Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Hollywood Bowl, Los Angeles, CA, October 24, 2019

Third time’s a charm?

We start, with “deja-vu all over again” as this is the third time in a little over a week that we’re doing this; loading in from scratch and setting up, saying Hi to all the people from the Bowl we know now. We’re also met by David, our “roadie for the day” contest-winner (we didn’t even know there was a contest!) who is given some actual work to do, plus the usual set of guitar picks and the laminated Access pass the crew wears. Always helpful to have another hand, as we’re doing so much work on this tour. And thanks to him for his major contribution to the cause, Teen Cancer America and The Who thank you!

A large Who ad for the Bowl shows covering the whole side of a building on the Strip

Today is another day of Southern California fires. It’s not close to us here, but less than a half-hour away, homes are burning, scary stuff. And the air is dry, for certain. Yet the place is full again, so nice to see so many people here, whether return customers from the first two shows (incredibly well-received) or even those who heard the superb reviews and had to check it out. Whatever reason, it seems likely to be a good evening. The band and their people are comfortable here, it’s almost a “home field advantage” now. Pete’s old friend Joe Walsh is here, a connection going back to the James Gang’s 1969 tour of the UK (resulting in Joe giving Pete his main guitar and amp for Who’s Next and Pete giving Joe a synthesizer he’s used on many tracks.)

Friends catching up and chatting backstage

Zak tries out a new sound backstage with Jon

Pete rehearses a running leap in the afternoon soundcheck

The orchestra is mainly the same people, so things are almost familiar by now, which doesn’t hurt. Roger is already in his best form, precise control and almost effortless motion through his various ranges. Pete is just burning on guitar, some traditional blues-based licks, but in a more rapid Hendrix-y waterfall of notes. Maybe because it’s our last night of the tour, or the space is familiar, but we’re in nearly magic territory already, just partway into Tommy.

‘Listening to You’ – I haven’t mentioned this one too much in the blog. In the past, this would often close shows, as part of an abbreviated Tommy encore, or the end of a longer full performance of the rock-opera. And in those cases, the repeating/climbing chorus really has a special spiritual lift, absolutely stunning in some past years. On this tour, it hasn’t quite functioned that way, maybe because it’s earlier in the show, or the orchestral part takes a bit more listening, who knows? But this version tonight is approaching that level of intensity. We can hear the audience pretty well, they’re singing along and getting up out of their seats almost to the back. It’s a really special moment, and we’re just getting started here. Things are happening.

“We’re not gonna take it . . .” Jon, Roger and Zak

Pete leads us into the next section, explaining “Now we’re going to dig into something . . . more rock and roll, I suppose . . .” Right into ‘Who Are You’. An anthem in sound and function, one of the most unifying of The Who’s concert classics. It’s just one of those ones that everyone “gets.” “We know who you are . . .” Roger chimes in “Especially you lot!” as he points out the faithful fans that are always down front.

I’m noticing our man Scott Williams, who operates the camera right in front of the stage each night (plus about a hundred other things he can do.) He’s only feet away from the action for years and years now. He’s literally got “the best seat in the house” for every Who show, and he gets paid for it! He knows their moves and moods well enough to zoom around and catch whatever is the most-interesting thing onstage at any given moment – and that is a big part of what you see/experience if you watch the screens during the show. What a job!

Taron Egerton meets up with Pete backstage

Before ‘Eminence Front’, Pete discusses things about TV using music, whether in shows or ads, and often taking things out of context. He talks about writing ‘Eminence Front’ down in the swamps of Florida, at the home of his friend, photographer Tom Wright’s father. He notes that it was used in Miami Vice, so the Florida connection is intact, and that the song is about “too much cocaine.” But then “that’s the Elton John story!” On that note, he calls out Taron Egerton, who played Elton in the Rocket Man film and is sitting in front tonight. “He’s here, you can kiss him, and touch his bum if you want.” Then proceeds to do a burning version of ‘Eminence Front’ – taking the usual last verse for stunt-work guitar solos instead of singing; no one minds, it’s exceptional and ought to be encouraged! This song generates the biggest applause yet of the night – it’s really working for them, this new “off the rails” version of things. No one is playing it safe tonight.

