Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits 50! Tour: Glastonbury Festival, Worthy Farm, Somerset, England, June 28, 2015

SO much to say. This was a big one, in many ways. Festivals like this are common in Summer, but festivals as massive as this are rare. It’s a newsworthy event, with worldwide attention; artists doing their best to show a crowd (and the watching world) their stuff – it’s even a bit competitive. With the Foo Fighters garnering much of the news by NOT appearing (sorry about your leg, David!) it took Florence and the Machine doing a Foo Fighters cover to grab some of that news back. Followed soon by Kanye West, the most-controversial artists to ever appear here, who did very little specifically but bring a brilliant and massive lighting rig – and then claim to be the “greatest rock and roll star in the world.” Hmmm . . .’rock’ even?

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And so – we looked forward to our own return to the muddiest place on earth (back in 2007 it was truly ‘orrible, like walking in two feet of chocolate pudding. Lionel Richie had great shirts for the event that said “Hello – is it mud you’re looking for?”) Luckily – not as wet or muddy this year, as the weather varied from warm and clear to wet and cold within hours, and right back. It taxes you just to deal with it, and preparation for all options is the only way. Our crew arrived the night before and saw some cool things (the Arcadia stage itself was like a giant War of the Worlds SciFi machine – look it up!) We saw some Family Stone (great), George Clinton and PFunk (not so great as they use backing tracks now), and saw Deadmau5 with great production, but let go the “DJ” pose by sitting on a couch with some friends, drinking wine and watching the dancers – obviously not controlling OR playing anything. But whatta show…

There are no words to express the scope and spread of this festival – from the air it looks like a city; a city including the suburbs and the farms around it. It would really take a long time to just walk around the place – if you could find out where you were!

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Early dawn we loaded in – waking ourselves in the 5-6am slot to get the equipment up on stage. Oddly enough, it was warm already – tshirt weather. We were done after 10am, and stored our stages behind the big screen. Then the other bands loaded their stages and instruments in as well. During the day, everyone’s gear lives together behind the main stage until rolled out for each band’s set.

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Some of us came back out to see the Patti Smith set – which promised to be good; and delivered much more. She’s a powerful performer, and brought many of her older songs from “Horses” with her, although it was clear most of the audience was not familiar. She and her cracking band rocked solidly when needed, and her lyrics really hit hard – as did her messages between songs, including “I don’t give a f* what anyone says, we still can change the f*ing world!” At one point, she mentioned it was the Dalai Lama’s birthday, then read a poem for him, and then…. actually brought him out onto the stage!! What a hugely powerful and emotional moment, even light years beyond the Kanye spectacle in impact. The next 15-20 minutes were spent singing Happy Birthday to him, cutting a guitar-shaped cake, and he addressed the crowd with his typical clear/strong statements of positive stuff. And then the sun broke forth, drying the grateful crowd, incredible timing!

At the end of their set, Patti proclaimed “We, who are still apprentices, salute The Masters . . .” and proceeded to launch into a wild version of ‘My Generation’. It was a stunning, heartfelt set, many people felt it was one of the best in Glasto history. Agreed.

After crowd-pleasing sets by Lionel Richie and Paul Weller, it was time for The Who to close out the festival weekend, starting again just as the sun was setting. (Not many know that we were a last-months addition to the show, replacing Prince who decided not to come this year.) As we began to prepare our coming changeover, we found someone had sabotaged the carefully-tested audio connections for much of our gear. We’ve never seen that before, but we’re good at plugging things in, so all damage was repaired in time. Was it Mr. Weller or Lionel, no way. Dalai Lama – hmmm . . . he did steal the show already. Well, so far . . .

