Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Brian Kehew’s Offstage Blog: Super Bowl 2010 Part I

7 Feb 2010: The Bridgestone Super Bowl XLIV Halftime Show

Much of this is from memory, and things I’ve heard from our team at the time – accurate or not, this is what I have to tell you! I had the call that we were suddenly going to play the big Super Bowl XLIV Halftime Show; unexpected, as we were not supposed to originally! We were filling in for some artist who had canceled just a month or two earlier. Our management told me that originally Roger and Pete weren’t that interested – just to play “halftime at some American football game”. Then they were given the full meaning; the Super Bowl viewership is the largest on Planet Earth; about 80-100 million people would be watching them perform. They were . . . convinced!

Super Bowl management specified that the band must play to pre-recorded tracks. (Evidently, they’d had some issues during the 2006 Rolling Stones show that they considered a screwup, and they’d insisted on no backing tracks of any kind. The Super Bowl now insisted for quality’s sake that everyone pre-record everything.) Pete, in particular, was not happy with this pretend performing (“miming” is the term in England, “lip syncing” in the US) as he rarely plays the same thing twice; so likely his hands would be in the wrong place on the guitar at many moments. I was told that Pete called his old friend Bruce Springsteen about this, as Bruce had played the Super Bowl live himself. Bruce said to push back; you’re the talent, you can insist on your own demands, and Bruce had insisted on live guitar and voice. So Pete said he would have to be allowed to play live guitar, and Roger could do the vocals live. Better to stay real and deal with any issues. To be “safe” – they were going to pre-record the rehearsals and have at least a vocal or guitar track ready in case the microphone cut out or something. The compromise was the backing band would indeed be pre-recorded and playing along to tracks for safety. This gave the Super Bowl people some relief.

There was another issue: The band had been given 13 minutes to fill with Who music; the entire halftime window. Simon Townshend and Loren Gold (then of Roger’s band, now you all know him) worked together to edit pieces so that significant parts of the major songs would be heard. There was just enough variety of tone and dynamic to keep it interesting. That’s a musical puzzle that is harder to figure out than you’d expect. That being said, on arrival, they’d decided to cut out another minute (so they could sell two more commercials for $10 million, almost certainly!) and the band had to make a new cut of music – and learn it, after learning the previous version. The new edits were good and functioned – but you can still hear where songs got chopped into bits that had not been intended to be so short. As I may have mentioned before, The Who definitely do not like to rehearse too much . . . so these new cuts made everyone just a bit less-sure going into this.

The event was at Sun Life Stadium. We’d been given a large tent on the outside of the stadium for a few days of rehearsals. A company called All Access Staging and Productions had designed and constructed everything there. Our platform was made up of 14 rolling pieces that locked together to make a medium-sized stage. Around that stage were 26 pie-shaped pieces that were really rolling framework containing electronics, each with curved “fins” arching down from the top to the bottom outer edge; these made up the round half-ball that surrounds the stage. Each fin was actually a strip of LEDs that could be connected to the other fins – making the ball surrounding the stage into a huge video screen of its own. There was exceptional programming done to make shapes and images fly as the show went on, quite visually stunning and original, at the time.

Our days there were off-and-on wet. We rehearsed in our tent/warehouse next to the stadium. Inside, they had been playing with the lighting tricks and wiring for a month. Their detailed plans were there – and cooler still, some models showing previous halftime musical stages. Those stages were big: Prince’s symbol, Tom Petty’s heart and arrow, Springsteen’s orange blocks. But our new Who stage was enormous in comparison. When assembled, it reached from one side of the field to the other at the 50-yard line. The stage was SO big that there would be no room to put a crowd around. Other groups relied on these hired-in audiences of fans to give a wild vibe, but The Who were possibly exciting enough without the punters down in front this time. Probably so!

