Following one of the most spectacular sunrises I’ ve ever seen, we load in early at the festival site. This stage is ENORMOUS, with only the Desert Trip (Coachella) stage being larger. It’s not that we need a large stage; we have a prescribed setup and spacing for all the instruments onstage. If you move too close or far from this setup, the sound balances and movements of the players can get very challenging. So, big or small we try to set up the exact same way every day, even here.
While we’ re setting up in the morning sun, something happened we’ve never seen anywhere; a tour bus, full of waving riders, drives past the stage. We’ re part of the City of Quebec tour now, I guess… Things go well, it seems, and we simply check that all the instruments and channels work – then we “push back” and roll all the platforms and risers back off the main stage. We don’t have to undo everything, most of it stays attached and ready to roll back after our opening bands play. However, due to the early nature of the setup and the challenges of testing sound in an empty space, we don’t do a soundcheck with the band. They trust us to know what is needed. Don’ t forget; The Who never used to soundcheck for ages anyway; they preferred to just show up and rock every night.
Once we “push back” we have the rest of the day off. So roughly 7 hours of free time before we need to be ready to play. Opening bands are often hit or miss, but the band just before The Who were The Struts. They have a classic-rock sound and style. The singer, Luke Spiller, is absolutely incredible, with a rare strong clear voice, and his stage energy is unparalleled. They won the large crowd over and are something to see if you get a chance.
This is one of the world’s better festivals. A nice varied site, with hills and stages, booths and fields. Not as spread-out as many, so coming and going don’t require as much walking. Luckily, the day was dry and warm, superb weather.
And so, our first show of the new tour began. I have to say, this was a rough one. From the get-go, Pete was having sound issues with his rig. We’d seen this before back in the UK, which took us almost 2 shows to get him happy. After ‘ Who Are You,’ he stopped in frustration and took a couple minutes just to bang a chord and adjust, bang another chord and adjust. For what seemed like an eternity. Still, it wasn’t what he wanted. (Our rehearsal in the empty hockey arena without a stage was so odd-sounding he’d never gotten a chance to analyze the sound.)
Roger had some issues, too. Our new monitor engineer did a fine job, trying to sort out Roger’ s needs, but this was no “normal” show; no soundcheck, not our PA system, and the outdoor sound with unusual echoes. So much of the show was an upward climb, hard work and lots of effort without being able to enjoy it. Zak was strong from the get-go and really drove the energy beyond the norm. He seemed surprised when he came out, thinking it was a small-medium sized show. It was not, it was tens of thousands, similar to even Hyde Park, but with an upward slope at the rear, so the band and distant crowd could see each other better.
For ‘Join Together’ Roger went down off the main stage onto a lower stage just in front of the pit. It was the first time I’ve ever seen that, yet it was only a short while ago that he crossed behind Pete and used the full width of the stage for the very first time, something he now does all the time. So, music must change – as they say!
There were some high points for sure. During the jam at the end of ‘ My Generation,’ Roger started into lyrics from ‘ Cry If You Want’ and Pete really seemed to feel the vibe and forgot the issues for a time. ‘ Bargain’ was strong, with the old swagger and power of the band in full force. ‘ Eminence Front’ was a peak, sonically and for crowd movement. This was a less-talk, more-rock show; understandable as the thoughts were always on trying to get the show more in-shape. But too bad, as the humour and honest chat from Pete and Rog in a good mood is a unique part of a Who show.
The low point was likely just after John Corey’ s moody piano intro to ‘ Love Reign O’ er Me’ . A split second after this ends, I start a backing track. Once the realm of sound man Bobby Pridden, I’ve inherited his job this year. Of course, it’s only obvious on things like ‘ Baba’ and ‘ Won’t Get Fooled Again’ . But ‘ Love Reign’ has almost no track but Pete’s original synth and violin (yes, he played it) from the original record. For years and years, it was always just played live, with an occasional screw-up (most memorable at L.A.’ s Greek Theater one night) due to people getting lost. So now there is a click track to follow through the musical woods, and this allows the original riff from the record to be used as we do with those other classics. But not tonight! I started the backing, and no one played. Then started it again – same, and again and again – they could not hear it, although I could see it going. Oddly, they could have forged ahead as we used to have it, but maybe they’ve grown comfortable with the current version. Luckily, after a long period of obvious waiting – losing the momentum from the piano intro – they could follow the start point, and go go go…
At least, the current 1-2 punch of ‘Baba’ going into ‘ Won’ t Get Fooled Again’ brought everyone in sync, as far as the eye could see. Maybe under our microscope, this was a tough night. For most in the crowd, it was probably a strong show, with some visible hiccups. Any WHO show is a good show, at minimum. The first show of a tour leg is usually the easiest to beat, and we will. Thanks to all in Québec City, great times, wonderful mood and spirit, hopefully we can return!