‘Imagine a Man’ brings yelps of joy from the hardcores, those fans who always with there were more The Who By Numbers songs in the set! (“You will see the end” brings a note of near-sadness to us all; one of our longtime team [monitor engineer Trevor Waite] is retiring from the road now, staying to work at home in NY from now on. We first met him at a festival in September 2006, where this unknown (to us) guy from a sound company really helped us out. Our crew chief, guitar tech Alan Rogan asked him for his card. Then a while later, we changed sound companies to Eight Day Sound – where Trevor worked. We requested him and he’s been in our own special hell since then!! Seriously, his bright energy and humorous way of complaining gets us through many, many years of difficult moments, and he’s going to be missed. We’ve heard of “Farewell Tours” before, so maybe there will come a day. Roger even came over to try and convince him to stay the other day, a touching moment, but life moves on . . .)

Pete introduces the new one, ‘Hero Ground Zero’, which he says we’ve now played about 30 times “but we’re still learning it.” Not quite – it’s solid. “We’re not sure yet if it’s better live or on record…” Yet with most Who songs, the live version has its own nature, and both are good-to-great. This one has orchestra on the album, so it will be fairly representative.

Roger gives the orchestra players their break “they work a long day here . . .” and then says they will now return to “the little band we used to be.” Pete adds, they are just a tiny band “It’s him and me, me and him!” They both get to recite the great line “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth” tonight. At the end of ‘Substitute’, Pete improvizes an incredible unique cadence of chords, chiming and ringing in an almost church-like resolution after the band has stopped. I’m in awe of these never-before moments that pop out now so often! It pays to see more than one show, for sure.

Hey – I just found it on someone’s video, watch at about 4:30!

Pete mentions that ‘I Can See For Miles’ was finished right here in Hollywood, at Gold Star Studios, one of the legendary locations for so many hit records. When the tidbit of historical fact gets a very small reaction, he chides them “You’re all supposed to say ‘Hooray!’” Roger kids him, “They’re all from San Francisco!” ‘5:15’ is a stormer, even better than the last show, and the jam section is about 50 per cent longer than before – a great sign that things are flowing in guitar world, the fingers are free and working hard. At the ending, Pete simply gives a big “two thumbs up” sign – a wordless gesture that they finally “hit it” on that piece of music for this tour. ‘The Rock’ usually has a big tremolo-bar bend that Pete likes to add to one of the final go-rounds, a low growling note that was never on the original record. Tonight I hear it ROAR into the seats, a sure sign the soundman Robert Collins has anticipated and pushed up the guitar fader a good amount – no one in this room will miss that note!

‘Behind Blue Eyes’ with Katie, Jon, Roger, Zak, Audrey and Pete

As we move through Quadrophenia, it’s great to see the bass workouts that Jon Button gets to do in front of his hometown family and numerous friends. Similarly, Loren Gold’s spotlight piano intro to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ is exceptional; this time he’s taken material from the original record and worked it into a new, but related, piece of music, ‘Love Reign’ brings down the house, as it has every single night of the tour. It’s always been an exceptional song, but we have an orchestral, dramatic version, with soaring guitars on top, and then Roger’s stunning vocals at THE END of a hard two-hour show!!! He should not be able to do what he does, and people are stunned. It’s literally the shining moment of the show, and one of those “I can’t believe it” performances Roger has been bringing over and over – Pete calls it out, as he should. And mentions after 55 years together, Roger is singing as well as he EVER has; Truth.

Ringo Starr, Pete and Joe Walsh, all long-time friends

Pete is introducing the band, and tells everyone that Zak’s dad, one Ringo Starr, is here tonight, Like Taron Egerton, Pete says it’s OK to kiss him and grab his bum, as well! Not likely – there is serious security in those areas to prevent people from bothering Richard Starkey! He’s here to enjoy the show, and I’m told that he and Joe Walsh (brothers-in-law, did you know?) were just ecstatic over Zak’s performance tonight – he was as fiery and productive as Pete and Roger. Pete proclaims the entire tour has been “musically satisfying . . .” Roger thanks Pete, Pete thanks Roger, and our tour of 2019 is done on the highest of notes.

Billy Nicholls, Katie Jacoby, Simon T, Jon Button and Audrey Q Snyder take a well-deserved bow

Third time IS a charm.

It was superb, but really all three of the Bowl shows have been a culmination of many months of work, both of letting go and taking control. I have never seen the crew work so hard – not even close. And the band are forced into an unusual situation, and making a better show of it than anyone (especially themselves!) expected. It’s been a pleasure to see how audiences are reacting to this, and a bit of a struggle to get comfortable, but there are hundreds and hundreds of magical moments and surprises here this year.

The finale of ‘Baba O’Riley’ and the finale of the whole 2019 tour

As I said in the last blog, there may be new openings for The Who after this, and they are not done yet, we hope. At least we have the UK tour, plus a few make-up shows to do in the coming spring months, so why not some more of this?


Your backstage blogger, Brian Kehew chews the fat with Zak

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