Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Tommy and More Tour: Royal Albert Hall, London, March 30, 2017

The first time The Who have played Tommy in 28 years. It was scheduled to be “acoustic Tommy” – and that was the intent Roger had when booking it. The occasion demanded something special; this is the 100th TCT (Teenage Cancer Trust) benefit concert since the charity began. Over 250 artists have participated, but The Who began the concept and felt something great should happen to mark the milestone.

Noel Gallagher opened, playing guitar and singing, with only a simple keyboard accompaniment. His set was great, with mixtures of old and new songs, and loud singing from the audience. He’s done some classics in his life, with more to come, hopefully!

“Sorry about the ‘acoustic’!” Roger explained, before a note of Tommy had been played. Maybe some had noticed the “a-word” being removed from the billing in the last week or so. They’d tried it various ways – and it didn’t really work. Some pieces did, sort of, and new bassist Jon Button was prepared with his upright in tow, but no. The few that were cool and different were found to be too different; they felt the audience may not find them comfortable on a first listen. We’ve all heard Pete’s great solo version of ‘Pinball Wizard’ from The Secret Policeman’s Ball record. And Pete stayed on acoustic guitar for the 1989 big-band tour. But within days of working on this, they’d decided to rock out, and this Tommy now leaned heavily toward the 1969 version – which is dear to so many of the fans.

The set started with ‘I Can’t Explain’ and ‘Substitute’. Then Roger pre-ambled the Tommy thing and it was begun. Always great to hear this set of compositions, in any shape or form: People were highly attentive, to say the least. There certainly was evidence of less-than-perfect preparation, but the occasional flub was quickly moved past, and the great amount of hard work showed. The vocals on complex ones like ‘Cousin Kevin’ were perfect, and tricky multi-part arrangements like ‘Go To The Mirror ‘were quite solid, despite being a maze of parts.

Without question, Roger is in amazing form. For a gentleman his age, he is belting hard and reaching high. Consider how long ago the original Tommy was recorded (48 years back!), the voice he brings today is incredible. I’ll encourage you to find some films online… see what I mean.

While you’re looking, check out Zak Starkey. He’s been on a break, working with his group SSHH, which has a new record out. In SSHH, he plays guitar, but he’s back on the kit here and it’s his debut playing Tommy (he’s done two long Quadrophenia tours, and countless ‘normal’ Who shows.) Tonight he was both solid AND wild. Amazing playing to drive the music. The band did well, memorizing so many parts, and it seemed Pete had the moments of confusion. He does improvise so much of any Who show, where the band play it more “straight”, so it’s harder for him to follow. He seemed frustrated at times, then pulled the music and band along to higher moments again and again.

Admittedly the Albert Hall is a mixed bag: it’s GORGEOUS, see the photos. It’s half-intimate, a big hall but close seating in a vertical way. And it sounds cool, a warm low-mid boominess that suits medium-tempo pop/rock music well. But, as Roger warned, it can get messy-sounding when it’s too loud (it was designed before amplification existed.) Our own Tommy (Tom Kenny, lighting designer) made the room look amazing, using every surface as a screen and bouncing light everywhere, not just onstage. What an environment.

I sat in on a filmed interview Roger did before the show. They asked if it was special and emotional to play the 100th TCT show, doing Tommy at the Royal Albert Hall? No – it’s just another gig. He knows there’s a job to do, and it involves the same work he does anywhere/time in the world. He IS pleased that TCT has done so well and helped so many people – and the work continues. If you’re reading this, check out their work and send a LITTLE something, for all the hours you’ve spent with Tommy in your life.
Pete did say it’s been nearly 30 years since they did Tommy, and it will be ANOTHER 30 before he ever plays it again! (Not likely true, as we have to return again Saturday for another night of the same…) If so, this is even more special. So, just for now, Tommy lives on . . .


If you would like to donate to the Teenage Cancer Trust you can do so here. And thank you!

Tonight’s Set List

I Can’t Explain

It’s a Boy
Amazing Journey
Eyesight to the Blind
Cousin Kevin
The Acid Queen
Do You Think It’s Alright?
Fiddle About
Pinball Wizard
Go to the Mirror!
There’s a Doctor
Tommy Can You Hear Me?
Smash the Mirror
I’m Free
Miracle Cure
Sally Simpson
Tommy’s Holiday Camp
We’re Not Gonna Take It

Won’t Get Fooled Again
Join Together
Baba O’Riley
Who Are You


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.