Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Alpine Valley Music Center, East Troy, WI, September 8, 2019

A slightly rough start this morning – our first outdoor show of this leg (a covered “shed”) with lawn seats on the side of a hill. And it’s cold and early. Plus, things are going very slowly today, for various reasons. We’re not worried about getting the show together in time, that always happens; it’s our job. But it’s a lot more struggle than the usual setup.

The orchestra came in (Union rules specify their arrival, work and departure times) but we are not quite ready. The sound guys are scrambling, as the orchestra waits patiently for everything to get hooked up. Eventually, conductor Keith Levenson requests we start the orchestra rehearsal even though there are still sound connections to make on some instruments. That’s another thing, as now it’s even harder for the sound guys to do their job while people are sitting packed tightly – and some musicians don’t have the headphones they need to hear the click track yet. Eventually, we get through it. The band comes in for a simple soundcheck – we’ve learned from our Toronto afternoon that long soundchecks can threaten later trouble for the night’s show, so a focused and intensive soundcheck is done today.

Now everyone is ready for the night – the crew are already pretty worn and we haven’t played yet, but the band says the sound is good and “tight” here, being outdoors: An indoor venue has the hall echo and reverb that can often make music sound big and full – like the echo singing in your shower. But if it’s too much – it will wash out the sound and take away the punch of the rhythm and the clarity of detail. The opposite end of the spectrum is an outdoor field (or carpeted/draped theater room indoors) which has almost no echo or reverb. These rooms can be dull and sterile, a “dry” sound that not only doesn’t add to the sound, it actually takes it away – making a sound that is flat and small. Today, we have a roof over the seats (5,000 ticketed chairs) under a nice wooden roof. The wooden roof makes a warmer sound than the metal sheds, yet there is no rear wall to make a big echo bounce back, possibly a good thing. A little of the dry, a little of the reverb, we hope.

Speaking of cold, we were not far from here just a few months ago, the Tinley Park show that was really, really cold – and it turned out so well. As the sound seems good here and the band is in a fine mood, there’s a hope this chilly weather will repeat the good outcome. We’re also told that there’s a sizeable group “tailgating” already in the parking lot. This may be a wilder crowd.

And they are! One of the benefits of this setup is a slanted slope of seats; nearly every face can be seen from the stage, so it’s a massive sea of joyful people here when the band walks out. Are the crowd cheering for what Pete is wearing? Under his knee-length stylish trench coat is the blue boiler-suit (jumpsuit) he wore onstage at Wembley a month ago! Interesting . . .

Tommy‘s ‘Overture’ starts us off, of course. The duelling Townshend brothers share an acoustic guitar battle – already a high point so soon in the show. Originally, Pete was against the idea a little; the part from the Tommy album was basically an improvised jam layered twice – so he felt it was odd to replicate it note-for-note: This is NOT a tribute band. Yet he’s learned to create over it, with new parts added to what others are playing. It’s the constant composer in him making something new; some parts are played like the record now and then, but spontaneous things being generated that refer to the original, but take us all to a new place musically. It may be subtle or drastic, but these moments always keep our shows exciting and fresh. Roger’s a little of the opposite – he LOVES when things are played “right,” so his recent Tommy tour was as close to the original record as possible. Roger can easily improv, too, and does vocally all the time, but it’s his preference to know where and how the show is going to be done. He loves the original versions (as fans do, too) that he wants to deliver that experience live to people. This push-and-pull between Roger and Pete’s tendencies also makes a Who show more palatable, as neither one is fully in control so it has a mix of familiar-yet-new at all times.

A standing ovation happens just after the Tommy set ends, which has not really happened before. This crowd IS truly up for a party. Roger notes they were last here in 1989! “Where the hell did it all go?” he says of the years between then and now. For ‘Who Are You’, Pete has lost the trench coat and in the rich blue jumpsuit. OK, so this is the first show he’s worn something like this (in public) since . . . 1970? Seems so. Note that it’s not a copy of “the old days” but a reference, and a new improv against that old familiar look. The song ends with another big ovation, a strong night going already. And the band begins rising to meet it – the famous audience/band/audience cycle that works so well. There are still flaws in the performance, it’s not perfect, but neither band nor audience care. It’s just good and fun tonight. We’re driving distance from Milwaukee and Chicago, so many people have come from all around, no doubt. Pete notes that many have come from a distance, “but not as far as us!” Then chimes in a thoughtful, “Distance? Time? . . . Money.”

