16 Sep 2019
Moving On! Tour: Fenway Park, Boston, MA, September 13, 2019
If we’d tried, we could not pick a more contrasting place to Blossom Music Center! That was a venue I described as ‘intimate’ in a woodsy surrounding, and the stage was small, not a ton of people could fit in. Not today! There’s no acoustic wooden shell – just a set of trusses of lights nearly 60 feet above us, and open all around to the sky. The tough city of Boston surrounds us – now the most expensive city in the USA – and there’s a ton of room onstage on all sides; it’s a long way from the crew’s vantage points on the side to the middle where the band are.
We’re in Fenway Park – the legend. This is possibly one of the – if not the most famous – existing ballparks in America. Baseball being the reputed American pastime (we know it’s rock and roll . . . and eating) this is certainly as stereotypically American as any venue here. It carries its own history – starting from 1912 and so seems to feel like the Royal Albert Hall does in London; you get a sense of “we’re tonight’s event, but there have been thousands of emotional happenings here, and many more after us.” Still, we’re more than pleased to be here. Keyboardist Loren Gold is a major league baseball fan (although usually preferring a certain West Coast team) and he declared this the coolest venue he’s ever been able to perform in.
Boston is a music town – the famous Spinal Tap joke “not a big college town” is only so funny in that it truly is – especially the Berklee College of Music, as one of the best, only blocks away. Symphonically, the Boston orchestras have always been world-class, legend Leonard Bernstein and media-savvy Arthur Fiedler helped grow their legacy over decades.
The space is fantastic – not as enormous as Wembley Stadium, but more organic and attractive, by far. We’re positioned on a stage in the far right of center field – so basically up against what is known as the Green Monster (a name that, for baseball fans, is as known as The Who are in rock.) For today’s show, someone modified the vintage-style wooden scoreboard there to read T H E W H O in painted wooden letters, a gesture not only appreciated, it also became one of the most-photographed parts of the event.
Every nook and cranny of this place has vibe, and we all explored to understand it better; layers of grandstands and bleachers, the dugouts and underground batting cages, the museum-like displays of early World Series cups and vintage jerseys. Hell – they even have the Xray of Ted Williams’ broken bone on display in the walkways here! Ted’s famous lone red seat is far behind us – indicative of how far the man could drive a home run. Great fun and everyone around is telling me they feel something special already here – before a note of music.
Our soundcheck was good – a big crowd. Probably our biggest this tour, expanded to match the size of this place. Heather Daltrey is along, always a welcome sight in our camp, and filming them run through their paces. Pete thanked the orchestra in advance, and recalled that many of them had performed with either him or Roger at Tanglewood a year back. Both of those shows were excellent and memorable – and a lot smaller than this. There is the Bleacher Bar just behind the stage – they have a full restaurant/bar with an opening through the outfield green wall – and people are listening to our soundcheck from there, too, but they can’t see anything as the stage and cases are in the way. There’s definitely a lot more pressure today – the crew knows a whole lot more is riding on this because of the visibility of this show in a major city, and the tens of thousands coming here tonight.
Our lighting man Jim Mustapha is a local Boston-bred talent, and his lovely wife has flown in, plus a few of his longtime friends; all the more reason we have to get it right!
Sun is setting on a rather warm day, where we had to cover equipment to keep the sun from roasting it, and people were sweating – summertime blues. By evening, the sun had passed the grandstands and there was decent shade as Pete Wolf came out; a hometown boy who brings his own crowd, and pleases those who have not caught him before. He’s a real showman, dresses the part, and acts almost like a warmup man – the audience is already rocking and in a good mood.
“Who’s On First!?” No – second!
By the time The Who come out the sun is gone and the full moon is coming out. AND it’s Friday the 13th? You can’t plan these kinds of things, they just happen to collide. Auspicious. However, one thing’s changed – the temperature. It’s dropped over 20 degrees in just a few hours, and the wind has kicked up – the dreaded wind-chill factor is in effect. This seems evident visually when Rog and Pete come out. They’re already in a good mood, but Pete has on something red under his trench-coat – and over it; a floor-length red scarf. This is now scarf weather, Although I’ve seen him struggle with brilliant-looking coats and such before – usually they come off soon enough to make playing more facile. But the initial impression is always strong – from a band that always had some kind of fashion sense, from mod symbols to skeleton suits.
The opening of Tommy begins well, but then gets off-time in the middle somehow. Zak Starkey is highly aware of it – but unsure which way to pull. There are forces pulling apart – the orchestra with their conductor (and possibly the click-track metronome they are supposed to play with) and the band, also full of rhythmic power – but not matching the orchestra. Hard to point a finger at which team is where, but visibly Zak is trying to sort it out and audibly guide the band back to a place of cohesion. He finally sees a place and telegraphs a musical intention with very obvious drum parts – and suddenly everyone is locked back in. Disaster averted, as the two trains were pulling apart. The ‘Overture’ ends tightly as it had begin.
