Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Desert Trip 2, Empire Polo Club, Indio, CA, October 16, 2016

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Exactly one week later, we return to do this festival. An odd feeling, to have deja-vu but know it’s a real memory – and not so long ago! It’s all the same, we see the same workers, the same empty places fill up, and so on. Only one difference: This time, we know what will happen, as opposed to the uncertainty and newness of this unusual festival just a week ago.

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This time I can go into a little more detail about the festival and site itself (as the bands were covered in the mega-post last week.) The event is the first of this type of show. I’d venture to say it went as well (or better) than anyone could have hoped. It was exceedingly well-run, and everyone I spoke to on the grounds felt it was one of their more pleasant concert experiences, especially for a big festival. The audience seemed to prefer two bands per night, unlike a normal festival of eight each day or so. Aside from some traffic issues, there was no major crowding during the festival itself. Bathrooms, food lines, merchandise, access ways all over – these were flowing pretty easily at any time. Of course, the exits were busy when the shows were over, but that’s over 70,000 people leaving a single place.

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The excellent rock photography exhibition was an unsuspected highlight for many. Large-format prints were framed and hanging in a 35,000 square foot gallery, with air-conditioning, a central bar area, and some seating. Many of the world’s top photographers were selected to present the event’s six musical artists’ history in photos. Nearly all the prints were unseen or rarely-seen images. This was the surprise discovery of the event for us. It was certainly a world-class set of photos (over 200) showing insights into lives and motions of these groups in the late 1960s and 1970s.

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Throughout the site, amenities were offered; the usual food fare, some VERY upscale dining experiences (including Wolfgang Puck himself cooking!) the large merchandise booths and even a vinyl record store with very reasonable prices on vintage LPs and singles. A nice touch also to put a giant album cover from each group in varying parts of the lawns, so fans can sidle up and take their photo next to it – they even had staff around to help take photos most of the time.

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Seating was unusual. As mentioned before, this is a massive space. Starting with a large wide pit area (standing only, no reserved space); this is the first-come-first served area, and it was easy to see the determination in those who came hours early to stand right in front of the stage. I’m told these tickets were $1600 for the three-day weekend, which is actually not bad – given you have nice parking, VIP area access, and can see some of the world’s greatest bands up close for less than $400 each. Not cheap, but not bad, considering the prices of other front-row concert seats.  There were reserved seats just behind the pit – also the same price. But sadly these seats (the preference for those who don’t want to stand) were just behind the group standing in the pit area, blocking their view – unless they stood.

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Off to the sides were large and long bleachers. The front sections of these were also in the $1600 range, but the closest seat here was already farther from the stage than the most-distant seat in Madison Square Garden, the Forum, or most large arenas. Not close, but expensive.

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As with last week, the backstage area was quiet, almost sterile; keeping everyone safe and local was the goal of the promoters. By confining each group in their own isolated compound, this prevented guests from chasing each others’ rock stars around. I had various people ask if they could get a backstage pass somehow, and I honestly could tell them “the party is out in front”. It was nearly a ghost town for most of the festival in back.

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The WHO 2

It was windy this weekend, and it hit with force just before our show. The dry desert heat was eased slightly when it was a breeze, and the feared sandstorm never came.

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Then the band came out, this time knowing what the stage and audience situation would be like. We’d prepared well, our video team had extensive changes to make best use of the large screen options, learning from both the last weekend and Mexico City, and it showed. I’d say overall, the band was tighter in general, although last week’s show started off faster and bigger; this one grew slowly.

Roger had a few great jokes about the wind. Right as they walked on stage, he said “Can someone turn off that fan?” as the strong winds whipped in from the north of the stage. Later on, Pete was checking in on Roger’s state given the near-sandstorm winds, and Roger quipped back “It’s like singing into a hair dryer with someone blowing pot into it!” Brilliant . . .

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Pete was again confidently joking about the age-group of this year’s performers: “We can’t imagine who they’re going to dig up next year, there must be some old people left!” He later noted that all the performers were really good friends, having been in the same business for 50 years together. And he noted that the artists were not competitive and without ego; “There’s no competition, nobody’s trying to blow anybody off the stage. It’s all love and peace and harmony!” hinting that the competition was really there, obviously – despite the social camaraderie.

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Townshend mentioned how he was such good friends with Roger Waters (true) and noted that Roger’s show would be impressive. “You’ll need to get your brain in gear” . . . “with his polystyrene bricks” and “it is REALLY a flying pig, it isn’t just the skunk you’re smoking! Well, I’ve had a rest now . . .” And launched into Quadrophenia. Without a doubt, this was the day of intellectual music, as The Who and Waters/Floyd were the most introspective song catalogs to be heard this week. They chose the right two bands to end the festival on a strong and memorable note.

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‘5:15’ featured an absolutely inspired chromatic guitar run, something Pete made up on the spot. It was so unique and unprecedented that I looked over at the guitar technicians – and they were looking back amazed as well. There is something new every day with this band. Speaking of guitar playing, the very end of ‘My Generation’ had a beautiful demonstration of the newly-introduced long delays on the guitar: Not The Who of 2014 or before, and just as good or better.

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‘Love Reign O’er me’ was the turning point. Beautiful video work showed Roger among the sparkling “rain” on the screen (except for the brief guitar solo). Featuring him was certainly the right idea, as he sang absolutely brilliantly. One note was flubbed audibly toward the end, and he won the moment by laughing and giggling out loud. It didn’t faze him at all. In a moment he was back in the emotion of it, hitting the notes solidly and with grit. This was the key point in the show – Roger doing what few singers on the bill could ever do in their prime, and something no one expects to hear from these gentlemen. From then on, the crowd was truly in the band’s hands.

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Toward the end of the Tommy set, I saw Pete had somehow damaged a hand (usually a ripped-off fingernail) and was gesturing for the numb-spray needed in order for him to finish the show. Not long after, an obvious trickle of blood showed from his forehead during closeups on the video monitor. We didn’t see how this happened, but it was a visual parallel the roughness of the playing today. Whatever the reason, it was a perfect rock-and-roll look in an Iggy Pop kind of way.

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Summary: over the two weeks, many people felt that Neil Young and The Who were the “surprise” favorites at the festival. Everyone expected the mega-shows from McCartney and Roger Waters (Water’s show was beyond any expectation, really.) But musically, the honest performance and integrity from Mr. Young and The Who carried across the fields to nearly everyone. Both won over a lot of skeptical non-fans, and delivered to the faithful as-expected. It is indeed the last show of our 2-year tour tonight, and we’re honored to have seen The Who do so well on this 50/51/etc. outing. Thank you all for coming out! We hope you are left with great memories forever.

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Onward . . .

PS: Special thanks to our friend and guide, Kyle Casey of AEG Live. He was our representative from the creators of the fest; Goldenvoice, the Southern-California division of AEG. Kyle has been a daily traveler with The Who for a few years now. For this event he took care of ALL the needs of the band and crew (sorting out special guests, equipment needs, parking permits, tours of the site, pizza!) He’s always been helpful to us, and we can’t wait to do more together… someday.

Tonight’s Set List

I Can’t Explain
The Seeker
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See For Miles
My Generation (with a snippet of ‘Cry If You Want’)
Behind Blue Eyes
Join Together
You Better You Bet
I’m One
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Eminence Front
Amazing Journey
The Acid Queen
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again

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