27 Jun 2015
The Who Hits 50! Tour: British Summer Time in Hyde Park, London, England, June 26, 2015
Our return to the big park, right in the center of London. For those who have never been, it’s a perfect parallel to Central Park in NYC, a vast expanse of greenery, or lakes and trees in the middle of a congested city. Each year, they allow a small number of concerts in the park; this was one. Due to complaints from neighbors (a very wealthy area) they only allow two of those approved concerts to expand over 50,000 people. Luckily, the Who was approved, and the ticket amount was upped to nearly 70,000 people.
The Who have done Hyde Park before, back on the 1996 Quadrophenia Tour (the first tour Zak joined on drums), again for two songs during the big Live 8 world broadcast, and the following year we headlined the Calling Festival in 2006. There were no doubts it would be a good and well-received show.
The day before we’d loaded in the equipment to the big stage and surveyed the scene. They’ve made the stage into a huge wrap-around video screen; it surrounds the entire stage and continues out to the sides where the speaker towers hang. The speakers themselves appear to hang from a giant pair of trees, not badly done, which give the feeling of being in the park itself – a little greenery to soften the big metal towers and hard lines of video screens.
Show day was little trouble, aside from the usual mountains of security to deal with, and difficult-to-follow pathways and endless tents and trailers. We came in the early morning to check the equipment once again, then button it up for later in the night. Meanwhile every other band from the big stage came in to set up their gear. The crew were free to roam about, and waited for the band themselves to show up. Some groups are more socialble, seen all around meeting people and shaking hands, while others are recluses, hiding out all day. The Who are somewhere in the middle. They have some press to do at each show, or notable people or friends invited, who need to be greeted even briefly. But you’ll not likely find them out seeking new friends.
After a 30 minute changeover, The Who set was ready, and started casually, as Roger and Pete always stroll out without opening tapes of artificial fanfare. They chatted with the audience at first. Pete proclaimed “You are all a long way away…… But we will f*ing reach you!!” as they started into I Can’t Explain. It indeed was a long way, about 20 meters/yards from the stage to the first rows. And the stage is high up in the air, further distancing the band from the crowd. But the trade-off is the view; a seemingly endless sea of people. Again, “festival seating” is not seating, but standing – with those who care the most down in front, a welcome view for any performer.
Followed by the one for Paul Weller, as they claimed it was his personal favorite: ‘Pictures of Lily’. Pete and Roger gave great credit to Paul verbally, saying he really brought back the mod style, which relaunched attention on their band and the good qualities of that era. They mentioned it had not been played for a while (earlier this year) “so it will probably be crap!” Far from it, a great song, played well.
A weird show for us, as they are filming and recording for a live DVD/Bluray/etc. to be released. It’s nice to document such a huge event, and certainly historic, given The Who’s London history. But it’s truly a bit of a distraction to have numerous cameras (both human-operated and robotic-controlled) all over the stage. Pete and our lighting designer Tom had discussed how they felt many of the best concert films come from shows that only had 3 or 4 cameras, back in the day. But today this is how they do it – cameras everywhere, tons of angles and possible options to smooth out the roughness of shows like this. In good hands, it will be a stunning show to see/hear. Plus, they intend to include highlights from the rest of the tour – which will certainly be the best of the best.
The show started a little soft and started building up. Pete, at one point, mentioned he thought the audience may not know many of these earlier singles they were playing. Doubtful, but the low energy he mentioned was definitely there – maybe a lack of “juice” left after a hot day and other great opening bands. Slowly, though, the sun set during the set, and the vibe of the crowd and band improved as the show went on. It is famous festival lore that the band who first gets to play at sunset (and gets to use lights) wins over the crowd. Weller was the first to use lights, but the long dusk/sunset meant that The Who were the first to get full power of the lighting and screens as-intended. The audience may not have seen the gorgeous sunset behind them, but the pink sky and clouds were certainly a sight from our end of the field.
The band started into ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ as the sun truly was gone, and the flicker of lighters and phones made the moment a little more magical. Despite Roger’s prolonging the end with low singing (as he has) it certainly went down well, one of the highlights of the night.
The band and show kept ramping up toward the end, hitting some peaks during the Tommy set and the last two (Baba and Won’t Get Fooled). Before the final song, Pete introduced the band, giving serious consideration to Pino, after mentioning John’s contribution, saying Pino was likely “the world’s best bass player;” I’m sure Pino would argue that himself, but he certainly may be the most in-demand bassist on the planet for the last ten years, without question. We are lucky to have ‘im!
End of the day, end of the show – great response. Tired all around, everyone is off for one whole day – and then we do it all over again; headlining the Glastonbury (Mud) Festival once again! A huge show, and likely a wilder one. We will see…
Special mention: We’d done up a really cool slide for two contributors – Annette Smith and Laura Barlow – to note and honor some great charitable work they’ve done for us recently. With the short schedule of the changeover, they probably didn’t have a chance to see it as they should. So here’s thanks to them for such great work!!
Onward . . .
Tonight’s Set List
I Can’t Explain
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
Pictures of Lily
I Can See for Miles
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better You Bet
Love, Reign O’er Me
See Me, Feel Me
Won’t Get Fooled Again