Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: BB&T Center, Sunrise, FL, September 20, 2019

This Southern end of Florida is quite familiar to us. Sunrise is a town on the outskirts of Fort Lauderdale, bounded by the shrinking Everglades area. There are even small waterways next to the parking lot that house a few alligator families; that’s nothing special at all. And this very arena housed us for a few days back in 2012 when we did three days here during rehearsals for the Quadrophenia and More tour. That was memorable, a new “expanded” band with horns and three keyboard players, three new circular video screens plus more lights and staging than we’d ever had. That tour started with a lot of difficulty at first (the premiere show was also here) but eventually became a wonderfully successful musical outing. Hope you saw it.

Earlier this year, we stayed nearby for a week doing the first rehearsals for this very tour. It was different to what we’re used to, usually a cold warehouse somewhere near London. Instead, we were offered a spectacular deal from a music school that trains young adults for real world adventures, and those kids were our crew for the setup/teardown. It was hot and humid and the air conditioning broke for days. The local musicians of the Craig Turley Orchestra became our rehearsal mates, so we had a nice time getting to know some of them. Our first blogs of this tour will refresh you.

Tonight we have those players back, most of them. No one expects players to remember the written parts; there are too many pages of notes to recall, and their job is to sight-read them and play what they see. That’s the skill that really sets apart trained musicians from the self-taught.

Which leads to an interesting start for our day: The orchestral rehearsal starts on shaky ground, some timing issues and intonation (playing slightly sharp or flat.) Not with everyone, but here and there. We even have wrong notes being played or someone comes in much too early. Not a good sign, so our conductor Keith Levenson is doing his best to get them into a cohesive unit in time. To be fair – almost everyone here IS an excellent musician. But one mistake here from a single person, then another there – it adds up. I notice we’re running several pieces over again, which usually never happens. And some parts we work over several times – unheard of, to this point. But some progress happens. (Even The Who rehearse some parts over and over when things aren’t working, and the job of any professional is to use that time to get better and better.) As with our last show, we hear people working out their trickiest parts between breaks and the show times. Good.

Soundcheck and the VIP experience was another adventure. I’d set up a camera to record it, and had the thought “this will be difficult to use” came up, as there was a lot of negativity around. Problems with monitor levels, sounds and individuals’ performances were brought out very publicly. It was not a happy place, and I was calculating how I might possibly edit out most of the critical stuff (which is necessary in work-mode somedays, but not positive when taken out of context) while leaving some good detail in. Yet there wasn’t that much “good stuff” left, really – and a crash of the memory card in the camera solved the problem – no file left to edit. The universe was watching over us and decided “this moment will not be remembered.”

To clarify something that has changed: We’ve been warned that Musicians’ Unions (all of them) have very specific contracts on what they can and cannot be made to do. Of course, these came into being many years ago, rules to protect their members. It’s why we give them – very publicly – a big break in the middle of the shows; Union rules require a break every so many minutes. Our hardworking professionals work for over two hours straight; but it’s a different deal. Our guys are not being exploited, and these Unions formed to prevent their non-famous clients. Many of their regulations deal with recording, audio or video. To make a releasable concert album or video, one has to pay extra (on top of what was paid for the live event that night.) People used to sneak recorders in and release a record without paying, or release something without permission to avoid paying royalties etc. So, we play by the rules. And we have been warned that video blogs showing the orchestral rehearsals or even the shows themselves might violate their protections – and we don’t want to. So we can only shoot the band without the orchestra, or our soundchecks etc. Fair is fair, but hard on an orchestral tour. We wish we could show you the orchestral stuff, it’s pretty special, but I suppose there are hundreds of audience videos of that now. And all of them are terrible sound-quality compared to seeing it in-person. So come see a show! Easy.

(Meanwhile, I’ll try to get creative and shoot alternative things now and then. It’s hard to shoot the band alone on this tour, as we have such reduced volumes and the electric drum kit – almost anywhere I place the camera has pretty weird sound balances, they’ve not been very useful so far. People loved the film that had mainly just Pete’s guitar amp (all you could hear from that spot) and we may get more of that. There’s something coming where I can show you our whole setup for the day – what and where all the stuff is that makes a full Who show in 2019/2020. I’ll get some interviews with people in the band and maybe some locals coming to the show. Many things are possible.)

Tom Kenny (Lighting Director and Artistic creative) is away on previous commitments today – which is stranger still, as it’s Tom’s home here and his wife and friends are coming tonight! So our Tom is away lighting Heart, Green Day, and Def Leppard while his wife enjoys the lights and cues he designed, as run by Jim!

So these VIPs today had an earful, some difficult moments and strong emotions. Without question, everyone has a bright and dark side, and bands/families are no exception. The Who have always had a reputation for being fun and enjoying things, but also for the darkness and sarcastic jabs that emerge. Today was that darker side. One moment stood out in particular, as Pete was very upset with not hearing enough bass. Technically, they’d cut out tons of low end in the PA from the last show as it was bothering Roger, and the PA sound is also heard onstage, so today Pete’s dissatisfaction was likely partly driven by that. He wanted more and more and more of Jon Button’s bass sound. But when it got quite loud, it was a bright, stringy tone and Pete forcibly demanded a big warm bass sound “not a f***ing John Entwistle bass.” The audience howled at the comment – and then they were told off. Ouch. So, will tonight’s show continue this dark vibe we have around this afternoon?

The band come out and Pete and Roger follow. But Pete limps up onstage, practically crawling, dragging ‘imself along like a decrepit, infirm old creature. Roger helps him along, laughing at the old-man character. Then they get into action, and Tommy begins, and we have a feeling the mood IS ok, as the performance started with a joke, not a scowl.

