June 19, 2016 – AZKENA ROCK FEST – Vitoria-Gasteiz, Spain

“I can’t complain, but sometimes I still do…” – Joe Walsh

We have a great job and we know it: Most bands are not as generous and sensitive to their crew as The Who are. If you’re one of our readers, you’ll agree they are one of (if not THE) best live bands of all time, even today. So we don’t begrudge the fact that we have nice hotels and buses, see great music every show, have a band we like to chat with, and play some of the world’s best venues. (Usually…)
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This one was a bit tougher. Vitoria is a beautiful older city near Bilbao, in Northern Spain. This festival is a smaller one, with great selection of smaller acts, many are older bands from the 70s/80s. Without a doubt, our group is the big draw here. But this festival, cool as it is, has missed some of the things we found pleasant about the last one – it’s bare-bones here, things are a bit cramped, the ground is dirt and mud, not much artistry in the décor. Yes, there are a few cool rock signs with song titles we’d recognize. But the stages face each other at across a big dirt field, so while one band is setting up, you’re getting blasted by the sound from across the way.
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We loaded in during the early morning, cold and windy and foggy, already not an enjoyable day at work. Within a couple of hours, we’d gotten all the plugging finished and pushed back our rolling platforms to make room for other bands to set up. Hurry – we have only 12.5 hours left until our show! These odd long waits make festival days so much harder than a normal show.
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The three main stages here are named after 2016’s missing artists: the (Scott) Weiland stage is smaller, the biggest are the Bowie and Lemmy stages; we’re on the Lemmy stage – very appropriate: Lemmy Kilmister of Motorhead would – no doubt – be playing many of these summer festivals as Motorhead had done for decades. He was a massive Who fan, and once told me he’d seen the newly-formed band at the Manchester Free Trade Hall in 1965. Until then, they’d never seen musicians with amps any taller than their knees, and suddenly The Who had full Marshall stacks nearly 5x that size – and no one had seen anything like Keith Moon! With the Beatles being his reference point for “cool” only two years before, his new standard was The WHO.
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Today’s show was much the same as the others recently – shorter festival set, not many “deep cuts” other than known radio hits. This audience was definitely cool, younger rock people. There was a slant toward a ’60s mod style and a LOT of younger people in teens and twenties wearing our shirts! Nice to see. From the stage, it was just a sea of faces, smiling and jumping and waving. It was probably about a third as big as the previous show in Madrid, but just as intense and wild.
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Roger and Pete (and the rest) love playing for these kinds of crowds. We get the same reaction any time we’ve played Spain or Italy. These romance-language cultures are full of great rock fans who are expressive and loud, definitely not shy! There’s simply not as many of them as in parts of England and the USA, so shows here are less profitable and less frequent. Shame, really, as it’s SO much fun – for the band!
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Cold and windy still, freezing if you weren’t moving. Drummer Zak was worried that his normal silk shirt wouldn’t keep him warm during the show, but within minutes he was soaked in sweat, and stayed so throughout the show. We can really hear Pino’s bass well on these shows; they have big subwoofers under the stages (sometimes coupled to them) and it really rumbles in a nice, deep way. He’s playing better than ever, but we rarely get to hear him this well.
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The dirt and dust stirred up a cloud, and we had fog coming and going throughout the evening – as well as threatening rain. Luckily, it never got fully wet during the show, but the fog and dust gave our lights that extra 3D look that we love so much – and never see during our normal shows. Pete said he was happy to see so many people there, and they were pleased to be playing – truth! It was a blast! At the end he noted how great it was to see so many young people out there, certainly these kids have no nostalgia for the 60s or even the 70s as they weren’t there – they just LOVE the music, it’s timeless to them; be they 20 or 70 years old, it is still their music.
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This is not the ‘Summer in Spain’ one would dream of, quite the opposite: It was windy, cold and it finally started raining on us while we started to load out at the end of the night. We can’t complain, but….
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PS – keep an eye on this page. We’ve decided to come up with something (some things) that will relate to the tour and keep some interest going here until we resume this “Back to The Who” tour 2016 in August. This blog won’t be as common as these weekly shows have allowed, but you’ll see some cool and odd things during our summer break… Thank you for reading!