Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Van Andel Arena, Grand Rapids, MI – July 25, 2017

Back again – this is another sports arena, typical for us. And we’ve been here before, too; known territory. Van Andel Arena is big and easy for a show, lots of room. We like it.

Pete arrived, but bowed out of soundcheck and camped out in his room. Highly unusual, but the band and Roger ran through things and kept it short. Of course, this leaves potential for uncaught problems we might find during the show, but this band did decades and decades with NO soundchecks, so it won’t likely be any trouble at all.

It’s great seeing many young kids with their Dads and Moms, all singing along word-for-word. This is quite a multi-generational crowd, and a lot of these people have seen the band for decades, and are now bringing their kids. It’s a rock-and-roll crowd, keeping in mind that this state also houses Detroit, a stronghold ofThe Who for many years.

London Souls opened again; we’ve had this hard-rocking duo (electric guitar and drums, both guys sing) on a few of these shows. I believe it’s their last show with us. They’ve been well-received and no trouble – which is an ideal situation for us. I’m sure their glad to have such a big audience each time.

Finally, when The Who came out onstage, it was more than a cheer, it was kind of a roar. For one thing, these people are REALLY LOUD here! Roger responded with a big “Hello Michigan!!” to the State of their first American shows back in 1967. “It was here, I’ll never forget it!” Most English musicians remember their first trip to the big USA forever, despite hundreds of later tours. And the same for Americans visiting England…

Soon after, Pete notes that ‘Happy Jack’ was their first real hit in the USA, and it was on the radio here in Michigan first. Nicely, he starts to play the ‘Happy Jack’ riff and Roger joins right in – I’m surprised he still knows how to play it! It did sound cool, so it would be a nice one to hear back in the set someday. Roger said that the radio had played ‘Can’t Explain’ here first, too, long before ‘Happy Jack’ and before most anyone in the country knew about it.

Townshend clarifies that Ann Arbor was the specific site of first gig (big cheer), and the guys from a new band, the MC5, came out to see them that night.

For nine or 10 songs, things were groovy. The band was powerful and extra-energetic, feet jumping and arms pumping, it certainly looked as exciting as it sounded. But right after, Roger stopped and really let go between songs. He was clearly angry and felt someone was smoking – behind the stage? – and causing him to lose his voice. Protectively, Pete supported him, warning people of the dangers of smoke ending our show, but reassuring Roger that likely no one was behind the stage smoking! (Indeed there were just two local security people there). It was no idle threat, Roger’s voice grew notably wobbly, cutting in and out at times, and he began gulping water. We hope he lasts…

Bassist Jon Button has been playing much more adventurous recently, having moved past the “new” stage some time ago. I hear the new spirit is on recommendation of the band members who have encouraged him to stretch-out a little more, in traditional Who style.

Roger hopes for some changes in the coming Las Vegas shows. While it’s normally a place you’d “play it safe” and just play the hits and be done, it seems like he realizes the band (and audience) would be stir-crazy doing the same thing over and over in the same place. This coming run is indeed a new experience for The Who, who have avoided this kind of longer residency (they originally wanted a monthlong – or more – stay at Ceasars. That would not have gone well…)

Pete mentioned that, in the old days, licensing your music for commercial use was considered really bad form. But now, things have changed a lot and, without record stores, MTV, etc., we now discover new artists and music this way, from TV shows, commercials and films. Artists really seek out options for using their music – it’s not just money, but exposure to thousands, even millions. Pete said burgers and feminine products had been recently proposed – but couldn’t recall what songs were involved. He felt he was among the first doing such licensing for TV shows – like Miami Vice (which received a cheer) for ‘Eminence Front’.

There was a HUGE ovation at the end, enough to stun and sort of shock the band. They are used to applause and people hollering, but this was even beyond the norm. Somehow, by the end of the show, all the nonsense had stopped, and Roger seemed nicely recovered. So we left with a good feeling and packed up, ready for the big trip out West!

Onward!