Simon and Pete’s acoustic guitar duel is a cool moment each night. Simon holds down the guitar part from the original album, and Pete improvises around it. Both Pete and Rog are wearing similar outfits tonight, blue shortsleeved t-shirts with dark charcoal trousers. A casual look, but it never seems appropriate to dress up in Florida where nine out of 10 audience members are in shorts! I notice a lot of rock t-shirts tonight, the usual Who stuff from today (thank$!) and past tours. Sometimes you’ll see a really early one, and it’s the perfect place to show off your vintage and collectible Who stuff, where else? It takes me a few songs – and the large video screens – to notice what Pete’s t-shirt says: it shows a sailing ship with “Port Townsend” written above.

Clive ‘Binky’ Brinkworth hands Roger his Telecaster

Yet the winner of our t-shirt derby goes to Stage Right guitar roadie Binky, who is wearing his 1980 Talking Heads Japan tour shirt; he was their roadie then, for what was arguably their best-ever tour, and a stunning live band. Binky started in the early ’70s with Stone the Crows, featuring Jimmy McCulloch (later of Wings and protege of Pete Townshend in Thunderclap Newman.) Binky’s done it all, very seasoned and a welcome sight onstage as he brings Simon or Roger’s guitars out, or more importantly, tea!! Binky also carries his own stash of baked beans in his cases, just in case none are available locally!

Binky’s private baked beans stash. Fancy a bath, Rog?

Orchestras; we’re now told it’s unusual to do what we are doing? Other artists have orchestras onstage, but ours is playing. Seems unusual? Other people don’t want to go through the trouble to set up audio channels for all the instruments or worry about performance, so they pre-record ALL the orchestral music and have the onstage players miming for looks. Not how it’s done here. Even our sound team have to do “a performance” by balancing the mix live each night. A little backing track now and then is ok, but what a waste to have such players just for a visual. Our cello and violin sections are pretty rocking tonight, heads swinging along as they play, adding an emphasis that makes the show more exciting. And they are enjoying it; we see them watching the show during the break, and several of them have become big Who fans.

At ‘Who Are You’, the band set starts and the crowd gets up. Roger says “We know who you are! And we’ll be passing a hat around later – Help The Aged!” Pete responds to someone in the crowd “We love you” he quotes, “. . . even though you’re dead!” Roger proclaims “We’re not dead yet!” and Pete admits he added the “even though you’re dead” part.


‘Eminence Front’ has extra swagger tonight, and I felt it had a real Miami Vice vibe that really fits here; I’d forgotten totally that the song was once associated with the show (as I never once watched it) until Pete mentions it afterward. Weird, though, as we’re in an ice rink (just under the floorboards is the fully-functional ice rink) and the band were given Who hockey sticks today. Regardless, the saunter and swing of that grooving tune is perfect for this crowd, who look like they enjoy a party. Pete mentions it came about in a period when a lot of cocaine was in use, and he’d wondered why everybody thought they were “smart and funny” on it, until . . . he tried it. (His own drug experiences are pretty pathetic, he says) He was down here in Florida hanging out with old schoolmate Tom Wright and his father, who lived here and he wrote the song then. He told the Florida crowd “I’m glad you like it, it’s yours.” Although it has followers elsewhere, it feels like the song has become one of America’s favorite Who hits, although it’s grown into a live monster that dwarfs the old recorded one (and live MTV video version.) If you come see us, it’s THE moment when the guitar work really takes off into a new zone.

Roger throws in a few quips tonight, saying someone always asks him if he hopes he “dies before he gets old?” He says he still DOES. Then mentions his favorite line in rock “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth” adding “. . . and look what a mess it has gotten us into!” Soon after, Pete gestures that he wants a fan (the windy kind) brought out to cool him off. His tech Simon Law is always busy, so I run out to the truck where they were stored and brought a couple in – likely needing only one, but why make another trip? On the way, I can hear some great banter happening onstage, in bits: “We could play ‘Magic Bus’ for three-and-a-half hours . . .” and “.. . . it’s f***ing shite . . .” and soon after someone else is yelling requests. “Oh, shut the f*** up!” Roger has had enough of this. The crowd agrees. There is a plan to stick to.

Right after ‘The Seeker’, Pete bangs his gold Stratocaster against the stage near his pedals. Not a big smash or quite that destructive – but those paying attention were probably wondering. Speaking of things called The Seeker, hopefully you’ve heard the news about it posted here this week?

For the duo version of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, Roger asks the audience: “You sing! This is bloody hard work. Working in a factory was easier!” And they do, although at times the improv nature of it makes them miss a few entrance cues.

‘I’m One’ – almost every time they play it now, I’m reminded again of the Quadrophenia and More tour, when Alan Rogan and I used to chuckle every night: We’d joked about the line “I’ve got a Gihson, without a case” on the final verse – and thought it would be just hilarious to toss up an empty Gibson case onstage at that point. We never did because . . . we liked our jobs.

I don’t have to tell you the end segment of the show was stupendous. It just always is. “Nice one, Rog” Pete congratulated at the end. Our next show is in Tampa – only a little over two hours away. We’ll be using the same orchestra, who have played well tonight – and Pete thanks them for their help with rehearsals and the show tonight. It really came together well. This is a light-hearted and fun crowd, typical Floridians, and probably a good number of them will make the short trek to see it all again. I would!

PS – Our sound man Robert Collins is still out mixing the famous Crossroads Festival. Tonight, at the end of his set, Eric Clapton dedicated the weekend to Alan Rogan, his and our dear friend. You are missed, Al, every single night.


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