Sept. 11, 2016
We’ve been here in town for three days now, all ready and prepped to go!
The first show in quite some time (these breaks are often shorter, but this was nearly 2 months’ pause.) We’re sure the performance will be good, but always a little bit loose on these “first” shows – while everyone remembers what they’re supposed to do. Eventually, with the day-in/out of a tour, it gets to be second nature, so this re-start a bit like coming home after a long vacation; you’re comforted by the familiar sights again.
The Oberhausen arena hall is slightly wide and open, so there are clear views from almost anywhere in the building; literally not a bad seat here. The hall fills with fans slowly, and nearly to the roof by the time The WHO start up.
As usual, the entrance is more of a casual sauntering-on, as opposed to those bands that start with a big fanfare or some sort of musical powerhouse. This slow start is something you’ll remember well from historical WHO shows; the walking on, noisemaking and banter between the players clearly audible before the music starts. It’s the same here tonight.
This crowd is traditionally German, strong drinkers and not shy, but certainly not a wild bunch, they have control of themselves. They simply enjoy the music in-place, although there was a quick crush toward the front row as the show began. I noticed a lot of gray-haired people in the front; this was a crowd that may have followed the band since the very beginning, or at least they consider themselves the Original Who Generation.
The setlist was not surprising in any way; always safe to start with what’s known and secure – just to make sure we all know how it goes, at least once!
Pete did his best to drop in some Deutsche language, as he’d learned a decent amount of it when young, but then fell back into the English. Both Rog and Pete kept the chat to a minimum tonight, barely announcing the title of a coming song before launching into it.
I’d hinted at changes coming from Pete, and there were indeed a few tonight. He is always trying things out to improve the live experience. Tonight was the debut of some new guitar equipment:
Pete’s main amp for many decades is a Fender-made Vibro-King; it’s a modernized version of the old Fender Bandmaster amplifier of the late 1950s: This was the amp given to him around 1969 by Joe Walsh, which was the main amp on subsequent WHO records. The Vibro-King has brought that sound onstage for him now since about 1998. Today we have a new amp added, seen in the middle of his rig, called a LAZY-J. It’s a vintage-style (not modernized) exacting clone of the old 1950s Bandmaster he used in the studio; this gets a crunchier, wilder version of the modern Vibro-King tone. He seems to like it, and it blends with the Fenders nicely when needed, but each amp was used for different parts of the show.
More unexpectedly… new guitars!
Pete now has a pair of new Fender Stratocasters made with Gibson “mini-humbucker” pickups, the pickups he used throughout the 1970s. This gives his modern Stratocaster style has a bit more of that old WHO sound. In the olden days, Gibsons were naturally heavier and nastier than Fender guitars, but modern electronics have made Pete’s current Fenders superstrong, and wide-ranging beasts. He has a dozen sounds he gets from just working the guitar itself. He’s also been a proponent of an “acoustic” sound from the guitar; his electric guitars have a special pickup that simulates the strummy sound of an acoustic guitar. He likes to mix the two quite often, and has had this setup for many years now. It’s a unique thing that almost no one else is doing consistently.
So tonight, the two new guitars have Gibson pickups and worked right alongside the current normal Fender guitars. And at the very end, for one song only, Pete debuted the new Gibson “Signature Series” guitar – a Les Paul guitar like the ones he’d always played in the 1970s.
This is a new release from Gibson, a historically-accurate copy of the famous guitars from the brash ’70s era. Pete played (and broke) dozens of these in that decade. Each guitar had been customized with extra parts and options, so Gibson is now making a close duplicate for the fans to buy. Tonight’s shiny gold Les Paul appeared onstage without fanfare for “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” For those keeping count, this is the first time in 35 years since he’d played a Les Paul onstage.
This particular guitar has an additional knob added to control the bridge “acoustic” pickup that his other guitars already have. I grabbed a few photos of it, and it was good I did…
The guitar sounded great at rehearsals and tests done this week. But in concert, it didn’t have the sustain or flexibility of the Fenders. It lasted only until the synthesizer-break portion of the song, and Pete called for Alan Rogan to swap it out for his regular Fender Stratocaster. And so, we may not see a Les Paul onstage again, as it just didn’t have the strength of the Fenders, and seemed to be much harder to play. It was a brief nod to history, and Pete is always trying things to change and improve – rather than be complacent. Those into gear may have remembered other efforts to get new/old sounds in the recent past; a return to Hiwatt Amps and Gibson P90 pickups were tried for a bit, but which didn’t work either.
Oberhausen (and the few diehard fans that follow us everywhere) saw all this happen, most didn’t even notice it, and then it was over, as was the first big show. A fun night, and more to come.