Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Chase Center, San Francisco, CA, October 9, 2019

The Chase Center – new name to us, as the venue itself is only about a month old! It’s right in San Francisco, so surprising that they had enough room to build it; this is a very crowded and expensive city now. It still has the old houses, distinctive “gingerbread” styles all over the hills, and some remnants of the past everywhere (Chinatown, the Presidio, the bridges, the Embarcadero.) There is much to love here, but some sides of the city are rough and there’s always been a good quantity of “outsider” culture here – most-known for the hippie generation that still lives on here, too.

‘The smell of cooking fish is you guys?” Pete addresses our VIP audience. Yes, he’d smelled it, too, and it was that smell. “It’s not us . . .” Then Roger saunters onstage . . .“Could be Roger!? They needed some atmosphere in here (the new building) so they’ve put some old dead fish in the ovens . . .” So, they’re already in a joking mood, a sure sign of good things. Pete has some musical instructions for everyone – when they play the ‘Overture’, Simon T takes the lead on acoustic guitar, and everyone should follow him, not Pete. Pete explains that he’ll be playing around and against the parts that Simon holds down solidly. This keeps it grounded in the original record, but allows that newness and play that comes from improv – always a big part of any Who show.

The orchestra is seated already when the band come in; they have already rehearsed the orchestral bits and are present and waiting, but it bothers Pete; he wanted soundcheck without them, as we often do, so he can work with his sound and the new room sound. Yes, the orchestra’s not playing yet, but Pete is hoping to work with guitar levels and blast fully in case it needs it, so he asks the orchestra to protect their ears. Admittedly, as Keith Levenson points out – whatever the band sound needs to be onstage (not that different) the orchestra will have to play with it during the night. I suppose this just illustrates the fact that our tour has evolved a lot. We used to spend more times rehearsing certain parts, or trying new amps or sounds, but it’s pretty well-defined now. Compared to many other bands’ tours, we’re barely started, but for this tour we are certainly well-seasoned and comfortable with this, even though we’ve just had almost two weeks off. It feels very natural again already.

This room is a typical sports arena, made for basketball and hockey, mainly. This one is wider by a bit than most, and shorter by a bit, and the roof is VERY high compared to most! This makes for a brighter, diffuse sound – not bad at all, but a little unusual. It’s the job of our sound team to get the most out of any room – and our man Robert Collins has worked this room only a few weeks back when he was here with Eric Clapton. Robert asks Jon Button to try the two basses he’s considering for the show – as they are slightly different. Pete mentions the second “sounds very Pino Palladino. And remember – it’s John Entwistle’s birthday tonight so you’re allowed to turn the treble up!”

Keith is pleased with this orchestra – they are excellent. All’s good for tonight – a slight mental hurdle for all of us, as the last show ended so unusually. We need a good one to feel solid again!

YouTube video courtesy of Steve Weiss 

Liam Gallagher is opening tonight, the famous co-founder of Oasis. It’s a bit of a concern (more than!) as we have a VERY full stage, and Liam’s group needs a lot of space on their own. We do what we can, and almost miraculously, get our drum and keyboards back out of the way, and Pete and Simon’s entire guitar rigs are torn down to make room – usually a no-no for something so important, but we’re trying to make it work well for everyone and are willing to compromise. The issue will be after Liam’s set, we have to rebuild our stage, after the band have tested and dialled it in during the soundcheck – things may be different.

The Who come out, band first, then Pete and Rog. Big roar, as expected, and it’s good to see a much larger proportion of women at the show tonight; there are always some, but this group is notably more so than ever before. “SO – we are back in the land of the lunatics!” Another cheer – and it’s true, we’ve seen a number of poor souls wandering the streets in various states, and the more controlled chaos has come inside with tickets. One concern, and it was discussed all day – pot smoke already wafting up from the front section. Despite the signs (literally, on the big screens) NOT to smoke pot, or anything, there are people doing what they want. That could kill the show – bad on a normal day, but possibly a serious issue on a comeback like today!

Pete again mentions Entwistle’s birthday, but also that it’s John Lennon’s too – and he’d never noticed the dual birthday until today. “Imagine that,” he joked, “two complete *****s born on the same day!” High praise really, as he was so close to both of them.

The end of Tommy comes, and again I’m reminded what a brilliant moment we have hidden here, the gorgeous end of ‘1921’, with the “What about the boy” and very pretty instrumental bits we have written with the orchestra. Pete’s taken it as a cue to add some sweet melodic parts over it all – and we have yet another Who version that’s better than it ever was before. Not always true about every song or track, but this piece is gold, believe me. (I would link to a YouTube of it; we’ve been told by management that that’s ok, if we want. But I keep finding the capture done by phones is not only poor quality, it makes things sound worse than they really are – same as if you take a photo with friends, then see how it makes someone look terrible. That’s not the reality that existed, and not how you hope to freeze it for analysis. So, we encourage you to come see this in-person, capture it with your ears and eyes. Only someone in a seat can know how it really was).

