Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits 50! Tour: Caesars Palace Colosseum, Las Vegas, NV, May 29, 2016


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Different, exciting. Uncomfortable. Enjoyable.

If these sound somewhat contradictory – they are. This was a weird and unusual show in many ways. We’re so used to the daily version of The Who 2015/16 by now; loading into a sport arena, setting up the PA and video systems, VIP soundcheck, the opening act, the big show. But not today – many things changed here.

Vegas is SUCH a weird place. If you’ve been, you’ll know, but the huge amount of cheesy fake everything is against the grain of what The Who tend to be and do. And of course, it always will feel strange and dark here, as John Entwistle passed away in 2002 just down the road, his rock and roll lifestyle finally catching up to him. “The candle that burns twice as bright burns half as long.” The band have been offered residencies here over the years, playing for a new non-Who crowd every night. It’s generally thought of as the worst thing they could possibly do, so we’re told, although it is an easy way to make everyone money. Sometimes money doesn’t talk . . . for us, Vegas is just another stop on the line. One good thing: the Hard Rock Hotel has a giant guitar-sign out in front: the guitar happens to be a Pete Townshend-designed Les Paul as he played in the ’70s.


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This is a casino, with a huge performance theater added on, most-famously housing the residency of classic artists: Celine Dion, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Shania Twain, etc. They each camp here for months at a time, doing the same show over and over for a daily changing audience. It’s quite plush, with a wide and tall stage, and a red-velvet feel to the seating area. This is big-money stuff, quite different from concrete hockey arenas we usually see.

We can’t use our PA system here, they have their own built-in, a massive structural thing, which does sound quite good, although not quite as exciting. And they have their own video screens already set out, one main one with several small ones below. Again, not our usual fare. Luckily, the unusual stage space allows me to try some new photos, break in some new looks rather than the same old photos we can typically get.

We have no opening/support act today, it’s just The Who. And no VIP paid sound-check today, although four lucky winners get to be Crew for a Day as they’ve outbid the rest to join us in pushing cases around and loading/unloading instruments. They’re nice people, and enjoy the work and craft that goes into setting up.

The band come in for the relatively private (for once) sound-check. Pete hears the very dry, dead room and instantly declares the gold-and-velvet room a “sh**hole!” Interesting. Sonically, it’s the polar opposite of the normal rooms we play, and he’s hearing his normal sound as flat, thin, and weak compared to normal. We all try various things as they grow a little used to the sound. I remind longtime guitar tech Alan Rogan that the last place Pete declared a “sh**hole!” was the hard concrete tennis court stage of Forest Hills, NY – and we had a most incredible show that night!

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The video screens here are not like ours. They are lower resolution, with many more dots per image, and it does look kind of grainy. “Like a 1950s TV set!!” Roger laughs during sound-check. We try, but abandon, running our pre-show slides and hometown history slides. They just look too fuzzy to be of use tonight. Yet another change from the norm. A weird day.

Roger tells me he recognizes the room. It’s the same bloody place they saw in 1967, with modern dressing up. He remembers tables everywhere (true back then) and typical Vegas performers holding court. During the show Pete mentions they came first to Caesars as guests, on their tour opening up for Herman’s Hermits, but still too young to go to many shows. Their tour manager had even taken their passports as hostage, hoping to keep them from bolting back home.

The Who band come out to play, and this audience – as others on this tour – were most happy the show was finally coming to happen. The show was oversold, so tons of people standing, with faces very visible to everyone on the stage. It’s a nice view, closer than the normal arena, which gives a lift to the feelings already.

The show itself actually does sound better than the soundcheck. In normal arenas the people (and shirts and sweaters) soak up the huge echo. In this place, the many shiny faces and spectacles actually bounce back some echo, giving a little better sound onstage, more full.

Pete remembers going to see James Brown (twice) on their Vegas visits. He also remembers the established Vegas staff cringing when they came in – “Aaaaah!!! The hippies are here!?!”

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Roger told about seeing Mandy Moon, Keith’s daughter the night before. She’d brought her own kids (Keith’s grandchildren) who were dressed wild and weird, ‘things hanging and dangling’; Keith would have been SO proud to have rock and roll kids! Rog noted she’d inherited Keith’s unique drumming style as well, which was news to Pete.

Partway through the show, Roger noticed the stage was “non-slip, built for old people! I wonder if it’s for Celine or Elton??” He thought a bit more and told Pete “You should try one of your ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ knee-slides on this!!” To which Pete replied “I will . . .“ (huge response from the salivating crowd!) “. . . but not right now. Instead I will kick over the mic stand.” And he jumped and karate kicked the microphone stand over onto the stage, which made a big THUMP as it hit. Of course, Pete meant that he would kick above and OVER the microphone stand, as he liked to do in the days of the jump, but it still pleased the crowd.

I was ready for that later moment to happen, and it did: “Won’t Get Fooled Again” quietened down for the strobe-light drum break, and Pete came sliding in on his knees. Sadly, as Roger had pointed out, it WAS a no-slip stage, so Pete didn’t get to go far or as smoothly as one would hope. Still, it was a GREAT moment on top of a great moment, so everyone went nuts. The photo I caught was decent, but not exceptional. I don’t know when the last classic knee-slide happened previous to this, but it likely was early ’80s if anything?

It has been predicted the casinos may be one of the last bastions of big rock shows: even if they only sold tickets and broke even (paying the bands whatever fees they wanted) they would still make money on gambling, food and hotel rooms. Normal concert venues only make money on the show itself being profitable. So in the future, more and more performances might get tied to gambling locations…

All in all, this was like the Forest Hills show; tons of fun, the band really enjoyed it, and the audience loved it! Whether or not it is a “sh**hole” remains to be seen, but everyone had fun.

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So – the last show of this leg of the North American tour is now done. I saw someone’s tour shirt today, listing all the shows on the back, ending on this one. Seems like a lot, and it was, but still there is the energy to do a bit more – it’s not OVER yet! The really TOUGH one is coming up, and you may not even know about it. Stay tuned!

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Onward . . .

Tonight’s Set List

Who Are You
The Seeker
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See for Miles
My Generation
Pictures Of Lily
Squeeze Box
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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