Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Detroit, MI, May 28, 2019

Little Caesars Arena, Detroit, MI


This was a good one. Not that they all don’t have something; certain moments and various pieces always emerge each night as highlights. Those are peak moments in a night of generally-good-stuff. But tonight was above-the-bar strong . . .

Detroit! The name conjures up images of an industrial, working-class city, which it always has been. It’s also revered for the later ’60s and early ’70s music scene it spawned. The Who are a big part of that legend, though not locals like the MC5, Mitch Ryder, Stooges, or the transplanted Alice Cooper Band. The Grande Ballroom was the scene of most rock activity in the area, and became the home of The Who when in the Midwest. (We’ve talked about their long NYC roots before, but the Grande became a deep root as well, with connections to Pete’s former art school friend Tom Wright, and local DJ and promoter, Russ Gibb, who founded the Grande as a rock venue.

Tonight before the show, we were able to salute Russ Gibb, who passed away this last year. He’d been to many, many of our shows in recent years, and no doubt proud of his connection to a group that went farther than almost any artists connected to his venue. On our overhead screens, we ran a small slide set in honor of Russ’ memory, and the crowd LOVED it. Hometown folks certainly know him and think of him fondly – it was very emotional; watch the short clip and see if you feel it, too.

Our soundcheck, seen by the VIP ticket people, was tentative, at best – and actually verged on crashing. The band rehearsed ‘5:15’ a few times, trying to get the volume levels right for Pete to cut loose when his solo turn came. It wasn’t quite working out, and he explained that – for him – the song had not quite “taken off” yet on this tour. It was good, but not great – yet. Worth the effort to try, at least. It was not necessarily productive – but several attempts were made to get it better, at least.

And so, that evening, the concert came on – with talking right up-front, which doesn’t often happen. Pete and Roger thanked everyone for coming out, congratulated them for their city’s recovery process, and they felt it was a great example for America of a city on the rise.

The ‘Overture’ went well – both Roger and Pete hitting it hard and with excellent energy, with one simple change added; during the “Captain Walker . . .” segment Pete changed to his Gibson acoustic for the guitar duel moment (previously he’d played it on electric, with Simon doing the acoustic.) Tonight, the acoustic really played well for the part, despite the overlap of tones, it really felt comfortable. When ‘Pinball Wizard’ ended up, Roger was just grinning madly, a really good sign that everyone was having fun.

This town has a connection to Tommy, whether they all know it or not; their Grande Ballroom was the place where the first live performance of the rock opera was given in the USA. During ‘Listening to You’, this is the first audience we’ve seen getting into it with full abandon that the piece can sometimes generate.

It’s always cool to hear the horn section live; it’s a clear reminder of the one element that people forget belongs to so many Who records; John Entwistle’s horn work. From the ‘Pictures of Lily’ solo to the arpeggios on Tommy, John brought the horn to rock format.

Between the songs, much of the chat tonight centered on the hardship that so many of this town have faced, and how the modern concert situation costs so much. Tickets, parking, food, etc. The band thanked the audience profusely, acknowledging their great support over the years, especially now – to have remained loyal fans (new and old, it seems) and to have spent hard-won money to be here tonight.

Both Roger and Pete showed not only confidence tonight, but even some swagger – that cockiness and surety that they are known for. It’s part of performing that goes beyond certain notes or sounds, the physicality of this band that translates so well into Something Good To Watch. The sound of this room also helped, it’s a big soft-sounding arena; no hard echoes to mess up the band’s timing, and not a lot of boomy bass that clouds up the punch of the sound.

‘Substitute’ had a small change – probably not noticeable to the crowd, but the band felt the “second intro” (where the song almost starts all over) was shortened by half – a sensible edit. But as the band approached it during the show, it was executed sort of oddly, not solidly. Despite this weirdness, it ended up just fine, another “tonight only” moment from The Who – and I saw the band members smiling that they somehow pulled off moment that almost verged off the rails.

‘I Can See For Miles’ started weirdly and then stopped suddenly – so Pete confessed it was probably ‘Roger getting creative, changing the setlist’ – when it was actually not a change, and no one had played the wrong song, it just felt like it for a moment. ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ is more beautiful each day, it seems – the violin and cello really add a nice pathos and dimension to it.

For the crowd, the unexpected moment is when ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is rendered as an acoustic duo. The performance each night is FULL of small moments; vocal improv, rhythms that jump and change, melody changes and harmonies. It’s literally as improvised as it is planned – and I think in future years we will come to look upon these unexpected small moments as great experiences.

‘5:15’ . . . will it go. Yeah, tonight it does – or I interpret the flying fingers and intense jamming as that outcome. At least, it’s better than the others (although MSG was damn fine!) and I don’t see anything lacking here at all.

Just after, Pete was tasked (“lumbered” they say in England) with a solo acoustic performance of ‘Drowned’. As ‘5:15’ was so intense, he really needed some time to recover – not to be forced into an acoustic solo moment. He said, rather candidly, “When I need a rest, I think of your cost to get here. I think a lot of you don’t know I f*cking hate (doing) this, but I’m really good at it!” And so he goes, and does it well. Possibly the best ‘Drowned’ on this tour!

For ‘The Rock’, Roger doesn’t really leave the stage – he could, as he’s not needed for this, and it’s a great break before an intense vocal song. But instead, he stays onstage, right behind the drums, actually rocking out to the powerful music that surrounds him there!

Then afterward, he emerges to hit ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ strongly every night. This one ends with some fun vocal gymnastics, a mixture of high and middle notes that he plays with, while Pete grins as he experiments. The song ends with the usual huge power chord and standing ovation we’ve come to expect every night. But still, Roger’s laughing about his vocal gymnastics!

Every night, just before ‘Baba’ – the band, conductor, soloist and local orchestra are introduced and thanked, sometimes briefly, sometimes in-depth. Each night, Pete also mentions the arranger for most of these pieces: David Campbell. David lives in Los Angeles but has done rock/pop orchestral work for most of his life – some of the biggest names in the world. We’re pleased to have his sensitive take on these songs, to bring out the beauty and yet not take away the power of a real rock band in front.

Thanks Detroit – for showing up AND bringing us up. These kind of shows put a real positive boost underneath us. One more show to go on this tour leg . . .


Tonight’s Set List

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

Without Orchestra
I Can See For Miles
Behind Blue Eyes (with orchestra string section accompaniment)
Won’t Get Fooled Again (Pete and Roger acoustic)
Tea & Theatre (Pete and Roger acoustic)

With Orchestra
The Real Me
I’m One
The Punk and the Godfather
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Baba O’Riley