Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Tommy and More Tour: Manchester Arena, Manchester, April 5, 2017

Back to the Manchester Arena. It’s not far from Liverpool, our last stop, but the accent changes, as does the attitude. This is always a loud and bold crowd. It’s certainly a music town; you’ll know The Smiths, Oasis, New Order, Joy Division, and 10cc. But in The Who’s “generation,” you’ve got great bands such as The Hollies, Herman’s Hermits, Freddie and the Dreamers, and the BeeGees (who could probably call several places home.)

I was noting the band – despite NOT having an audience of any kind at sound-check – working a long time on tunes and rehearsals. For a band that NEVER used to sound-check at all (for decades) they’ve become quite used to it! And maybe even enjoy it. We’ve had those issues with Pete’s guitar system, and that needs special attention to adjust any one of a couple-dozen significant parameters. They tried moving the amps, recalibrating pedals, pickup positions, even tricky delays into his monitors. Slowly, problems were solved, and he’s moved back into the realm of rocking…

We’ve been missing Bob Pridden, The Who’s longtime soundman, but the show must go on. Trevor Waite has taken on mixing Pete’s own monitors, and yours truly is pushing “Start” for the ‘Baba’ and ‘WGFA’ tracks we all know so well. Bob trained us well, but each show has its surprises and changes.


Speaking of, there are a few songs without obvious backing tracks, but have recorded click tracks for timing and cues spoken that only the band can hear (‘The Rock’, for example.) It’s not like ‘Baba O’Riley’ where you hear the tape go along each night; the band IS playing the music live, but they’ve found it’s easier not to get lost if you can hear/follow a click track and get a verbal cue that the next change is coming “1, 2, 3, 4 . . .” It’s still light years away from those “performers” who have voices, drums, guitars, and bass on tracks – and basically play along, or pretend to. We’ve also found that abandoning these not-heard cue and click tapes often works better (as with ‘Go To The Mirror’ in Tommy last week; the band just played and felt better without it.)


Anyway, the rehearsal went well, and Rog and Pete were prepared and willing. The crowd was large – a bigger arena and nearly full, only a few seats left at the upper deck, which is great for a weeknight at this time of year! Somehow, despite the band putting in even more effort, the crowd stayed seated til all but the very end. Maybe the work-week affected their looseness, but they sang and moved along in-place throughout.


The principals joked even more tonight, always a sign of good moods. The audience yelled things back and even got a response now and then – something I’ve noticed most other performers never allow to happen. But you’ve no doubt heard it going all the way back to Live at Leeds and Woodstock-era Who shows; chatter either entertains or baits Pete and Rog. Both are good! (within reason).

One of their bits tonight were memories of Top of the Pops shows, which were filmed here in the ’60s. For a singles band like The Who, this was a common thing. They noted it was held in an old church at the time, an odd sight to see The Rolling Stones playing in a church!


The crowd really seemed to want more of Tommy, which they were expecting, BUT seemed more than pleased that Quadrophenia was filling up so much of the space. It’s always welcome music – both albums just packed with rarely-played enjoyable material.

Again, Pete had a few guitar issues, even changing out his big pedalboard at some point in the show – a rare happening. Some of the start/stop timings were off at certain points of the show, notable issues. Rough edges are never unusual at a Who show, but this still feels like a bit more than we usually have. As they do, the show soared toward the end, thanks to both the band and the crowd.


Roger’s ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ was exceptional tonight – he really makes the show lift and unites the crowd when he hits this one well, as he did tonight.


Our soundman Robert Collins is always at the helm out-front. For the last few years, he’s ended every Who show with Johnny Cash’s ‘Ring of Fire’ right after the band leave the stage. Roger Daltrey loves Johnny, always has, and does a good bit of Cash’s music in his own shows. Pete is ummm… not as fond of Johnny. Hence (I think) the music appearing after each show, as a slight inside joke.


That is, until this run. It’s now been replaced by the classic original ‘Batman’ theme song! Not The Who cover version from 1966, but the original Neil Hefti version from 1960s TV. It does make us all laugh as we pack up. (I’m not sure why The Who ever recorded this song, other than it was just COOL back then; I’ll have to ask them).

Speaking of endings, a great story: our own Robert went to work for Queen’s reunion tour, between his work with The Who, Knopfler, and Clapton (busy boy!) Their first show, the band walked forward to bow at the end. A classic Queen tradition is to play ‘God Save the Queen’ (from Queen II) during their bows. Robert was not told of this, so someone yelled at him to “start the tape!” He was confused, as the band were still onstage, and other bands don’t play music until they’re well offstage – like The Who. Again someone yelled “PLAY THE TAPE!” so Robert cued up his CD player and started it up, for the first time ever at a Queen concert . . . ‘Ring of Fire’!

Hilarious, and confusing to everyone, including poor Rob!


Onward . . .

Tonight’s Set List

I Can’t Explain
The Seeker
Who Are You
I Can See For Miles
My Generation (with a snippet of ‘Cry If You Want’)
Join Together
It’s A Boy
The Acid Queen
I’m Free
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me
You Better You bBet
I’m One
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again

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