Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Madison Square Garden, New York City, September 1, 2019

Well – one down, and what a way to start… This will be a very difficult show to describe,

Good? Yeah.
Tricky?  Definitely.
Rough?  Even more so.
Entertaining? Absolutely!
Success?  In the end, yes.

This was the first show after a medium-long break in the tour, following our big Wembley Stadium extravaganza. Even after that massive football stadium, MSG is a formidable place. Its reputation is unquestionable, as is The Who’s long history with it. There are so many memories here, for the band, the audience – and those who’ve seen it at home during the 9-11 concert, the 12/12/12/ event, etc.

Re-starting is not that hard, usually. You unpack the old cases from before, add in a few new things acquired on the break, and start to recall your instincts from the last few months. We often begin or restart a tour in a rehearsal hall (or huge warehouse) where all the equipment can be set up and tested first. This gives time for repairs etc. Everyone says hello to their old mates again, and we learn a few new faces and names (they may become lifelong friends OR be gone in four weeks, we never know).

Unusually, our “rehearsal space” this time was Madison Square Garden itself. That’s cool, but a bit of trouble, as all the loading is done with the use of a dozen forklifts driving our cases up five stories to the stage floor. All the Local One stagehands union are old friends and very helpful. They all remember our own Alan Rogan (from his 40 years here) and we remember a few of their fallen comrades. Respect and awareness of the seriousness of each other’s jobs is always present here.

Our first day was a long one, because the Union rules make hourlong breaks a requirement – no concern given if we need to get something done or are in the middle of it – you must stop and walk away. It’s a hurdle that keeps hanging us up until minutes (literally) when the band walk in to soundcheck. Roger has taken the night off – saving himself for the big show day – and Pete and the band work through a few things slightly more than half-heartedly; without the orchestra or Roger, there’s only so much you can adjust and prepare.

After the band leave, we have a bit of time to work on needed fixes until we are told to leave. Again, bookings and Union rules. One must abide. Maybe tomorrow we’ll get it done?

Sunday – show day! We start bright and early and, despite the long day yesterday, there is still much to do. We will have the full orchestra rehearsal, then band rehearsal with Roger, and then both groups together – then the show. It’s a lot to do, but at least most of the setup was in place last night.

Slowly it gets done, all the small details that needed doing and again – just in time. The orchestra files in, tune up, and then start rehearsal. We are fine so far – many of them are from last time, with maybe a few new ones. Then the band, and Roger is in fine form, although getting used to it again takes a bit, always. They start working on sound issues, and Rog mentions his in-ear monitor sound “is a bit woolly?” to Simon Higgs, the best monitor engineer in the biz. Simon starts to adjust instantly (many years training to know and decipher the singer’s suggestions into tech moves.) Pete chimes in helpfully “Maybe add 4000 decibels at 5k?” (boost the treble UP an insane amount!)

Roger says “Yeah! Maybe 5000 dBs!!”

(Later during the show, Roger expounds: “I remember when I used to have hearing. I call this the John Entwistle ear” – as he points to his right. “When these (ear monitors) are out, it sounds like ‘mumble-mumble-mumble’ [imitates John’s deep voice] . . . it sounds like HE’s in there!”)

About this time, the VIPs wander in – it’s a big place so it takes some time, and they are a big group – double or more of what we usually have. This show sold out long ago, being in such high demand. Besides being in NY (the Tri-State area, really) and the good reviews of the orchestral tour – so many people want to go.

This soundcheck is indeed a reward for this VIP group. They got their money’s worth, with one of the longest tests we’ve done, some serious discussion, guitar experiments, jokes – and even some yelling. It’s all here, with much to spare. If you bought a ticket for this one, you were rewarded! We had some real troubles and band discussions, the things you don’t expect (and never see during a show) so although it was a rocky rehearsal, there was much done, and a lot of behind-the-scenes personality being shown. I do think people enjoy a bit of conflict and struggle, as long as it comes out OK in the end.

One of the keys of a rehearsal is to not play a full show or entertain; the rehearsal is to get closer to what we hope to do during the show, without maybe actually doing it. If that makes sense? It’s the slight directional changes to make tonight’s (and subsequent shows) more solid. Or so it is hoped.

There is an industry saying ‘bad rehearsal = great show’ OR ‘great rehearsal = bad show’. So – this untidy run-through may likely mean a great show. Talking with one of our crew, he said “You know, it still doesn’t feel like we’re back on tour, like a show is gonna happen.” I agree, and know what he meant. So much upward climbing, for some reason. But as soon as the lights go out, it happens!

The crowd is loud – as expected. This show sold out a while ago, and these are intense fans. They are happy to be here and know it’s a special night. The show starts as expected, the Tommy segment, very comfortable territory for the band and the fans. Tonight’s show is a return event, not planned when the tour was booked, but they loved playing here so much, it deserved another. This was tagged onto the front of this tour leg, and will be a show where the proceeds can assist charity and other deserving parties. Nice.

One highlight is the NY debut of a new song: Pete introduced it by dedicating it to someone who obviously has made an impact, Robert Blacker. A dramaturg is a person who works over the script of a musical (Broadway, West End) to bring out the best, to make it solid and appeal more universally. They are usually tough critics, and Bob Blacker had done the same for the Des McAnuff Broadway version of Tommy. He’s worked on over a hundred theatrical pieces, but was mentioned tonight as he’d suddenly passed away a day ago. More significantly, he was the one who said Tommy was a “hero, ground-zero” to Pete, and this became the title of the new song. Sad, but apropos to have that passing happen just before this debut here tonight. Here are some of Robert Blacker’s achievements.

