May 19, 2016 – OAKLAND – Oracle Arena
Oakland has been abuzz in this very building recently, as their own Golden State Warriors basketball team has been setting records this season, serious may-never-be-broken-again type of records! Since we like to add some local color to every show during the pre-show slides, this was an obvious thing to mention, and the first time it came up – HUGE cheers across the arena. Keyboardist Loren Gold was wearing his “CURRY” jersey at soundcheck, certainly aware of the recent events…
The Bay Area is another special place for The WHO. You’re likely aware of their connections to Bill Graham, the Bay Area’s legendary promoter, owner of the Fillmore East and West. And the infamous Cow Palace show where Keith took animal tranquilizers and passed out, with local drummer Scot Halpin being pulled from the audience to save the day (RIP Scot…)
The “Day On the Green” shows of 1976 happened here, with the Grateful Dead opening for The WHO; it may seem an unlikely match (musically, it is…) but the bands are longtime friends, so it was more of a family affair. We featured a few of these classic rock posters on our preshow slides, as well.
Today, the big birthday has arrived; Peter Dennis Blandford Townshend turns 71. We have enough to celebrate anyway – The WHO are on a proper tour around the world, playing many of their best songs. But adding in a special day of note like this is cool, too. A while back, someone had asked if Pete would mind people making a fuss over his birthday? As he’s been mentioning it onstage often enough recently, it’s not a taboo subject. But it does seem that an overt display might not be needed, it’s enough just to know it and say it. Someone asked about doing a cake – a nice tradition and certainly a good way for everyone to share in the event. It was thought that having a sailboat on the cake would be nice, as PT does enjoy the water and sailing – it’s something more personal, something less-obvious than a guitar. Somewhere, the lines of communication must have gotten a little twisted, as the dreams of a sleek sailing ship turned into a scene of the Golden Gate Bridge and…. a tugboat!
A big graphic that says “Pete Hits 71!” (matching our tour logo) was up on the big screen as the band came onstage. Many in the audience had cute party hats on, and quite a few homemade signs came out – these fans do pay attention! I think it was all done quite nicely – and not overdone; people were respectful of those behind them and removed the pointy hats after the initial moments, in courtesy to those behind them (or maybe they just thought it looked dumb to wear them all night.)
Speaking of signs, one thing to note: the band can indeed see almost every sign held up during a show. This mention is not to encourage you to do more signs, but to limit the use; less is more. They probably love to see interesting and new expressions of love (and song requests that rarely seem to work) out there… but to warn you, they sometimes verbally call out people that hold up their signs too much. So now you can be a smart and effective sign-tist, making the shows even better!
In front of the stage, is a small standing area we call “the pit.” Mainly, it’s a safety zone; it keeps fans from leaning on the stage. It also allows security personnel to watch the crowd closely from the front. For our shows, we mount a ladder there horizontally, as a “track” for a camera that films most of the closeups you see of Roger and Pete. Another tradition of concerts is rarely seen, at least, not directly. Those journalists with approved photo passes are allowed to bring their cameras into “the pit” and shoot photos during the first 3 numbers only. (This is standard operating procedure for shows, not just for us.) The first 3 songs allow the artists to be seen in good shape, before the sweat and strain soaks their clothes and hair (if they have any.) For these first 3 songs, it’s a small battle, as the photogs jockey to get even one magic photo that may allow them to stand out, guessing about timing and positioning to get that ideal image.
Oakland’s Oracle Arena is a large rounded space, sometimes tricky for sound, but today we noticed no problems. It looks somewhat like the inside of a giant spaceship, and it makes for great-looking photos of the room, as you’ll see.
The Bay Area has it’s legendary hippie scene, some of this still holds over today. Certainly, many of these audience members were on something, giving freedom to move and dance, in the aisles, up the stairs, in the seats – people all over were moving in their own trances. It’s a bit different than a beer dance; a lot more fluid and interpretive. Whatever caused it, it was a nice throwback to the concerts in the classic years, when it seems audiences were bit deeper into music – but that feeling still resurfaces now and then.
Roger plays guitar now and then. As we have Pete and Simon Townshend, a third guitar is not always needed, but certainly it fills out the sound on some tracks, like “Eminence Front”. Roger does have excellent taste in guitars; his Fender Esquire is from the early 1950s, literally one of the first thousand or two solidbody electric guitars ever built – of the several million made to-date. And his acoustic is a Gibson artist-signature model, one made in the 1950s for the Everly Brothers, which sounds as good as it looks.
The whole show was a stunner, almost nothing really wrong (which is rare) and lots of energy. One can usually tell by the amount of ‘fancy footwork’ and jigging Pete does toward the end of the set. Tonight, we saw lots of it!
At the end, Roger even brought one fan’s posterboard onto the stage and laid it against Pete’s amps; birthday wishes, no doubt, in case Pete forgot.
During the final bows and band introductions, Loren Gold again stole the show by appearing suddenly in a Warriors jersey and hat – a perfect appeal to the audience, who (of course) went crazy.
On the serious and sad side, one longtime fan and friend of The WHO was missed here; Erica Berg “beloved Who babe, 1967-2015” had passed away since our last time here. Several slides showing her life and Who-related photos were shown before the show. We’re hoping her family and friends (including all those on the tour) were able to see the warm tribute to this talented dancer. A life well-lived.