Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Outside Lands Festival, San Francisco, CA – August 13, 2017

Talk about a turnaround: This show is exactly the opposite of our recent Las Vegas shows. In Vegas, we all became rather nocturnal, as that town is a nighttime place running well past 2am on most nights, and the days are blistering hot at noon. Here, we woke before dawn and were driven into the festival site – not far from the Golden Gate bridge and beautiful San Francisco bay. It was cold and wet, drizzling and fog most of the day. We have done many, many festivals, and it’s always some trouble; the band doesn’t get a soundcheck, the PA system and lights are not ours, etc. But the rewards are huge crowds, massive stages, and the change of pace from the same old venues we usually see – sports arenas.

San Francisco is a gorgeous town, one of America’s most geographically beautiful and figured, hills and greenery and rocks and bays. Not to mention contrasting a very modern city with vintage California buildings all around, it’s certainly a unique place – not quite like any other city in the USA. The food is great, the people are artistic and culturally oriented – no wonder things like the Fillmore, Haight-Ashbury and the Monterey Pop Festival were locally grown around these parts. Metallica played here last night, a hometown show and extremely well-received we hear. Today the artist just before us was Lorde. She’s certainly already massively popular – and one wonders why she isn’t headlining one of these festival days; it’s clear that tens of thousands are here just to see her. Ms. Ella delivered, showing that she is one of those clear talents that will be around for a very long time. The crowd went absolutely crazy for her, singing and waving in a way the rivalled Queen at the Live Aid show; amazing response. It isn’t just the music and lyrics – powerful as they are, the same for The Who – it’s really about personality and physicality/movement.

Forty five minutes later, it was our turn. Pete came out with it right away “You are WET! You’ll ALL wet! And we’re NOT!” To which Roger replied “It’s only a matter of time” as the stage had been dripped and drizzled on (wet rolling fog made all the gear a bit damp.) “And you’re all so YOUNG” Pete answered right away. “… and we’re NOT!”

Yes, this is a festival, so reserved seats for rich concertgoers does not apply here. So the hardy and the energetic get to be up front. Always good for morale onstage, it certainly buoyed the vibes at our show tonight. With spotlights beaming through fog and raindrops, the view was somewhat like our Glastonbury show a while ago, and about the same size, nearly 70,000 reported. Not as crazy here, but certainly a huge venue that felt a bit like a controlled war zone. Young people were everywhere…

Pete explained a bit of their long history in San Fran, from the Fillmore in ’67 to the Monterey afterward, etc. He said the place was certainly much better now than in those legendary days, when he’d seen Vietnam vets everywhere, strung out and in trouble.

He’d asked how many had been here all there days (a pretty high percentage raised their hands) and wished he’d been here to see some of the acts. “You’re tough to do this shit!” Pete noticed. “Particularly in this weather.” Most everyone was soaked, slowly with fog and dew throughout the day. The area is a big grassy hillside, surrounded by massive trees on all sides – we’re in Golden Gate Park, just out of sight of the legendary bridge here, but the saying “coldest winter I ever had was Summer in San Francisco” is likely true.

Roger kept his stories brief, knowing there wasn’t much time to go deep (we have a two-hour show limit, curfew is imposed after a certain allotted time.) Probably a good idea, but then again, the show does have a lot of jamming and extended bits, like ‘Naked Eye’ which was great tonight, especially Pete’s vocal section. Both guys had lots of fancy footwork tonight, the sure-fire sign that things are good. The feet don’t lie – and it adds a great visual to the show, especially for those way in back who must rely on video screens and larger gestures. Speaking of, we have a roving camera operator onstage around the musicians – something we’ve avoided onstage in our own shows. Our own Scotty Williams is always down in front of the stage; he’s shot hundreds of WHO shows now, and knows every move these guys might make. A very useful guy in a critical position, it makes a big difference in the room when he catches just the right guitar move or microphone twirl.

Pete did say he’d been back in his trailer/bus and felt “Why do I do this? Am I still doing this?” and then came out and felt, yeah – he does this and it’s good! I’m sure about 50,000 people felt similarly! He changed the current gold favorite guitar for the old red one and said “This guitar kills fascists…!” a double-reference, as the old Woodie Guthrie guitar once was decorated with a similar slogan, and the news from Virginia was still on many minds this weekend. Well-played to a huge cheer, as this is San Fran – one of the key Sanctuary cities. Lorde had a modern, trendy appeal for sure, but The Who had more than proven everything in their world is world-class – and I wonder what young bands will make it through life to last 50+ years as they have. Things like the video for ‘The Rock’ were different than almost any band had at the Festival; I saw the bit from 9/11 really hit people hard tonight; The Who still takes chances and moves forward without losing the past.

And so – despite the English weather, this festival seems very nicely done, with the modern amenities (VIP tents off one side of the stage for big spenders, chipped wristband passes than can be scanned, etc.) We had fun, despite the troubles, so it must have been good. Pete left the stage visibly unhappy, maybe something to do with the timing and the end, but we’d had a full show, tiny bit over 2 hours as-planned. I saw a ton of 30-somethings singing along to almost every song, so the image of the typical fan shifts all the time. I’m sure the weather wore on the band, more of a distraction than a real problem, but they seemed to play really tightly and strong throughout

We have one more show in North America, then some exciting new things…

Onward!