Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA, October 11, 2019

Back at the Bowl, so many memories here.

One wouldn’t think it, but Los Angeles is one of the most-loyal Who followings anywhere. It’s a music city, and the place that birthed some real outsiders-with-talent. When one thinks of tinseltown or La-La Land, you’re obviously ignoring the music history that makes it as credible (or more) than any other city. Tom Waits, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell, Captain Beefheart, Frank Zappa, Jackson Browne, Jim Morrison, Harry Nilsson, etc etc. Some serious cats. And despite being a notorious “industry town,” that industry is made up of tens of thousands of dedicated music people. In other words, The Who makes sense and are appreciated here as fully as anywhere. No wonder there are three shows here on this tour – in a space that holds over 18,000 people!

We load in, having a slight break as the PA system is their own house-rig, pre-installed and must be used. It’s a good system, with our guys to run it, and it saves a good amount of time not having to build and hang our own system. The lights will be ours, the stage equipment ours, so it’s basically the same, all housed in the famous shell-shaped mega-stage. The day is warm and clear, basically summer weather in October. Such is life in California. (On the darker side, the warm weather is dangerous now, as fires are happening all over California.)

Zak takes an early nap before tonight’s show

We get everything in and ready, and then the orchestra come in to rehearse. The sun is beating down onto the stage, though. They orchestra do not want to sit in the hot/direct sun, melting with their instruments. The seats are scalding hot, and everything faces due south, right at the sun. After some negotiation, we understand there is a curtain/drape that is usually drawn across the stage for daytime orchestral rehearsals, but our own lighting rig is in the way – so they tell us it can’t be used. We’ve almost got a halt, and it might be a showstopper without rehearsal, but they come up with a way to run a partial curtain across the front of the stage. It’s like a giant canvas sail – and immensely helpful for blocking the sun. Rehearsal goes . . . OK, but not great. Some issues are happening with the orchestra, but there are good players here, so it should work out fine. One of the brass musicians comes up to say hello to me, but I don’t recognize him with the dark sunglasses on – it’s Dylan Hart, one of our very own horn players from the 2013 Quadrophenia and More tour! We spent many days on the road together, and he’s here doing recording work permanently now, yet happy to be part of the ensemble for these shows. Also a featured cellist (sitting next to our own Audrey Snyder) is Vanessa Freebairn-Smith, who some of you may have seen in Jeff Beck’s quartet this last year. A great sign having such solid players along (and probably dozens more in this orchestra.) I notice one guy in the orchestra wearing his Who shirt already, and others seem to be rocking out – they know this music.

The band come in to check the sound, and this time the orchestra is kept away, leaving room for the band to work things out. We start with just Pete, who works for quite a while on guitar sounds. He and tech Simon Law have been trying out some things, pedals and level changes. It’s doing something, because the guitar DOES sound better, ever so slightly, but any notable gains are hard to get at this stage. Pete spends a good amount of time onstage just playing solos and trying things out. The VIPs come in and soon Roger and the band have entered the stage, too. Roger points out that these VIPs are seated right in front, a little circular area of seats just off the front lip of the stage. “We first came here in the 1960s, and that used to be a moat of water,” he says, and true, it was back then, about a meter-deep pit of water. “You can imagine where the drums ended up!”

A few songs are done in rehearsal, and then a wait for the orchestra to return from their break. This VIP group happens to see a lot today, as there is chatting and more guitar soloing while waiting. With the orchestra back, we run quickly through one piece and it’s all set for the big night.

Our temperature drop to a calm, cool evening, stuck between cold and warm. Not bad, and with the bright moon overhead, there is a real sense of atmosphere here. If you haven’t been to the Hollywood Bowl before, it’s got small “boxes” down in the front section. Each box has four seats and two folding tables. The Bowl has a guest service that provided food and drink, or you can buy upscale meals and wine and bring to your own table. It’s a lovely way to spend and evening and encourages people to come earlier and relax. Halfway back, the seating changes to standard wooden benches. From the front, it doesn’t look so big, but in the back looking down, it’s immense.

Pete and Rachel backstage

Katie Jacoby gets ready for tonight’s show

The Who band waiting to go onstage. Zak is limbering up. He’s not about to stab Simon!

“HEY!” Pete yells as they walk on. “Here we are with a number of musicians. Technically, Roger and I are the only ones who aren’t starving!” Then they launch right into the Tommy set. I notice the violin section is actually swaying as they play. This is a good thing, although you rarely see it. A drummer or guitarist in a rock band can enjoy the music, move around and still play well, so why not strings? This reminds me of the one orchestra that played on Roger’s Tommy tour a year back, they were all really enjoying it, stomping and swaying – we wanted to keep them for ALL the shows! (For a superb example, search for England’s Britten Sinfonia ensemble to see what I mean!)

After Tommy, the chat ensues; Pete mentions the situation in this “most-amazing city” as we’re surrounded by fires and fire danger, power outages, etc. But the band are pleased everyone’s still come out for this event. He mentions the people “are always such cool guys” and finds the reception in L.A. to be so welcoming and relaxed. The acoustics here are designed for symphonic performances, so this shell-shaped stage really brings out the sound. The brass in ‘Who Are You’ truly overpower even the power-chord guitars for once – and it’s glorious!

