Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits 50! Tour: Boardwalk Hall, Atlantic City, NJ, May 22, 2015

Our return to the most beautiful venue: Boardwalk Hall in Atlantic City. If you don’t know it, the Hall is a time-honored place right among the casinos and beach/boardwalk of Atlantic City. The structure was built in 1929, certainly an era of great form in design – look it up online for the best photos.

More recently, they extended the side bleachers to handle more seating, with between 10- and 15,000 seats possible. There is a HUGE pipe organ installed, quite literally the largest musical instrument in the world (and no, we did not use it, but it would have been nice).

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Being such a gorgeous and musically-oriented room, in an area of abandon and celebration, you’d think this might be a great place for a rock show. Correct!

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From the moment they came onstage, The Who were in fine form, with some kind of extra “juice” and energy bringing back the 1970s style of pure physical performance. See if you can spot this in films online, there’s extra footwork and motion going on here… The ‘Squeeze Box’ banjo inspired a bit of onstage jigging that shows the fun and loose vibe this show had.

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It’s hard to choose a “best” in something like concerts, as there are so many factors; sound, visuals, intensity, execution. So, far from anyone to say this was a “best” of this tour leg. It did have some spirit that was above and beyond, with less negativity in anything; not a rowdy crowd, no pot-smoking, enthusiasm on all sides – which created that great audience>band>audience>band cycle that drives shows beyond the norm. As usual, nothing was flawless, but the moments of strength won out over and over, especially on ‘Love Reign’ and songs that work well in such an epic and majestic space.

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VIPs at sound-check may have noticed Pete staying later than everyone else. He’s been experimenting with guitars (notably playing Danelectro and Rickenbacker electric 12-strings once or twice, and some Stratocasters with different pickups have been used on ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ and ‘I Can’t Explain’). Those trainspotters of guitars and gear find this stuff fascinating (they have websites). It’s not that something was wrong, it’s more a quest for small gains in sound. Pete’s been very happy with his rig of nearly 16 years; a Fender ‘Eric Clapton’ signature guitar modified to his needs, and Fender VibroKing amplifiers. The amplifiers are a modern design based upon an old amp model that Pete used on Who’s Next and many other classic recordings. The amp is a great way to bring along much of that classic Who sound on tour. He tried Gibson SGs briefly some years ago (the famous guitar used in the Tommy era) but it didn’t work for his playing today, especially with no suitable tremolo bar. He also had some HiWatt amps inserted alongside the Fender early on in our 2006 Endless Wire tour. He felt they sounded great, but had a tendency to creep UP in volume during the show, affecting his ears painfully; they are loud and spikey by nature.

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Speaking of hearing, it is not as drastic an issue as the past news made out. Pete was among the very few in rock to discuss the issue publicly, although the problem truly more common than not. Tinnitus still happens for most players in amplified music. Most do not know that John Entwistle was far more affected (and loud!) than Pete ever was, he became almost literally deaf. Today, there are wonderful devices, like hearing aids with remote controls for different settings like quiet conversation or a loud rock stage, with EQ etc. Very high quality, similar to the in-ear monitors all bands tend to use now.

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Pete introduced a song as one from the early part of their career. Jokingly, he pointed out that in the latter part of their career there actually weren’t any songs.

The old rocker/stomper ‘Slip Kid’ came back into the set. Possibly as Roger noted it’s tied now to the Lords of Anarchy show, which is quite popular. Or possibly (but not likely) its return was inspired by the “SLIP KID” sign in the crowd the last two days. Trust me, it won’t work bringing signs with your future requests of any kind, although you may get attacked verbally from the stage, if you like that sort of thing

‘Join Together’ is played each night, and it’s not a hard one to pull off but it’s very satisfying. Certainly a great singalong, and the bass line is just monstrous; brilliant arranging to leave it out until partway through the song. Pino’s up in the mix now, and it truly makes the house rock here.

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At one point, the video chief projected an unexpected slide asking the crowd if they had lighters (or lighter apps on their phone). This was just previous to ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, and the cavernous room suddenly lit up with a thousand points of light. Rog and Pete were pleased (although unsure why it had happened), and Pete said it was great to be here at “. . . a Lady Gaga concert!” The visual was stunning and certainly brought out even more from the performance. It’s nice to see the technical crew trying things out that are in the spirit of the like the band onstage; unplanned and daring! This risk paid off well.

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Speaking of daring, Pete gave a big compliment to Zak tonight. As usual, Pete mentioned The Who drum slot is hard to fill. But he noted that they’d never had a “proper drummer” anyway. Some grumbles were heard from the audience, which Pete quickly answered: “Keith Moon was NOT a proper drummer. You didn’t have to play with him, so you wouldn’t know.” Not an insult to Keith, as Pete then pointed out that Zak took Keith’s fiery wildness and added a measure of groove and swing that Keith never had. Zak is completely unafraid to take chances. This is the musical spirit that The Who embodies; it is NOT a scripted, repetitive show; the best parts are the ones that change every night, not the ones that are the same.

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We missed Zak greatly last tour when he was gone for a bit, many on the crew have said how much they appreciate him more now that he’s returned.

Onward . . .


Tonight’s Set List

I Can’t Explain
The Seeker
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
Squeeze Box
I Can See For Miles
My Generation
Slip Kid
Behind Blue Eyes
Join Together
You Better You Bet
I’m One
Love, Reign O’er Me
Eminence Front
A Quick One, While He’s Away
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again

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