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Having just finished our Hyde Park event, we are in full-festival mode, which is an honor, but difficult nonetheless. There’s a famous saying “A festival is nobody’s best show!” – which basically means that no one gets to use their own lighting rig, sound system, no sound checks, many things different to normal touring operation. Our lighting guys have to program a whole show with different lights than usual, run the rig from the stage (which our LD, Lighting Director, said he liked, as it gave them better sightlines than way out in the field.) They had to think “out of the box” and make a new set just for our one show here – and try to be different than everyone else while supporting the music tastefully. It looked beautiful and powerful, especially with the lights cascading off the rigging above and into the audience – it blends the scene from stage to scafolding to the crowd into one. As you’ll read below, the crowd had their own ideas for lighting and effects, too!
The positive tradeoff of festivals is playing for massive crowds and being exposed to thousands who have never seen your band before, and some camaraderie backstage with other bands. One of our crew, Ian Myer, rejoined his old pal Lionel Richie for the first time in several decades.
You’ll see flags everywhere in the crowd, which is a Glastonbury tradition, probably an old trick to help your lost friends find you in the crowd. Needless to say, it makes it visually crazier, and while blocking some views of the stage, it’s cool to see from stage side. It’s hard to count the true number of people out there; estimates vary widely from at least 100,000 in our arena alone to upwards of 200,000. Indeed, you could look as far as possible and not see individual people clearly, much bigger than a typical sports stadium. Earlier in the day, I’d walked only halfway back into the crowd, and could see absolutely nothing of the stage and the video screens were only postage-stamp sized from that distance. I imagine thousands could only hear, and see fragments of the screens from the back area.
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Roger and Pete came out, and the place was already crazy. Lighting director Tom Kenny says “I watched as I lit up the audience and Pete was taken back. The organizers and all the lighting crew said this has been the biggest crowd of all the weekend. I’ve witnessed the Glastonbury crowds five times before – and this was ridiculous!” Who Are You was unusual as our set opener, but choosing it was a great way to hit the crowd solidly with one of the biggest. Yet within a few songs, we knew something was wrong. The band were playing MORE than a little loose, rather sloppy in fact. Pete was growing angry right away, yelling at one point that the band ought to play “like we’re in the same f*ing band” and telling brother Simon to pay close attention to their sync together. Soon after, Pete’d decided the clear sound screens in front of Zak’s drums were in the way, and violently pulled them over onto his amps. It helped, though, and he was more happy for a bit. The audience loved the raw violence of it, a rare display of anger you’d not see at other’s shows. One more reason to see The Who.
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In the audience, the start of ‘My Generation’ cued some random crowd members who lit not only flares but smoke bombs: It truly looked like a war zone with the smoke and all… and somewhat it was; despite precautions and an excellent staging/security at the festival, a few people felt too crowded down front and were safely assisted out during our show.

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Pete mentioned to everyone that they’d hoped to be “better” musically, and mentioned the lack of a sound check, but it likely wouldn’t have mattered much. It just sounded weird up there, and there were odd echoes making the timings sound off much of the time – leading the musicians all over the place. Later he did apologize for his radical behavior onstage, admitting such a show was a challenge at best. There had been talk that we would never return here again after the last one – not so, very evidently!
Some special guests of the band were watching in the wings, Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich and actor Bradley Cooper seemed to be enjoying the thrill of it all, as did dozens of visiting guests – some we knew, some not! Love Reign hit rather hard for this crowd, being a nice soft one, with power and beauty in the musical sense.
Late in the show, Roger decided he wanted ALL the screens off the drums – which is generally his own worst nightmare; he likes a controlled sound in his middle zone. (The screens are up there directly at his own request). After deliberation on whether to follow his orders, we waited til the end of the Tommy set and came out en masse to remove the screens – and then Rog decided he didn’t want them taken down! And within a song, he walked right over and then pulled them off himself. Go figure!
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Pete closed the show by saying something about “Who’s the biggest rock star in the world?!?” as a poke at Kanye on our same stage. Then he said “It must be Elvis Presley!” After the show, Pete felt it was one of the very worst the band had ever played… not so!!! Our sound and light experts felt it really worked, with one of the most fervent audiences we’ve ever had, and ZILLIONS of them going nuts, living the music as they sang and jumped and waved arms. Incredible response, so something had to be very right about all this. Compared to Hyde Park a few days ago, this crowd of 20-30-somethings was not waiting to be entertained; they were part OF the entertainment.
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A few years ago, we did very, very well during the 12/12/12 concert, and the band received tons of great touring offers just after – all were rejected at the time. And following this Glastonbury show, the similar offers have come in – everyone now realizing The Who are still possibly that great live band everyone remembers. Even at a rough one like this! It was truly mayhem at times, and looked like a war zone when people weren’t dancing as far as the eye can see. Some serious magic did happen despite all the struggle.
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There is good video online of this show, and it’s probably dynamic as hell and well-worth watching, despite the lack of perfection/polish. It sure was a “one-off” as they say in England. One for the memory banks, indeed. Rough. And we’re glad it’s over!Paris should be a breeze . . .


Tonight’s Set List

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



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