Pete jokes about the next song, as marijuana has been legalized in this state. “You don’t need drinking, sex or gambling here now. So here’s a song for those of us who used to . . . quite LIKE IT.” Right into ‘Eminence Front’. They spend a bit of time praising the crew on tour (thanks!) who do a lot more work per-person than on a usual tour. Seriously – it’s about 50% more effort per day (or more) for almost everyone here. The show is worth it – we realize that something on this scale takes more work, period.

It might be the sound/acoustics, the beautiful glow of the moon, the visuals of this enormous slope upward of people and faces – but it feels REALLY good tonight. The band are playing exceptionally well. At this leg of the tour, many shows after we began, they know the show, they know the parts and are exploring beyond the minimum. These are the times when bravado and control really allow a show to evolve – take some chances – and things happen. The fresh and improved guitar sounds they’re dialling in really help, and Roger’s voice is seemingly better than before the break. It’s still the talk of the evening after any show – the audience is just stunned at Roger’s control and use of his voice now. He’s having fun, a lot of laughs, too, and it’s very infectious onstage.

I have a quick break during ‘Wont Get Fooled Again’ (as it’s just Rog and Pete) to run backstage to pack something before the busy load-out afterward. I see a Bowl worker in the hallway watching the show on the screens backstage. The guy looks like a Stage Union local who’s been to hundreds of shows here. I ask him how it seems? He said he was just blown away by it – how Pete and Rog “are not phoning it in” and how hard they are working to make the show great. I suppose he sees a lot of people doing fine shows with the usual star behavior, not the steam-engine pull of the current Who in concert. And yes, the version of the duo tonight is spectacular; you can hear the crowd gasp as Pete ultra-strums his guitar parts in a frenzy. Again, this is a song not many expected to hear this way, and it’s so substantial, and familiar-yet-new. It’s the kind of chance you don’t know if it will work, but they are making it grow every day – and a true highlight.

Pete tosses out a special story from his young days. He says he once sold an old car with his father, and driving back they spotted an old boat. His father suggested they buy it with the money from the car sale, and did. They would run it up and down the River Thames in London. He asked his father why people on the banks looked so jealous of them as they sailed by? “It’s because we have tea” his father replied. “It wasn’t tea!” Pete proclaims.

Our man on the lights is Tom Kenny, and the Bowl is glowing with rings of color, shadow and shape. It looks tremendous from the front. Yet another element that make these shows stand out from “the usual.”

During one number, we can suddenly hear Pete yelling some obscenities to someone right in the front. Confusion, on our part, as we see some kind of struggle happening right in front, with fans and security pushing and pulling. As the song stopped, Pete explains. He was trying to get the over-zealous security people to back off. Evidently some fans in the front were getting a little too rowdy, but Pete realized they weren’t in danger, or causing any. “I know you’re trying to do your job, but it’s making things worse! It’s cool, man . . .” and with that, the Bowl people backed off. Then, just for a joke, Pete waved towards the uber-fans in the front row; “No! I was telling YOU guys to f*ck off!!!”

Loren works out his ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ intro for tonight’s show

‘The Real Me’ has extra punch tonight, as does most of the Quadrophenia music. One thing about L.A. – there are millions of music nuts here, professional or otherwise – and they seem to love Quadrophenia! Loren plays one of his best piano-solo introductions tonight, an original composition he’s created just for today. I recall years ago, our man ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick forgot what to play on ‘Love Reign O’er me’, so he made something up! Pete came over afterward and said “That was beautiful! Next time, play it RIGHT!” When we had John Corey on keyboards, he’d decided to use his days preparing a fresh start each night, and took the show in a new direction. As Roger and Pete both love newness and challenges, it became a fixture in the show, and now with Loren on the sole key position, it’s his bag to do something every night.

Billy Nicholls with Mick Fleetwood

Zak Starkey and Chad Smith backstage

We MAY be seeing the best show of the tour tonight . . . It’s not quite what I’d call a magic show; those are the incredible nights when almost everything happens better than could be expected. Though there are only one (or maybe two) in a year, I can think of just a few – the famous 9-11 Concert, a show at MSG in 2004, the sweltering hot night in Paris (the show just after the Hyde Park was filmed,) and a private event for a video game company at the Orpheum Theater in downtown Los Angeles. Tonight is really fun and solid, many parts exceed what was hoped-for and the feedback/response from the crowd drove the band higher, as it should.

Both Roger and Pete really seemed to enjoy themselves. That’s a good sign and we’re all taken along with it when they are. We know that many people would rather just see an “old Who show” of hits and stripped down band (because that is always so good, yeah) but this is fresh and exciting to hear, and has kept everyone awake and interested in the tour. It’s a challenge to get this right, and the struggle is worth it for some moments of spectacular beauty and newness.

In a town unfairly known for artifice and image, there was a real appreciation for a band that plays hard, with honesty and with a real, actual, performing orchestra! (We’ve been told others are using an orchestra onstage but using pre-recorded tracks for the actual live sound! That wouldn’t work for us – we have these unplanned moments and long endings that need to be truly live and reactions to what is happening onstage.) There weren’t 1,000 guests hanging around backstage, and Pete and Rog even came to an afterparty area for quite a while, something they almost never do. And so – a big win, a lovely evening for 18,000 old and new fans. And there is more to come!


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
The Kids Are Alright
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

And here’s a little bonus from the Hollywood Bowl . . . a short video with Pete’s guitar tech, Simon Law in which he demonstrates how he re-strings and tunes up Pete’s Gibson SJ-200 (No.1) acoustic guitar for each show. Filmed by our tour photographer William Snyder.