May 25, 2016 – LOS ANGELES – Staples Center
A big show, an important show, too. And a damn good one.
Los Angeles is one of the world’s music cities. It has a reputation, too, because of the industry types who are jaded, expect privileges, and are “too cool for school.” Some of this is definitely true; it’s an industry town, and people spend a lot more time at events and special “velvet rope” places than most of the public could ever imagine. Yet despite the reputation, the town is built upon serious musicians and music lovers. These people don’t mind paying for a big rock show ticket, and appreciate good music played well, as much as anywhere on the earth. The WHO can (and did) easily fill the huge Staples Center (over 13,000 seats) and the crowd will be there for the great music.
“Industry people” means famous musical people, actors, business leaders – a lot of pressure for an artist onstage. It’s a lot of savvy people watching what you do. No matter how many shows you’ve done over the years, the major cities feel different than even the most intense show in a more out-of-the-way place. I didn’t hear any discussion, but I know it was a difficult show to approach.
Los Angeles is home for several of the crew and some of the band members. Family and industry guests were in abundance – the mayhem I hinted at during Anaheim; so much so that the promoters brought in extra people just to handle the hundreds of requests for guest access tonight. Los Angeles is also the home of several WHO “firsts” over time; Simon Townshend joined the 2002 tour to sing the high parts John used to do, so the Hollywood Bowl 2002 was his first big WHO performance. That same night, Pino Palladino saved the tour nearly overnight by stepping into the bass slot. In front of 18,500 people, this is a high-pressure situation for a new musician – both did exceptionally well from the get-go, and have remained since. The photo of me and Pete seen for this Backstage Blog was taken at the Hollywood Bowl in 2006, when Rabbit had to leave without notice, and I was tossed into the “deep end” for my first show filling in on keyboards. Pete and Roger have huge history here, and Roger also lived here for years.
There was good sound onstage as we set up, a nice start. Upstairs there are many corporate boxes to house major-money sponsors. They’ve hung curtains there to absorb some echo on the far walls – fantastic improvement – as most major venues are also normally sports arenas, without any regard for sonics. It’s a tall and deep room, which can be weird-sounding, but it’s ok onstage – which helps the musicians do their part. The rest is up to our mixing engineer, Robert Collins; he makes the sound you hear in the audience. This was a big audience, about 250 VIPs for soundcheck – second in size only to Philly! It was a very lazy soundcheck, lots of talking and instrumental noodling. (In previous years, there was no band soundcheck, the roadies would play “Who Are You” quite poorly…) As Roger worked on his own sound, he wondered aloud “…is it my ears?” (‘ears’ being code for ‘in-ear monitors’, the earpieces most musicians use onstage now.) He was not sure if it was the electronics or something else “…’coz I’m deaf!?” Indeed, the in-ear monitors are a lifesaver for a singer, helpful when loud amps and drums are right near you all night.
In the rehearsal, “Acid Queen” was done differently with Pete on acoustic guitar, rather than his electric. It made it softer and more 1960s-sounding. They’ll try it that way tonight and see how it works. Roger left before “Eminence Front” was tested – and someone asked if we should run it without him; Pete said Roger’s 2-note riff was important, but not critical to them getting the soundcheck done… he wouldn’t miss it. With Roger gone, Pete was left to thank the VIPs, something different. “So… thank you very much for coming…” and walked away only to return a moment later “And you know I don’t mean it!” Pause. “But you know I do.” “Confusing, isn’t it?”
So many guests tonight – our old friend and support act, Tal Wilkenfeld came down early to say hello to all of us. Zak’s father – also a drummer – was down for the show. It must make a father incredibly proud to see his son hold his own with two of rock’s most-established artists.
Pre-show, we usually run slides that show the WHO history in that very town. Tonight was nearly a record-breaker; this was the 30th show in Los Angeles. Probably only London and New York can beat that record…
“The Seeker” solo was A+ tonight, a beautiful moment early on.
Right before one song, Pete expected Roger to tell a story to introduce it. Roger laughed, as one of the sound guys was re-attaching his body pack (that powers his earpiece monitors) to his trousers. “I can’t… I’ve got somebody playing with my ass!” Pete said “Some of us wait for years for that!” and Roger further joked it was one of the most pleasurable moments of the tour for him.
More with the noisy crowd: Pete informed them “Now when I talk to you, I don’t expect you to speak back!” and related that “I’m the only one who can hear you…” meaning he has no in-ear monitors to block the ambient sound, he hears things all around the room – which the other band members cannot.
A huge moment passed by, and not many may have noticed it. Pete was talking about Quadrophenia and how it was originally intended to “take over” the position of importance that Tommy had achieved – but it never did. Pete said he was really pleased with our previous tour of the Quad album, but also said “Maybe one day we’ll play the other one, the big one. Someday. Maybe not.” Quite a tease. It’s been discussed that instead of touring – staying in one place and playing a set piece of music for multiple nights would be the possible future. Hmm…
From the start, we noticed a lot of pot smoke wafting up. It’s not only illegal to smoke anything indoors here, there are AT LEAST three warnings on the big screen that Roger is allergic and it affects his voice. Roger’s voice grew rougher during the show, as both Cheech and Chong continued to blaze away throughout the show. Usually Daltrey’s quite harsh on any smokers in the vicinity, but tonight he let it go too long. It really did affect his voice negatively, and he finally mentioned it – too late. However, Roger soldiered on and it didn’t kill the show, luckily. But it was a close one.
This show was far from perfect, but it had overcome the pressures of L.A., and succeeded mightily instead – a hard trick to pull off. It was easily the equal of the excellent show in Anaheim. Jaded or not, the audience loved it and responded really well. At the end, Roger mentioned how sweet it was to be alive. Indeed, we’re glad he’s here – and better at doing the job than anyone could have ever expected!