Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits 50! Tour: Rexall Place, Edmonton, AB, May 8, 2016

Without a doubt, this was a serious show. It was enjoyable – extremely so, in places, but with an unusual emotional content, and not the easiest of days.

Edmonton is a large Canadian city; we’ve been here before, and it’s always one of the better shows on a tour, the crowd seem wilder and very open to fun. This last week, however, the huge, huge forest fires have started to devastate the area near here. Just north about four and a half  hours away is Fort McMurray, the largest town hit by the blaze. Thousands have evacuated, with a large number of them losing their houses and jobs forever. Over 2,400 buildings are gone there. Many evacuees came right here to Edmonton; over 600 of them are housed in the building right next door to our event.


I walked over to see the situation during the day. Cars coming and going, police and other support vehicles all around, dozens if not hundreds of volunteers helping any way possible. The Edmonton Expo Centre used two large exhibit halls for the services; cots and sleeping/showering, etc. in one, and medical, food, diapers, etc in the other. Wonderful to see the generosity already demonstrated, with piles of free donations for toiletries, clothes, water and food available to those in need. The outreach and support for this grim situation has indeed been incredible. The hardest part may be trying to return to a life now gone, hopefully insurance and new opportunities will be able to help many people get back to some security soon.


Meanwhile, we have prepared a Who show for the night. As Edmonton was not one of the biggest-selling shows, we’re told some related generosity was possible. 500 tickets were made available to those staying next door, so nearly anyone wanting entertainment came over to have a couple of hours away from the camp site. In addition, the arena themselves bought a hundred tickets to be offered to those donating cash toward the relief, and a hundred generous people were also brought in for the show.


These numbers mixed in with the thousands who’d already prepared for the show – long ready, but certainly as affected as we were by the nearby situations. The room is the home of the Edmonton Oilers, a massively popular hockey team, and suspended overheard is a large oil rig structure (pulled up and out of the way during non-hockey events, like ours.) The wildness and intensity of Edmonton audiences was clear – and maybe this is shared with the usual hockey audience – it’s a great old place to go and have an event.


Without question, the fire was on everyone’s minds as the band came onstage. ‘Who Are You’ started strong and continued, a good sign that this was a show not lacking in energy, and it continued throughout. Pete said it was great that some who came from the fire zones could attend. They said they would discuss it more later (never did) but there was a girl named Emily Ryan, who had died in a crash during the evacuation. They’d received some sort of letter about this, and promised vocally that help out “in whatever way we can.” Beyond what the public generally hear about, Roger and Pete are quite involved in all sorts of causes.


A little more historical detail on ‘Squeeze Box’ tonight, as well. Pete said “somebody challenged me to write a polka on the accordion . . . and I did!” It seems likely he didn’t expect it to have any kind of enduring life. But it does…

Right after ‘Squeeze Box’, someone threw a bright pink bra onto the stage. Pete mentioned this happens all the time, like for Bon Jovi! Then he admitted they’d have to pay someone to do it nightly; it’s where the profits go! He took the pink bra (our second in two years, actually!) and draped it over the amps in the back. (They did seem to minimize the talking at this show a bit.)

As happens each night, there was some discussion about age. What it means to be young, how it is to be older now, etc. etc. But Pete advised the younger ones in attendance, “If you live, it gets better.” (No doubt a reference to those who didn’t survive those days.)

‘My Generation’ had some stunning points, especially during the end jam section when Pete was machine-gunning the guitar for emphasis. Great rock moments.


‘5:15’ appeared back in the set, without warning to anyone on the crew or in the band! (There are paper set-lists taped all around the stage for everyone to reference). However, this song was NOT on the list. So the roadies scrambled to warn each other, get certain guitars out, and so on. Soon after, a similar mixup was caused between doing ‘I’m One’ and ‘The Rock’. Literally, the crew was running on and off stage, back and forth trying to catch up to the sudden choices Roger and Pete were making. No disasters, just confusion. Pete laughed about not getting enough “respect” at this stage in life…


‘Love Reign O’er Me’ was especially good tonight, Roger sounding incredible, considering the original was sung nearly 45 years ago, this is damn good work now, Rog.

As Pete said at the end “the great thing about music, is that it helps us forget some troubles, even for a moment.” This was a difficult time and place to hold a show, but the music and performances allowed an excuse to let go, in a cathartic way. Despite the huge tragedy, it was nice to have a very positive event come to town and uplift the spirits a bit.


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
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again


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