‘Pinball Wizard’ is kinda sloppy – and within reason, still rocks, but it’s either ahead or behind at times; the band are aware of it, but the pulling in different directions is being analyzed for a solution, as it’s happened before on recent shows. Pete says he remembers playing the whole of Tommy for the San Francisco crowds (50 years ago, no doubt a Bill Graham production!) There is a danger mentioned tonight – due to dangers from fire, the electric company has turned off the power for many cities in Northern California, and thousands of homes and businesses will be without power for days. There’s even a rumor that it may happen here tonight. Not likely, but what a thought. Roger says “They wouldn’t dare!!” – as much a threat as a prediction; he’s here to do his job and he’s back in fine form.

Pete mentions John would have been “as old as Roger is” noting “that makes ME the youngest!” grinning brightly. Someone in the crowd yells out “how old?” Pete notes back “75!” Shame about The Ox, he would have loved being here as much as the crowd would have loved him.

‘Who Are You’ has a really extended ending, a sign of the extra energy coming offstage tonight. Roger’s confident in his vocal powers tonight, and Pete is feeding off that by creating wild guitar parts over and over – he’s really showing off – and not one person here minds at all. ‘Eminence Front’ continues the theme, and it’s overly aggressive tonight, lots of power and might on display. This song has come so far from that original record, plus the wilder guitar (by far), more gritty vocal, and the stunning orchestral backing – one of the strongest songs every night.

Pete mentions talking to friends here before the show; they were a generation younger than he, but they discussed millennials. After a brief show of a few millennial’s hands, he said they hoped their age group would have a laugh one day . . .

I’m seeing such great work on our screens, the big visual component of the show that can reach out to those in back. Our entire video crew is stellar – from the cameraperson who chooses and gets that special shot, to the director who chooses what you will see at any given second; that’s a LOT of decisions to make. It really brings out the show in an ideal fashion – they know what to show you and how detailed it should be, how quickly to cut to something and away again – or to leave a shot long and let the performer create the interest. If you’re up-front, sometimes video screens seem “out of sync” with the music being played – slightly off-time. This is calculated, and on-purpose! You may know that sound travels slower than light; an echo is the sound of your voice bouncing off a distant wall, as sounds move fast but not as fast as light. So we have timed the video screens to be in-time for those in the back, who cannot really see the live action onstage that well. For those in front, the screens are not even that useful, so the timing of the delayed video and audio signals will match best in back, for those who need it most.

Another visual – the Titan Tubes across the stage; our lighting guys have programmed them to create color and structure everywhere you look. They are sort of like “Star Wars light sabres” but mounted to a base. They can be programmed for motion, activity, or color-changing intensity. It’s giving the stage a cooler 3D effect which is especially good for lighting up the orchestral players.

Again, more pot smoke is rising up. We can see it hover and smell it. Dangerous, we know what might happen. As it happens, Pete is talking about 1967 and the Monterey Pop Festival, and how they heard Scott McKenzie singing “Are you going to San Francisco” which Pete imitates. Roger warns people about the pot smoke – a serious threat to everyone’s evening. We’ve had the security team on the lookout since the doors opened hours ago, but they don’t seem to find the culprits. (Hint: look for anyone crouching down!) Shame, as they could always go to the restroom and get the job done quickly without affecting the show! We hereby invite anyone in the crowd to “rat-out” their neighbor as it may just save your show; they are wilfully and boldly ignoring the specific requests put out for a reason – to keep the show on the tracks, moving.

Pete mentions a guy who was once their Polydor A&R man telling them certain songs would be good songs, once he turns them into Who songs! He says Roger’s done just that, in making the new record. Pete wrote the songs for Roger to sing, and Roger’s now made them into Who tracks. Sounds promising!

‘5:15’ is storming, or trying to storm. At one point, amid a flurry of wild guitar craziness, Pete stops and looks at his fingers. On the crew, we cringe, hoping it’s nothing serious – as that’s how he looks when he’s ripped off a nail! After the song, he’s looking at it again, but insists it’s not a nail thing; he claims to have lost it up his (censored!) during the song. “I thought it was funny!” he says, as some people are more shocked than laughing (but most laugh.)

‘The Rock’, possibly our most-successful marriage of orchestra and band. But as it’s written and recorded in a very similar vein, it makes sense this would work well with the large orchestra, too. It certainly sounds full and powerful, yet we sort of dread doing this one without the orchestra someday. It’s a huge sound, and followed by the showstopper: ‘Love Reign O’er Me’.

Loren Gold is from the Bay Area, and always happy to be back. He’s got a load of relatives here, but I’m sure the highlight for him was his bow, when he stood up from behind the keyboards to bow, wearing a Golden State Warriors jersey – his home team, and we’re in their own arena. The crowd LOVED it!

All in all – this was a really good show. Keith said it may be the best orchestra we’ve had. The new building is cool – and we hope it is the start of something lasting and memorable here. Roger is IN form, back to it and that spurred Pete into new guitar directions. Somewhat, that is all we can hope for, is more of these talented two and their huge support team. We have only a few shows left before the end of this 2019 tour!


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
You Better You Bet
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