We had a few LOUD noises erupt during the show – and all sound men scramble to find and cure the culprit(s) – one is too many during a professional show, and yet we had a few. Not fun, but no way to know when it’s coming. As these are often short bursts from a bad cable or connection, it’s so hard to catch it until it’s already too obvious to everyone. Luckily, it’s a rare event. Tonight, it was just our luck to have several.

Just before ‘Eminence Front’ Pete seemed to have lost his voice. The change was sudden and notable. He asked for a lozenge, was supplied with several, and proceeded to jump into his first big vocal of the night. It worked, barely, but the result was the guitar work had an extra fury – which more than made up for the limited voice.

Another new one for NYC; original called ‘Guantanamo’, then changed to ‘Big Cigars’ (yet Roger has felt ‘Ball and Chain’ will be a better title; we shall see.) Knowing how audiences usually feel about “new songs” he threatens them up-front: If he sees anyone now standing sit down they will be thrown out! That’s a unique concept – and it certainly doesn’t help a new song when the energy of the crowd drops as people sit! This song is a strong one, with a very powerful build toward the end. I can tell Roger loves this one, as he really digs into it. Alongside the band parts, there is full orchestra (and there will be on the album) plus a custom PT ambient bed track of cycling audio textures, a la ‘Baba O’Riley’, but much more complex and layered. It goes well – can’t wait to hear this record! (Coming the middle of November, they say!)

‘The Real Me’ leaps out, and the audience responds immediately. Quadrophenia has begun! Both Zak and Jon Button are storming through it, playing as if it were their 50th show of the week. At some point, though, a few extra bars of music happened, and the song was “late” compared to the orchestral score music. Keith Levenson held the orchestra momentarily with hand gestures – never an easy or desired moment – then released them at the appropriate time to catch up to the music. Tricky, but it saved the moment and the song ended without a train-wreck of clashing parts. Well done, Keith!

Pete does a lovely ‘I’m One’ and his voice is back, or nearly all of it! It’s possibly the key piece of meaning among the Quadrophenia lyrics. So much in there that it’s great to have it selected from among many brilliant songs on that record. Another weird moment happened as he did not recall the lyric of the end verse, and after a significant time waiting for it to come, Simon suggested the “I’ve got a Gibson without a case” line – and Pete connected the rest. (One of Pete’s acoustic guitars just re-appeared after many years “lost” in a storage unit; a vintage 1965 Gibson J200 acoustic – from the Matt Umanov guitar store in NYC and with a case! – and it was sitting on the side of the stage for part of the day today. A nice find.)

‘5:15’ has been a trouble spot on the last leg of the tour. I recall our last MSG show being a particularly good one, though – one of the few that soared a bit. Tonight, it was stunning. The band and orchestra locked, Roger was full-bore, and the band jam section toward the end was just incredible. Pete was furiously burning and then . . .

After the song, he told everyone he’d ripped a fingernail up on his right hand. An awful thing for anyone, and there was a pause of a few minutes while the crew struggled to find the right solution for it. Pete noted that it didn’t really hurt now, but later on when he’s trying to sleep, it still pounds in pain and goes “ping ping ping” – throbbing. Ouch! But I think it was a highlight that we hope not to repeat.

Man, this whole show is intense!

‘Drowned’ followed – sadly, a fingerpicking acoustic guitar song, but it came off well with a little adjustment for the damaged finger. ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ starts with a big keyboard solo, and tonight Loren Gold did some stunning (really notably so) sort of blues/rock piano stuff. Among the bits was a quote of Billy Joel’s ‘New York State of Mind’, which many in the crowd just loved. (Billy is the #1 performer to play and sell-out shows at MSG. Until we beat him someday!) ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ – great as always, and a showstopper.

Just after, Roger wanted to push ahead quickly, although Pete usually introduces the band here (it’s easier here before ‘the big finish’ than after. This is my call though – as I have to push the button to start ‘Baba O’Riley’ and cut off Pete. But Roger was very insistent and ‘Baba’ began right away . . . huge, epic. It roared – always does!

Once again, our lighting guys had tied ALL the building lighting into our own, which made the entire room glow and flash depending on the stage lights. It’s an incredible effect, as the whole space becomes tied together. I’m sure it’s most noticeable from either end – either the stage or the far seats – who get the best view of the whole room. It was like being in a giant spaceship that was rocking to our music.

Well, towards the end, Pete had offered an apology of sorts: “I sincerely wish we were in better form tonight, we’re struggling. But there is so much love coming at us . . .” Honesty of this kind is rare, but welcome to this crowd. I think they love the reality of it more than any slick show. It’s real – no doubt. Roger had some issues with hearing things properly – but at least no one was smoking pot! This show was really rough, but the band were pulling as hard as possible to make it great, and the effort was noted. Flawless, no. But highlights abounded, and both Rog and Pete were stronger than many of the good shows from before – a great sign for this coming leg!!

We had the cream of the cream out from NYC for this show, the intense fans, celebrities, sports stars etc. The Garden people are a class act, from owner/musician Jim Dolan (his own band plays ‘Baba O’Riley’), Darren Pfeffer and our buddies on the local Union crews – it takes tons of work to do this. Many thanks to their team for this big show, so many people help make it a blast every year. Maybe we’ll get to do more and more here – wouldn’t mind it!


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 Seeker
You Better You Bet
Won’t Get Fooled Again (Roger and Pete, acoustic)
Behind Blue Eyes

With Orchestra
Big Cigars / Guantanamo / Ball and Chain
The Real Me
I’m One
The Punk and the Godfather
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me 
(with ‘New York State Of Mind’ intro)
Baba O’Riley