Yeah, it was going to be a hell of a spectacle, no doubt! Zak had a special Drum Workshop kit made with a unique set of roundel-painted cymbals in bold blue, white, and red – a great Mod look. (A collector bought the kit sometime after the event.) There were supposed to be no “sponsored items” onstage – no logos or ads for other companies (meaning, those who didn’t pay the Super Bowl for advertising.) It’s dumb as we seemed to have no problem with the logos on guitar amps or guitars – but sometimes you’ll see people play on TV and cover up those logos with tape; this is why. Without asking, I’d kept black tape across the keyboards’ names during most of the rehearsal – just so no one would say anything pre-emptively. (Then when we did the show, I just happened to remove the tape covering the Kurzweil logo on Rabbit’s keyboard, and it was quite visible every time they showed Pete. I heard later that the Kurzweil employees – and Fender for Pete’s rig – were watching the show live and going nuts.) It probably was not that big a deal, Pino’s Ashdown amps were on display, the Drum Workshop logos on Zak’s kit were easily seen, too. We’re always happy with the support our sponsors give us on tour, and these few high-profile moments are when it really comes back to reward them.

One evening after rehearsal, they had us move the carts outside, so the hundreds of local helpers could practice the moving/assembly part of the show that would be required. There would be no band, we would just roll out onto a field, test the attaching and hook-ups, and be done. We were just going outside the tent and down the way – to a football practice field outside the stadium. It was kinda dark, but some local light and flashlights helped the way. With little issue or fanfare, it all rolled out, was clamped and connected – job done.

With the stage moved and attached together, we were finished, so they told us we could leave, and they would just move it all back and put it away for the night. We were in our crew van in the parking lot when we received an emergency phone call: As the stage carts were leaving the grassy field, one of them (containing the drum set and Pete’s guitar amps) had caught some drain/grating not seen in the grass. It dumped the stage and our equipment into the muddy dirt; it’s about a 10-foot drop. Some of the critical guitar amps were wrecked and some gear was ok, maybe just enough to restore and prepare for the next days and the game? (Tomorrow’s blog will be an in-depth look at this from another person from our road crew! Stay tuned.)

After the accident, some of these local helpers were sent to the hospital for checking over – the were taking no chances – but they all came out ok, and the Super Bowl people made extra-sure they were compensated with lots of goodies, and Super Bowl stuff, whatever it was!? I do recall game tickets, game-balls signed by all the players, guitar picks and something signed by the band. Nice take-away for people who were generally just volunteers, and we’re mainly glad they were alright.

There was also a rare private sort-of afternoon Who show – only a few songs, held on a beach for some enormous sum of money. It’s not common for the band to do these, but sometimes the offer really is too much offered to ignore. It was basically an “unplugged” acoustic type show. Roger brought in his own upright bass player from the solo tours, a guy named Jon Button – you may know him by now! They played a short set, and I recall people clamouring for more, some kind of unplanned encore. Roger called for Johnny Cash songs (which he always loves) and Pete started to wander away. Eventually, even Pete ambled over to the microphone for a chorus or two and the small event was over, strange as it was…

We came back to the tent another day, and it was full of water, and not just a little. It had rained intensely, and the floor was about eight to 10-inches deep in water. They had brought out a pile of pallet crates, which we had to use as stepping stones to get across the indoor lake to the stage!

The final rehearsal was in the Sun Life Stadium. It was rather huge, just like the real thing would be the next day of broadcast. We were going to do a “full-dress” run-through with everything going off as it would during the filming, so they could test the camera shots, the audio, the pyrotechnics – all of it. (I think maybe there were no fireworks, but I can’t recall – you’d think I would notice, but there was a lot going on.) Looking at the 600 volunteers pushing our stages out, Pete said “this looks practically . . . Egyptian!” The helpers rolled the stages out and we set up everything as quickly as the show would require the next day. I remember setting up as they worked on camera angles, and saw myself up there on the biggest video screen of all time, a very strange view. After rehearsal, I stayed late to watch the laser guys work on their parts. Lasers go a seemingly infinite distance into the night sky, so it was a memorable thing to sit and watch in an empty stadium.

