Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Buffalo, NY, May 9, 2019

KeyBank Center, Buffalo, NY

Back in Buffalo!?

They said onstage that is has been 30 years since a proper Buffalo show for The Who. Seems impossible, given the number of shows since then, and the basic fact that Buffalo is a music-centric town. (It was in fact 23 years ago when The Who played the Marine Midland Arena here on 9 November 1996). It’s not as famous as Detroit or Athens or Boston for this, but the people in Buffalo are as crazy for music – and always have been – as they are for sports. The music scene was always an escape for the working-class thousands that live in the Buffalo regions, and they came out in droves again tonight. These are people that grew up with music, and certainly those 60s/70s/80s years of The Who’s classic history – and more tonight.

Even before a note started, the crowd was loud and responsive. This is a basic zone for a good night; it’s harder (but not impossible) to pull an audience up later, but these good people were ready to go. Welcoming, indeed.

Two shows full to the roof as the first two nights of this unusual tour – that’s a great start. These two audiences had no clue what they were buying tickets to see. The second-date has moved beyond that feeling of the unknown, it’s much more comfortable for everybody. Even a “regular” tour of common ground has less-confidence and surety at-first. (I remember our Quadrophenia and More tour starting with very shaky legs . . .)

Tonight’s show began with Tommy again (you may see a trend here) and the ‘Overture’ is a great beginning to anything. Not much can be said about it but it flowed and was well-received. ‘Acid Queen’ was not in the set tonight, a sign that none of this is fixed in stone. (Not that ‘Acid Queen’ went poorly in Grand Rapids, quite the opposite, it just left room for more changes later in the show.)

It was easy to see Roger and Pete enjoying themselves more, and relaxing into the music, even though there is still a lot of concentrating going on; there is so much in this show to remember.

It’s not just Pete and Rog – everyone has so much more to do: Our riggers (who climb the rafters and hang “the points” where we anchor our lighting and sound rigs) had to go in at 3:30 am! There’s a long list of things to be done by everyone, and we’re all feeling the pressure to put on this big event. I’ve included a video I took of the orchestra rehearsing ‘Eminence Front’ before the band arrive; you’ll see the whole stage is set and ready, which now has to be done by noon, four or five hours earlier than usual. Anyway, you can hear the cool parts added in a way not even possible during the actual show.

A key change is our missing man Alan Rogan – guitar expert since 1978s filming for ‘Baba’ and ‘WGFA’ I think; you may also know him as the guy who put those numbers on Pete’s guitars back in the day, classic Rogan. There was only one Who tour without him in all those years, and he’s home on medical leave, but it’s just weird being in this situation without him; much of our crew (including yours truly) were hand-picked by him. Still – shows without Moon or Entwistle and Pridden have happened – it’s just a different feeling without a core person. We look forward to seeing him at Wembley in July!

Changes came again at the point where Tommy ends: The set featured another “new” number for the tour; ‘The Kids Are Alright’. This song couldn’t be more simple, yet it is Who vibe and sentiment. Often, there’s some recognition of “being different” in Pete’s songs – and this one has it, too. ‘Substitute’ was played, too, as no one ever minds the early classics.

The acoustic ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ was done, but without anyone else: In Grand Rapids, everyone sort of played along, but the core of Pete and Roger was just pulling away from everyone in energy and intensity there; it just didn’t need any other musical help. I don’t think anyone minds, especially as an acoustic Gibson J200 being played well is worth exposing.

We did a change for ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ again, bringing out Audrey Snyder and Katie Jacoby to sit among the band as they played their string parts: It’s a nice moment, and Pete commented how it was timely, given the constant movement-forward with women in all areas. He said his early influences were often the great female singers/leaders of their time: Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne, Aretha Franklin. It’s a welcome vibe and presence to have them along for every show. They are both great people – a joy to be around and as serious as any musician every playing with this band.

Shortly after – ‘Tea and Theatre’ brought back the Rog/Pete moment, which translates so well even in a huge room like this. The acoustics of the arena are actually far better than before, no ugly slap-echo off a back wall. Instead we have smooth rounded seating and a high ceiling so it sounds more like a cathedral or concert hall. It’s amazing how much the sound “of the room” can affect those onstage, but it does.

After the non-orchestral set, the many players rejoined, and the Quadrophenia set began. Another surprise here (they seem to like them) with the opening: ‘The Real Me’. The instant it hit, I saw people jump out of their seats or go crazier if they were already up. It’s a rocker, a welcoming intro to a great set of tunes, and Roger’s voice is as good tonight as it was on the original record. That’s astounding, as this is no simple ballad. He’s doing so well in recent years – hard to say if anyone else from their era of “began in the ’60s” rockers can still compare. On ‘The Real Me’, you can really hear Jon Button bring out some of the old Ox-tones on his Fender bass – it’s often harder to hear with this full orchestra bowing and blowing away, but it’s better than ever, if you listen for it. The bass sound this year is really superb.

Speaking of tones – Loren Gold has modified his own Hammond organ for touring and it sounds incredible; a few years back, the old Who organ was retired and pretty-good organ simulations were done with modern keyboards. But “the real me” of organs is back, and it’s notable that his sound is more rich, full, and in keeping with the meaty sound of The Who. Simon Townshend has new amps as well, a pair of matching Supro boxes, and they sound great. It’s a new system designed for playing alongside the dozens of strings that surround Simon, so he can “crank up” and still not drown out the acoustic-only level of the violins and violas.

There were a couple of odd moments during tonight’s show, particularly when the band got off from what the orchestra was playing. I’m sure some people didn’t notice it, some would hear it and think it was just unusual arranging choices, and others would know it was like two ships drifting apart! I saw Keith Levenson pull the orchestra to a specific measure at one point, to re-align the two groups, but it’s one of the many challenges of this tour – to hear everything and stay together. 

The stage is large, everyone is far-away from many other things, and we are indeed forced to work with it; the sight-lines are tricky. Roger couldn’t see his monitor tech Simon Higgs during much of the Grand Rapids show, as was Pete with Trevor Waite, who does Pete’s sound. I’m watching the conductor, RD/PT/Zak – anyone onstage, to see if it’s time to start the ‘Baba O’Riley’ track or anything with a click track to follow. Yet we’re having serious trouble, and are working every possible angle to make it better. There just isn’t room for moving people around, and it is getting done, but not as smoothly as we’d like – yet.

Tonight, we saw actual confidence. The great audience response certainly helped, and the band knew from the first show that it would work. The small tweaks for this show improved a lot, and we’re still going to be aiming higher and higher until the show runs like clockwork. Or, at least, with minimal moments of bizarre jazz experiments!

No show is ever perfect: As Roger once said, “A problem onstage is an opportunity for greatness!” It’s actually better to have a moment that everyone knows is unexpected – and how one handles it is the real test. That is The Who way.

Onward.

PS – thanks as always to our buddy William Snyder for some photos today (his are the good ones!)

Tonight’s Set List

With Orchestra
Overture
It’s a Boy
1921
Amazing Journey
Sparks
Pinball Wizard
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Eminence Front
Imagine a Man
Join Together

Without Orchestra
The Kids Are Alright
Substitute (tour debut)
Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic)
Behind Blue Eyes (acoustic)
Tea & Theatre (acoustic)

With Orchestra
The Real Me (tour debut)
I’m One
The Punk and the Godfather
5:15
Drowned
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Baba O’Riley