Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: MSG, Nashville, TN, May 16, 2019

Bridgestone Arena, Nashville

It does feel like the struggle is over. With the MSG show “out of the way” and being quite successful, this team have earned some fun. What a better place to do it than . . .  Nashville, Tennessee!

Not a place one’s mind connects with The Who, but there is a strong connection here. So many shows over the years, plus Roger’s show at the Ryman was epic (he told me it was his best show EVER, including Who shows.) Pete loves the town, the music, the history, the guitars – you may recall him recording here, calling in local musicians for their flavor and technique. There certainly is a fascination among English musicians for American music and style; the same for Americans who love The Who, The Beatles, Stones, etc. And almost no city I can think of resounds with more Americana than Nashville.

We did a little shuffling tonight; the orchestra’s three string-basses have been moved away from the conductor’s podium to put them right against the cello section. We’ve had serious problems since our first show; the sight lines for the two monitor engineers and myself (doing playback) were almost completely obscured by those three big basses, and those sight lines are critical for a good show. It’s how Roger cues Simon Higgs to adjust his balances, how Pete gets Trevor Waite to balance out his stage sound, and how I see when people are ready so I can start a backing track like ‘Eminence Front’. Moving the basses made sense and didn’t seem to cause any new problems – and it made for a better night for us all.

This arena is a very familiar spot, with a tall roof – which often makes a more-pleasant sound. Pete even mentioned so during the show. The evening is warm and balmy, not bad for a night-out event. And the crowd are friendly right out of the box – most of them standing from the get-go, something we’ve not yet seen on this tour. That’s encouraging!

Pete told everyone it was a pleasure to play here, even more of a pleasure to be back in Nashville, then laughed, saying that it was likely everyone in the audience here was a better guitarist than he! Pete mentioned how he’d just been telling his wife (an orchestral arranger herself) that they always see only men playing French horn. And yet here we had three of the four being women!

The Tommy set wound up with an extra-long ‘Listening To You’ finish tonight, but it all ended nicely and together, something that has been eluding everyone ’til now; it’s one of the spots most-discussed and difficult to align, as it’s a “feel” thing – which is so easy to do with a rock band, but not with an orchestra following along.

During the show, I’m busier than on previous tours, so I have limited options for shooting creative photos, but a good balance is happening so far. Tonight, I did get to notice how the two video screens really do enhance the show you’re seeing. Obviously, many people rely on them now – one huge improvement from the “golden old days” everyone wishes were back; we’re used to YouTube and other concert videos, making us feel as if we were all sitting third row with good audio. The reality was often different.

Our main men on video (M&M = Mathieu Coutu and Mathieu Giroux) have been with us for years. They are controlling the shots you see, plus when and for how long. They know The Who show inside/out, as well as anyone, and are directing live cameramen as well as fixed cameras and “robocams” (remotely-controlled robotic cameras) to pick up “the best of the best” moments at any given time. It’s an art meeting technology, for sure, with timing as critical as any musician’s moment. As I said, they enhance the show, as I’m seeing them bring out small details and musical moments that are better than any ONE seat could ever get; Zak’s drum fills, Katie’s violin solo, Roger’s mic swinging – the best stuff. All the shows are captured for posterity – and have been for years. So maybe someday, their work and the sound recordings will allow us all to experience the most-incredible Who moments from recent years. (Plus, there could be a reel just for the comedy!)

‘Imagine a Man’ – I believe – was the best tonight. The room and skilful orchestra brought out the most of it. Roger also mentioned the contrast between our last NY show (about 50 degrees, it felt like) and here with a summery 80-degrees going. (Note that he uses the traditional American Fahrenheit scale that this audience would understand! Clever, as many English people don’t.)

I missed a BIG moment tonight. Hoping to get even a little video of the show tonight (I did) I wandered out to catch some of ‘Join Together’ from the front. In doing so, I missed Pete jumping about during the long intro, and at one point, he fell over completely backward, end over end – and I’m told smacked the guitar pretty hard as well. He popped up dazed, but functional – and you’ll see the rest in the video. Afterward, he mentioned he’d been doing his best Mick Jagger impersonation. He talked about making fun of The Stones (Roger said “they do to us!”) but how he knows Mick well and loves him. Yet Mick still gets out and does That Thing so much. Pete also mentioned that people used to come to Who shows and bet on who might drop dead onstage! “Could be tonight!!” – after that fall, he may know something . . . it was not subtle.

He also mentioned he does things like that onstage, which people may miss. Teasing audience expectations he said “I smashed 14 guitars too, tonight!” And a huge roar went up from the crowd – they want it! (It does happen, but really once in a rare while.

Speaking of guitars – remember last show, when I said ‘5:15’ went great, with expert guitar work and everything cool? Pete had another guitar issue tonight and told his assistant Simon Law that this particular guitar he was playing for a bit should not be brought back again; it’s just not a good one. Anyone want it??? I bet you do. The guitars come and go, with a mainstay (No.4, the red) being the long-haul champion of nearly three decades now. A gold one has seen a lot of activity recently, and others come and go – sometimes breaking down, sometimes falling out of approval. I’m told the main guitar work on the new album is not these modern guitars, but older classics – like Pete’s early ’50s Telecaster, probably one of the first solid electric guitars ever built. Roger loves the early Fenders, too, and plays his very early Telecaster every night on ‘Eminence Front’.

‘You Better You Bet’ popped up for the first time today. Always a crowd favorite, it was a huge hit in America. Roger thought the crowd sang well tonight, and this makes sense in Music City. Pete and Rog had just done The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon – playing ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ with Fallon and the band on toy instruments (have you seen it?) They discussed how Jimmy reminds them of Keith Moon’s boyish charm, and how the version they REALLY enjoy playing is tonight’s: their acoustic duo. It’s another unexpected highlight from this tour.

Lastly, an unexpected change during ‘The Rock’. It was surprising in that I noticed it from watching the audience; suddenly all eyes were glued upward away from the stage, which was different. Then I see the video screens are not showing the stage musicians. Instead, there is a video from previous tours of world events (mostly evil ones) such as 9/11 and Princess Diana’s death. It’s human nature to watch moving and shiny objects – like when you’re in a bar and something is on the TV – your eyes still go to it. So it was a change, and seemed to make the audience disconnect from the show for a bit, and many sat down to watch. But then ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ came along and they were right back in it – likely the highlight moment of every one of these shows has been that song.

I saw a group of young people right by the stage, singing along to every word; they were fans as big as any decade has produced, and they were not even 20-years-old yet. That’s amazing; coming to see this band they’ve obviously discovered in recent years – and have become obsessed with the music and the people, as so many have before. It’s not time-stamped, dated music of a certain generation. Hopefully, they will keep it alive, maybe get to see some more shows, and the best parts of The Who will continue forever. Thank you for a lovely night, Nashville. More to come!

Onward . . .

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
You Better You Bet (Tour Debut)
Won’t Get Fooled Again (Acoustic)
Behind Blue Eyes (With orchestra string section)
Tea & Theatre (Roger and Pete only)

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