Day of the Super Bowl – We were in early, although we were not needed until the first half when we would load and prep for halftime. Some of us walked around. We had the “go anywhere” backstage passes – so we did! I could not believe the storage rooms with 30,000 hot dog buns! Another with thousands of kegs of beer. Wow. We watched Steve Winwood play on a stage outside. As time came for the game to start, one of the crew and I realised we were near the field and . . . why not? We walked out casually to the sidelines and stood there for a few minutes as it all began. An Air Force flyover of jets, the national anthem, and then kickoff – all from the sidelines of the field itself. OK, we did it – out! And time to prepare.

It was a long wait outside, being on our carts/stages and holding for about an hour. Then, it was Time To Go and there was an incredibly hurried rush in. We had to roll out and get ready, all during the commercials totalling just five minutes. Our “Egyptian army” pushes the carts out thru the sole tunnel entrance at one end, only 10 feet wide, and then out onto the field. As we rolled onto the field, I literally had to duck to get my head under the goalpost, we weren’t turning at all even to go around them. We push quickly into place, clamp and lock, then the electrical harnesses are hooked up. We have a little over two minutes to get things going, put the band into place, and get out of sight. Fast work. Intense is not even enough of a word.

They had given us a choice to stay under the stage or watch from somewhere off the field. I think all the rest of the crew stayed under the stage. We weren’t “allowed” to go out onstage, but I do recall guitar tech Binky bringing Simon T a new guitar during the show. I chose to watch from the front edge of the stage, right on the sideline chalk, next to the cameras – literally the best seats in the house. I was not going to miss this view. Monstrous speaker carts were rolled out along the edge of the field, booming high-quality sound up to the audience that surrounds us, so I was right next to LOUD speakers blasting the music. Surrounded by the stadium, workers, fans, lights, noise and anticipation and it was time to rock…

The announcer came on, the halftime show starts and it was just HUGE. Lights, sound bouncing off the stadium walls, the distant fans all around yelling and screaming to it all. You can hear the crowd on the show on the film; it sounds almost fake, but it was totally real – they all knew these songs. Lasers, pyro, rockets – not a bad way to enhance the already-powerful show. The stage/screen was stunning and really worked so well with the music. Pete and Roger were on-form, looking very dapper and cool; they certainly can bring on the sartorial styles when-needed. If you look closely, Pete’s coat looks a bit tattered, so I’m fairly certain this is the magic jacket he loves: It was given to him in the 1960s by Syd Barrett, the early leader of Pink Floyd. Pete was an early, early supporter of their group. The coat itself has “SYD” painted inside it – and now with two iconic owners. The Who sounded rough and raw here, probably a shocking contrast to most of the Super Bowl performers. I remember being in awe of the green lasers during ‘Baba O’Riley’, and an audible gasp from everyone when the rockets and pyro went off during ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. I recall wishing it would never end, it was SO great. This was probably a great halftime to attend, as it was loud and so three-dimensional everywhere in the space. I have certainly never seen anything even approaching that scale. As it turns out, the show that day was the largest audience ever for ANY television appearance in history, to that point. Amazing.

I don’t remember a single thing after the show – not the rolling out, not the packing up, nor the terrible hotel or anything we did after. It was impossible to fit smaller memories in next to that stunning experience we’d all just had. Pretty good thing for a “halftime of some American football game.” I do remember hearing something exciting I learned that day – that we were likely going to do Quadrophenia in its entirety on a coming tour. I was SO excited and went for a walk on the beach listening to ‘I Am the Sea’ etc., in a perfect setting to appreciate the album and coming tour . . .

So – after the 2010 Super Bowl, millions of people suddenly said “Wow! I want to see The Who! . . .” and there were many tour offers, BIG ones with huge amounts of money. Nope – it wasn’t time for the band to tour again, not for another two years. So this show became a one-off reminder to those who weren’t paying attention before: Go see The Who live . . . period. You know it, I know it, but millions learned that they’d been missing out . . .

Onward! . . .

A 12-minute non-stop medley of
Pinball Wizard
Baba O’Riley
Who Are You
See Me, Feel Me
Won’t Get Fooled Again