Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits 50! Tour: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON, April 27, 2016

After three + weeks break, we’ve returned to the tour – and returned to the Air Canada Centre in Toronto. It’s only been a short while since playing here March 1st: They’d scheduled two shows here due to The Who’s enormous popularity here – and then a series of seemingly endless delays pushed this second show more than a year past the initial ticket sales.

Starting with soundcheck, the VIPs were treated to some very good stuff! The band ran through ‘So Sad About Us’, such a good one. This was not a sure sign it would be played tonight (it wasn’t) but that it’s thought of as a coming attraction for any night. They also played ‘5:15’, which hasn’t been heard in a while. ‘I Can’t Explain’ was also done, which has been absent for most of these shows. A nice little mini-set of great songs, plus the usual pieces we rehearse to check the sound.

Some may not have noticed Pete getting into the moment a little too soon – he ripped up a fingernail as he played (he’s certainly not “phoning it in” – even for a rehearsal.) Blood was dripping onto the guitars a little and he decided not to do an extended practice, to take time to care for the hand and save it for the coming show. I went out to take a photo of the slightly bloody guitar pick/plectrum he’d dropped on the stage at the end, and Roger came over and decided it should be “an art piece” and wanted to get his foot in the photo. You’ll see the masterpiece first here . . .

Just moments before the band were due onstage, the large video screen started acting up, first with colorful fuzzy dots appearing, then large portions blanking out black entirely. The video crew, no doubt pleased by the good luck and timing, scrambled into action. One panel had gone bad, and was quickly Substituted! The screenery made a slight delay for the show start, but Roger ran out, yelling “Go roadies!” as he came onstage. They understand that things go unexpectedly wrong, and are appreciative that the crew can solve them quickly (we hope.)

‘I Can’t Explain’ indeed started the show – the classic opener from so many hundreds of Who shows past. Pete wrote the song as the first in their career, so long ago; he’d been listening to The Kinks nearly non-stop for months, and tried to write something meaningful, Dylan-esque even – in that Kinks style. But as he couldn’t get the meaning to come out, he wrote about not being able to explain it all . . . perfect.

The crowd were certainly up for a big show – probably not hard as this MAY be the only serious venue that has it’s own brewery inside! Huge copper canisters filled with hops and suds certainly supplied the crowd with liquid lubricant before the show.

“We’re back home!” were the first words out of Pete’s mouth at the show. The room was filled with a good mix of men and women tonight. Pete noted that the audience used to be almost entirely men, for much of their early career. “Men are more loyal than screaming girls! Sorry to say that – but it’s true . . . except for Justin Bieber!” (Followed by a load of boo-ing.) “Then came the hippies. I hated the hippies!”

From the start of the show, we noticed Zak and Pete having extra energy, always a good sign, especially when they both do! Soon after, Townshend let everyone know what was happening internally; “I f***ing love Toronto. You can not f***ing imagine the fun I’ve had in your city. We would land here and go straight to the pub – the King’s Head – where they served real English beer and get stoned. God knows what happened!” He mentioned their somewhat superstitious belief to either start or end tours here – common for many years, so having this new “start” of the tour leg here was an ideal continuation.

Roger and Pete dressed nearly identically – with dark trousers and dark blue tops; Pete wearing a red kerchief in his pocket so you could tell them apart. It’s a good look, though, a dressy-but-workmanlike look, not trying to act the rock star, or dress too casual. The Who have often had a sharp look onstage in various eras. In our pre-show slides we have a short segment called “Fashion” that shows the various outfits from all the years; the early mod look, Roger’s fringe in the ’70s, the boiler suit, shoulder-pad jackets of the ’80s, John’s rockstar jackets from the all eras. They do look cool in virtually all version, excepting a few 1980s looks – the era that fashion fell over the cliff!

A stomping ‘5:15’ was added back into the set tonight, a fair replacement for the previous ‘The Real Me’ done at this point of the shows. Both are now Quadrophenia classics, and ‘5:15”’ had an extra energy tonight; I saw the group members nodding after it was done – they really enjoyed it.

We laughed when Roger talked about The Detours’ old van. The last show previous, many weeks ago, they’d fought onstage over who painted the logo onto the side. This time, Roger diplomatically said “Pete reminded me last time he’d painted the side of the van” – to which Pete came forward, “I may not have . . .” and both laughed at backing down on their claims. As you can see, they DO get along well (almost all the time) – despite rumours to the contrary.

Roger mentioned they were really a “pop” band in the ’60s with singles being The Thing. But he noted Pete’s ability to “write with a razor” – a great term meaning the dark underside of The Who songs often hides under a happy-sounding pop track, like ‘Pictures of Lily’ or ‘The Kids Are Alright’.

We’re not sure how many audience members were “return customers” from the previous Toronto show, but both Roger and Pete were very vocal in thanks to those who had bought tickets so long ago. Multiple delays had really held this show back, and yet another this week as the basketball playoffs pushed back out show from the day before. Sadly, many people had booked flights and hotel (ours included!) that were not refundable. So no doubt costs were incurred and troubles happened – beyond our control, but hopefully a truly stunning “start” made up for it.

Onward . . .

Tonight’s Set List

I Can’t Explain
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
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


4 thoughts on “The Who Hits 50! Tour: Air Canada Centre, Toronto, ON, April 27, 2016”

  1. suzanity says:

    So glad the blog is back. Love the “art piece,” the shoe really makes it. : D And maybe the on-site brewery has something to do with their love of Toronto?


    Anyway, thanks for all the great write-ups!

  2. Yumiko Wordley says:

    I love the Who, because they are real elderly, yet their performance hasn’t changed, even better in skillwise. Also, how many legendary rock band are still staying with us? The Who have become elderly with no shame and look even more attractive. I am so proud of them for following more than 40 years.

  3. Danny McCullen says:

    A wickedly effective Birdman in flight. Priceless.

  4. I had the joy of seeing them at the Air Canada Center, best live band ever. I have been a fan for over 30 years, just when my parents thought it was a faze, well that faze is still with me and will continue to be with me. These guys gave it all, 100% to the fans. I do hope that you guys will come back and make a stop to Toronto. Toronto fans loves you guys. I had the best night of my life.

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