleased by the surprise, as was the crew, but the audience maybe doesn’t know the deeper Who cuts and simply waited silently, just listening. All was not so rosy, though, as there was literally just quiet after ‘Love Reign’, which is usually a high point of the show. Not good to mention “rain” to this crowd, maybe? With all the rain, Rog was carefully placing his steps, as a three-meter drop off the front would not have made for a great show.

I could see the people that were close to us off Stage Left, and this was the first time of the tour that it was actually getting crazy in a bad way; the pushing that makes people move as a wave, the lack of mobility, pretty scary. But within limits, it was ok and not yet dangerous. I saw a few people pulled out, which is a good sign; anyone who wants to give up waves and signals, and the crowd parts to let them forward to the barricade, and the security team lift them up and out. This is how it should work, so our show went on as usual. Had it been any worse, I know they would have stopped.

The crowd is full of Guns N Roses T-shirts, and most of the fun happening during our set was about 20 people back from the fence. So everyone was enjoying themselves, but the rapturous Who fans were in the middle and all around the sides, and maybe not as tough as the GnR kids who stuck it out down in front in the rain (their persistence would be rewarded soon enough).

Toward the end, people really responded to the Tommy set. And just as it ended, Pete seemed to turn very dark – not the lighting, the mood. As the lights went down we heard a “bang” onstage, and I looked to see if a guitar had been smashed? Nope – but his microphone was down on the ground, among a pile of his pedals and monitors. Something had happened, he was clearly unhappy, and the old destruction mode had kicked in – a little. As you may all know, sometimes anger makes for a good Who show and it did; the remaining moments of ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ came off quite well. No encores, I saw Roger look at Pete with a questioning glance, and “get off” was the answer. In most cases, you could never top the 1:2 punch of those final pieces. And this was not so much a Who crowd, they would be ready for the next band.

South America is done, we had a crazy load-out among the show/noise/explosions that are GnR. All our cases were pushed up a very, very long plywood ramp to a truck zone outside the stadium. What seemed like 50-60 eager young Argentinians muscled our gear up the hill with us. Alan Rogan (who joined as Pete’s guitar roadie exactly 40 years ago this day) joked, “Well, it could be worse… It could be raining.” As it was.

Wet, cold and tired, we were relieved it was done. Not a great show, but a pretty-good one. All the struggles to get it ready melt away when the music happens; that’s what counts. Our work here is done. (Except the hardy few who drove to the airport to put our equipment on pallets for the long flights home.) With loud GnR in the background, there is pizza and drink… and discussion of whether this might be our last show together?

Many thanks to our promoters and local helpers/drivers/translators on the South American tour leg. They kept us safe, handled crazy requests, and made our lives much easier. The crews were not as experienced as many we deal with, but certainly more helpful and eager than most who are more “pro” back home – I’m certain they’re happy to have a job even, and in such a cool place. Without their struggle, it could not have been done.

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)
Behind Blue Eyes
Join Together
You Better You Bet
I’m One
Love, Reign O’er Me
(with snippet of ‘Tattoo’ and ‘Desperado’ played on piano in the beginning)
Amazing Journey
(with snippet of ‘Captain Walker’ from Tommy‘s ‘Overture’ at the end)
Sparks
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again

 

Epilogue:

Was this the last concert of The Who?

Though this has not been one continuous tour since The Who Hits 50! of 2015, yet essentially it was. We continued the same band, videos, instruments, songs and crew throughout the last two + years. That 2015 outing started out billed as the “final tour”, which certainly many doubted after the “Farewell Tour” of 1982 (To be fair, the word farewell does not mean final or last, look it up: It means goodbye on a parting.) The band did stay away for most of the next decade, an eternity in the music business. Pete had solo albums, books and Broadway musicals to attend, Roger had new acting gigs all over. When the band came back steadily with John and Zak, that lasted until the eve of the 2002 tour. The final tour with John was in 2000 and it was ferocious most nights.

After John, “The Two/Who 2” or just The Who went on. Many who saw the original foursome say it was the greatest band ever to play live; likely so. Others saw recent shows that they say rivalled – or beat, in their opinion – those original days. Both are likely true; each night depends on where you sit, what you want, what is played, how you feel or what you drank/smoked. There is great sound in some seats, bad views and poor sound in others – we all come away with different results from the same event. I know for a fact that this Who can deliver as solidly as any touring band in this day and age. Just this year, I’ve had friends who never saw or cared about The Who (plus serious Who-fan musicians from other bands) tell me the concert they saw was the best show of their lives. Amazing.

I would expect thousands upon thousands who had a great experience at their shows since 2002 would honor the fact that they did continue without John and Keith. We had several tens of thousands just this week who had a peak life-experience being in a Who audience for the very first time: I’m jealous of them, what an experience that would be to transport back to that innocence and fulfilment, to see a microphone fly about or a windmill chord for the first time with your own eyes. But it was indeed an End this week. There is an enforced “year off” at least, and likely more – given that shows soon and distant have been turned down already. (There are always lucrative offers on the table for shows, ever since their successful Super Bowl appearance, the world seems to agree this band is one that can deliver. As if we didn’t know already…) Guns N Roses crew people told us that they’d never seen their band so excited to be along with someone, and they came out to watch nightly, which is rare. One even stated “When Pete plays those opening chords to ‘I Can’t Explain’, I get the chills.” We all do; they sound like horns announcing a battle, and have been doing so for many, many years…

Yet it is possible it is over.

The crew have talked about it these final days, even as offers were still coming in this very week to extend the tour a few days for very good money – yet not happening. We all know how life is, and people come and go.

Rog and Pete (and management) have literally no say on what I do in this blog. I feel I could mention a few things at this point: There are discussions that touring is over; that their shows need not mean months away from home, with something more like residencies in major cities where people come see you. Others have done it, we tried it in Vegas and it worked. One could even picture a future with no tours, but a few special charity events, or honours performances. No one knows, but something seems much more likely than nothing.

Keep the memories close to your heart . . . and here’s to more, it if can happen.

Onward . . .