Acoustically, the Blossom show had a nice onstage sound, reinforced by the wood and acoustic design. Here, I noticed that there is a very empty/dry sound as we’re “out here in the fields” literally. I could hear more orchestra from the PA than I could from their actual sound onstage. After the Tommy set, Pete removes the trench-coat just in time for ‘Who Are You’; a sure sign it’s time to rock. And underneath the coat – a red jumpsuit, the same one worn on the Fallon show not long ago, but the first time onstage here. It’s very visual and matches the lighting from one of the most-intense Who songs.
Pete mentions a story about Leonard Bernstein – the legendary conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The band were doing their famous Tommy performance at the Fillmore East in NYC and Bernstein came with his daughter. He came to meet them afterward and told him “You gotta do more of this stuff! It’s so good.” And so Pete is taking that command to emphasize this tour has meaning and is a true part of The Who’s evolution. He thanked the crowd for the sellout audience, quite a feat. That certainly adds to the present mood onstage.
Listening to tonight’s version of ‘Eminence Front’, it has such a different and mature style compared to how it was recorded. Not just the orchestral score – which we’ve discussed here before – but in the performance by Pete and the band. It’s grown and gained depth far beyond the original album version or the MTV live video. It’s not always true, but to an open mind, things can get better over time.
Visually, I can’t tell how the audience saw tonight’s show, but from the stage it was staggering. The whole floor (actually the green grass of the field) was full of thousands of people, and the sloped stands in the distance were quite visible. Certainly, this was a change for the better from the immense Wembley show – the stands were out in front of us, wider rather than deeper. So the rising seats in the distance added another twenty thousand or so faces easily seen from the stage. You’ll see how it looked in some of the photos. For ‘Imagine A Man’, the bleachers were lit with a deep indigo wash, and the floor of the field went almost completely dark – very moody and unique.
As the orchestra left for their schedule break, the band set starts. Roger explained they were going to take it down to the “smaller band we really are.” And then thanked Mass General (the hospital) and the man who saved him “or we’d be an even smaller band now! I went in there croaking . . .” Dr. Steven Zeitells had developed groundbreaking restorative laryngeal techniques, and operated on Roger just before our 2010 Super Bowl appearance. He was here in the audience tonight, somewhere, and without question would have been pleased by this stadium-full of happy fans. “He saved my voice.” Jokingly, Pete intercepted the conversation and directed this question to the good doctor; “Are you sure you did the right thing??” to lots of laughs. And then Roger piped in “I DO have a big mouth!”
Unexpectedly, Pete halts the show toward the Quadrophenia set in the second half. He tells the orchestra they MUST check their tuning. This makes sense – they always tune to concertmaster Katie Jacoby’s violin before the show, and usually the tuning holds (or they check themselves quietly between songs.) But Pete had been thinking his guitars were going out of tune. This is a continual problem with colder outdoor shows, our technicians Simon, Binky, and Martin have to deal with the shifts in temperature that cause guitars to go out of tune. But these guitars ARE tuned and re-checked almost every song or two – the likelihood is that the guitars are solid, and the other orchestral instruments are drifting. It was a bit of a shock, but worked out well. Roger chimed in “Do you think they can tune me!?!” “I would need a rubber glove” suggested Pete! ‘The Rock’ worked so well after this. It came across as one of this audience’s biggest favorites – an unexpected surprise, as they seemed to respond best to the hits, before this. But ‘The Rock”s martial power really suited the massive place we were in, the guitar power chords being supported by the big brass and low strings.
Simon Townshend is singing and playing great – noted by Pete when he introduces the band; everyone here always does a pretty stellar job onstage, but it’s nice when they get noted for it. Is it cold? Yeah – we spot bassist Jon Button wearing a hooded parka onstage at this point, and he’s originally from Alaska!! We also spy a Boston Red Sox baseball cap go on Loren Gold’s head during a few songs, and suspect the audience notice it, too. He didn’t wear it during the prelude to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ tonight, but it was visible sitting on the keyboards right next to him. Pete proclaimed tonight’s prelude “a ten out of ten!” afterward, a reward for one of the truly unique moments that happens from night to night. “People forget” – Who shows are as much about newness as oldness, always! Zak’s birthday is today – and though it passes quietly onstage, it was a hell of a celebration.
‘Love Reign O’er me’ has become the showpiece of every concert we do now. Doing such a strong version of this one in front of the voice doctor who saved his voice – Roger must be proud (“chuffed” they say in England.) As they always do now, this audience roared at the end. The arc of this show is working well – it does start kinda slowly with an instrumental overture, and paces itself throughout until it ramps up and up – to these big finish moments.
Tonight was a stunner, audibly, visibly and in general atmosphere (The place is also filled with interesting smells everywhere, too – hot dogs, popcorn, grass, etc.) I’ve heard enough reports from our team and the audience to know that this was a most-memorable day, from the moment we rolled in, ’til the last notes rang out.
BTW – the closing tape played tonight was ‘Sweet Caroline’ with all the singalong happening from the happy thousands as they filed out. Hope we can do this again someday . . .
Tonight’s Set List
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Imagine a Man
Hero Ground Zero
I Can See for Miles
Your Better You Bet
Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic; Roger & Pete only)
Behind Blue Eyes (with violin and cello accompaniment)
Ball and Chain
The Real Me
Love Reign O’er Me