On ‘Eminence Front’ the audience sings the chorus as loud as the band onstage, a real gang-vocal singalong. In response, Pete builds up a frenzy of guitar notes, sometimes while they are singing his words to him. Roger introduces a song by talking about the best lyric in rock: “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth . . .” and again everyone joins along without prompting. It IS a rowdier bunch, and the two empty beer containers thrown onto the stage during this show are a sign as to why (and unwelcome, don’t do it!) Afterward, Pete muses he was 24 when he wrote it “or younger, I can’t remember. It was 1966, before ANY of you were born!” [Editor: ‘Pete, you were 21’]. When people boo this (proud of their age) he taunts them – “OK, now you’re f*cked: Everyone born before 1966 raise your hand! Well, a dozen or so.”

‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – solo acoustic duo version. Always great, tonight has some unusual range of dynamics, with very small parts playing off the very loud. Chiaroscuro in music! A hallmark of live Who goodness.

As the orchestra comes back, Pete confesses he wasn’t sure about doing this tour, but professes he loves it now. ‘Ball and Chain’ has swung over to Roger’s preferred title, and it may stay. (How will the fanboys and girls note this one in the set lists of the future?!) Pete says it’s likely to be the first one heard on radio. “Radio!? Is there any?” and Roger quips “The wireless?!?” Everyone laughs as it’s such a dated concept, maybe. Pete mentions David Campbell as our arranger for most things, as he does, but then notes proudly he’s done the arrangement himself for ‘Hero Ground Zero’ with some guidance from his wife Rachel and other friends. Those of you to hear it live will understand, and the rest will hear it in November!

‘The Real Me’ launches us into high-energy again, and I realize what a master of the setlist this band has become. They move quickly from new to old, powerful to a softer break, from intense to fun. You’d have to go back and watch/listen to any recent show, but the logic of it (often with input from Keith Levenson) is solid as can be. This is one reason why the ambitions for show set lists are always high, from the band as well as the fans, but when it’s worked out well, a good two-hour-plus show tends to stay more stable than not; it WORKS. In ‘5:15’ Pete is again pushing himself, and you’ll have to pay attention here, he’s reinventing himself year after year. The old PT is always there, but if you’d heard 1969 Pete play some of these licks during the Leeds show, you’d be astounded.

Introducing the band, we’re told that Simon Townshend has written one of the new album’s coming songs. That’s great, as his own albums are full of catchy and well-composed melodies and parts, many of them would be a fine addition to any Who record. And Billy Nicholls, who is talented beyond what we can use here, is called out. He’s an old friend of Rog and Pete with quality albums of his own – although he was here with The Who in 1989. Pete mentioned Taylor Swift is doing one of Billy’s songs in her BBC Can’t Stop Loving You video: Leo Sayer (a great discovery of Roger’s) first did it in 1978.

Rog points out ‘Without Your Love’ from his own record, McVicar is also one of Billy’s songs – and it’s always a great moment when Roger sings that one. We indeed have a talented guy shoring up the vocal side this year.

The show closes with ‘Baba O’Riley’ again, and why not?! And Katie Jacoby struts out to delight the fans who get to hear the real violin solo from the record played flawlessly, a rare treat. The crowd roars again during the bows, and Roger reminds everyone they need to keep attention focused on Teen Cancer America here: 30 hospitals now have new TCA wings for teens/adolescents, with 20 MILLION dollars raised and counting. It’s a reward to The Who if you contribute, and everyone benefits. Just do what you can, and we’ll see you out there. Thank you to Alpine Valley for tonight! What a show.


If you would like to donate to Teen Cancer America you can do so via this link. And thank you so very, very much.

Tonight’s Set List

With Orchestra
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Eminence Front
Imagine a Man
Hero Ground Zero

Band Only
I Can See for Miles
The Seeker
Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic; Roger & Pete only)
Behind Blue Eyes (with violin and cello accompaniment)

With Orchestra
Ball and Chain
The Real Me
I’m One
The Rock
Love Reign O’er Me
Baba O’Riley