Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits 50! Tour: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI, February 27, 2016


“Sounds like Detroit!!” were Roger’s first words onstage . . . and he’s been here often enough to know. Starting in 1967, they became quite welcome guests in the Motor City. It’s a hard-rock town, after all, maybe reflecting the workers and weather that exist here. The Who is a hard-rock band in the most-classic sense, so a good match.



We’ve actually been in town for several days. As this was intended to be the re-start of our aborted Fall leg, we allotted time to set up and rehearse. Since this had been planned, we also added the one show in London, and most of the setup and rehearsal was already done there (as you’ll see in a previous post). So this was a casual week, the band came in for one of the three days allotted. Then Pete said “I’m not going to pretend to rehearse any more!” and they gave us a nice day off in town, although most of us did a little work.


The was a great benefit, as our new “support” (opening act) group is Tal Wilkenfeld and her band. Usually the first day with a new group is a show day; they have about 20 minutes to set up and ten minutes to sound-check. The day-off gave Tal and her team several hours to get situated, and plan their show for Saturday.



Showday: As the audience filed in, the opening slides before the performance showed some of the great Who history in this town. Photos of The Who at high school dances, posters of ’60s gigs with Alice Cooper and The Sky, or ’70s shows with the James Gang. Then into the recent years. We’d only just played here on the Quadrophenia & More tour. Some of our team had used the day off to visit the DIME Music Academy, and were incredibly excited to see the high caliber of performers there. Some of the visit was filmed and we worked a montage of the players (especially their “Keith Moon drum-off”!) into the pre-show visuals. Nicely, the students themselves were in attendance and got to see themselves on the Big Screen . . .


We’d also put up a nice slide in memory of Glenn Frey of The Eagles, who’d recently passed away. Huge response from the audience, as it read “RIP Glenn Frey; Son of Detroit.”



Tal came out, full of smiles and looking great; a few in the audience may know her well as a serious world-class bassist in jazz/fusion. But this show is her show; she’s just completed a soon-to-be-released album of her songs. Without a doubt, this record will be something to hear, as the show was full of her songs (and one Jeff Buckley cover, I believe) which came across so well for an opening act. Usually, we have a lot of empty seats during the support act slot, as people are still struggling in and buying t-shirts and so on. Not tonight, as they were all in watching and listening. Detroit can be a tough audience, too, and likely to be loud talkers… But it went so well, and the audience were pleased to have something interesting and innovative to hear. Her voice was truly strong. Jackson Browne is a big fan of Tal’s music – and he came out for this show and stood alongside during the show to support her. With friends like that (and being asked by Pete to do these shows), she’s in good company. A great start.
Then the ‘Orrible ‘Oo ambled out, and our own noisy parts began, with ‘Who Are You’ launching it up. Again, a hard rock band meets a hard rock audience – perfect. Pete and Rog showed the same energy they had in London more than a week ago.



Pete mentioned their long Detroit history, especially that they’d had their first hit record here – ‘Happy Jack’! “Yes, it’s all your fault!” Roger proclaimed. Backstage they’d seen Russ Gibb, former owner of the great Grande Ballroom. Pete remembered roller skating around the wooden floor of the ballroom in the olden days. He also told the story of his former room-mate at art school, Tom Wright (from Detroit) who’d left Pete with all his records. Then Tom became not only the manager of the Grande Ballroom, he’d toured with The Who and taken thousands of great photos of touring groups. Tom Wright has had strokes recently and is recovering. Many of us on The Who crew know and love Tom and his stories and photos. If you feel like sending him a small “thanks” for helping bring us The Who we know and love, the site is: here.
“’My Generation’ used to go on for an hour and a half in the old days”, Pete mentioned. Improvised sections would spring from the base of that short three-minute classic and then noodle around in various ways. At one point in the early days, Townshend said he’d taken some Chinese herbs and been VERY energetic and excited, playing on and on and on and on, very pleased with himself and his playing . . . Until Keith Moon just ground to a halt and yelled “Pete, for f***’s sake, STOP!”

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On keyboard, our very own John Cory is a Detroit boy, born and raised. He had a cool band here with Doug Fieger (later of The Knack) called Sky (and The Sky). In the late ’60s, The Sky opened for The Who at the Grande Ballroom and they met back then. Little did John know that he would later be playing piano for The Who each night. He opens ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ each night with a short composed segment between the known parts from the record. Each night we get a little different piano piece, unique for each show. Tonight Roger was back on form for sure. His very last notes (as the band stops playing) show how his wide range has returned. This is certainly not easy singing, (he’s 72 on 1 March) – just incredible!

Age: Pete and Rog always joke about their age onstage, they’re very comfortable with the fact that they are older rockers. “We are not just senior citizens,” Pete said. Roger added “We’re precious antiques!” Pete continued with “We are wise, wonderful, worthy wankers!”
During the show, Pete mentioned how Roger’s taken to moving behind him far over to Stage Left (audience right) and back to Stage Right during ‘You Better You Bet’. He recalls that he’s dreamed of sending Roger out over the audience on a giant crane . . . possibly never to come back. Although he said, “We can’t afford it! We leave those things to Bono!” This is my short summary of it – the whole spoken bit went on and one, and was truly hilarious.




‘Eminence Front’ was compared to a cheesy lounge song by its very composer, who then pretended to be in a hotel lounge; the local Townsend Hotel (a real place). In fact, Pete said, he was staying there, but no one would find him due to his mystery “hotel name”. Bands often do this – check in using a name only their friends and family will know. Outsiders cannot guess and get through. John Entwistle is gone, so I can let you in on two of his best “hotel names” – John Fitzperfectly and . . . Tristan Shout!


The Joe Louis Arena is a pretty big venue, and it was filled to the ends with great fans. There are a surprising number of female rock fans in Detroit, and they were out in force. Underneath the dozens and dozens of Red Wings banners, the show eventually came to a raucous close, with the ending of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ extended a notable amount beyond the normal.

What a start. Onward . . .

Tonight’s Set List

Who Are You
The Seeker
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See for Miles
My Generation
The Real Me
Behind Blue Eyes
Join Together
You Better You Bet
I’m One
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Eminence Front
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again


1 thought on “The Who Hits 50! Tour: Joe Louis Arena, Detroit, MI, February 27, 2016”

  1. Freditor says:

    Spot on Brian, just how I remembered it too. So many great memories… There was a nice moment between Pete and Simon during the Rock, where they exchanged smiles as they were dueling the lead guitar parts.

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