Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: MSG, New York, NY, May 13, 2019 Part I

Madison Square Garden, NYC

“And we’ve got to get ourselves back to the garden…”

Madison Square Garden!!

Part One: I have too much film and photos to add, so will make this epic event into a two-part blog)

The old Madison Square Garden has been calling itself “The World’s Most-Famous Arena” for some time now. Tough to argue, and it is certainly a sort of spiritual home for The Who. They have played more shows here than anywhere in the world.

This will be the 33rd show (I think one benefit event in the basement may/may-not count toward this…) The next-most-frequent existing venue for Who shows would be the venerable Royal Albert Hall in London, where about 2/3 as many shows have been done.

There is something about New Yorkers and The Who; it’s home of many good people, true music fans, and discerning ones at that – they HAVE seen it all.

The earliest American shows were here, the first roots into this large territory were set here when the band were on “package bills” of the mid-’60s, sharing the stage with a number of other acts, mainly for teenagers. Each group did a short set, then repeated the entire show several times a day. These shows lasted several days, but still – not as many performances as here at MSG.

Their early shows led up to many stellar shows, with the importance and visibility of the venue already bringing some pressure and focus; NYC shows are always good, and often the great ones. The significance of the post/9-11 Concert for New York City put the bands approach in sharp contrast above those on the show that day. It was the meaningful moment, when tearful firefighters, families etc got to let loose and express all their feelings; the classic release audiences hope to get, bands hope to generate – a perfect music = heart moment. Many people claim it was THE greatest moment in the history of the building; very possible.

Not so long after, the 12/12/12 event for Hurricane Sandy Relief: McCartney, The Stones, Clapton, Roger Waters, Billy Joel, semi-Nirvana reunion. A lot of powerful people. I remember promoter Harvey Goldsmith coming up to Pete and Roger, waiting at the side of the stage. “This is it – this is the set I’ve been waiting for . . .” He knew it would be the best of the night, this match between an expectant large audience and this powerful live band/experience. It was indeed a stunning performance, further cementing the connection and meaningfulness of this arena for the band.

Things have changed, though; I heard about six sold-out shows in the 1996 here. I remember around 2004 doing four nights here, all sold out quickly. The next tour, only two shows – not sold out? I asked the promoter then, and he clarified that tickets now cost more, so they were all making as much money, and it left the venue available to book more shows. And so it has continued – with prices up to real market value forever (if it wasn’t the “right price,” the place would be empty.) In a way, all they did was realize the scalper’s prices were the real “asking price” value for a good seat, anywhere, and took away the middle-man. Sure the bands do benefit as well – everyone’s cut has gone up. But so do the costs of a show – especially one like ours, likely the most-expensive Who tour ever done. So far, it’s looking like the investment is worth it; something new, exciting, and good!

Investment – if I told you how much we PAID OUT to be here tonight, you would not believe it! Our costs to play here one night were probably 3-5 times what a major touring act might earn in a night, or more. The costs of Union labor, the staging, rentals, hotels, cars, food services, etc etc – it’s all more pricey here, extremely so. Many bands never play MSG as the intrinsic cost is so high. But – this band just has to play here. It’s home.

Outside the lighted marquee sign says “SOLD OUT” – as expected. The pressure is on. Our team of workers has a harder, longer day than ever on this tour. We start maybe 4-5 hours earlier than a normal Who show, setting up. Everything must be pushed back because (a) we have more people onstage, expanding from six or seven to well over 50. (b) We have to be ready for the band AND orchestra by mid-day, so the orchestra rehearsal can happen. It’s a loooong day everyday, no exceptions. We start earlier and end later. The work is roughly the same level of intensity as normal, just more and more of it, with things “in the way” and many facets to consider each moment. And the loading situation at this building is much more difficult than any other, the trucks are five floors below the stage level and dozens of forklift runs are needed just to bring any equipment case up to our reach.

On the people side – we can see the guest-list growing over the last few weeks, just countless friends, family, business-associates, etc etc coming in, trying to score tickets and/or some kind of pass. This is tough enough on a normal day, but in a city like this, where bigger names are coming, bigger demands are made – it’s a lot to cover.

The MSG people are staging their own film history, and have requests to get interviews from various people, some of which is done tonight. It’s tough to say no, especially to this fine place, but it’s also probably the most intense day of performance on the whole tour, with tons of hangers-on. Hard to make a day of interviews go well, but it did. Looking forward to seeing that film . . .

Fans filed in to find our new slide-show running. It was a simple affair to create something new for the two side-screens. It’s a mixture of known (album covers, famous photos) and unknown (unreleased pix, behind-scenes photos) that would keep any Who fan entertained for an hour or two. Some are funny, some poignant, some honoring people in the long history, it’s pretty cool stuff and adds excitement to what is coming.

Sonically, MSG is a good-sounding room. Soundcheck went well, although some struggle trying to work out the ending of the Tommy set. Even with several run-through’s it wasn’t nailed down; it’s hard to slow down the tempo with 50+ musicians all trying to synch up together.

We’re also blessed to have a similar lighting rig to our – already mounted in the roof area. So we’re allowed (at no small cost!!) to add in their lights and a technician. These add a beautiful spatial change to our show – the rotunda area tracks the lights around the stage, copying their colors and sequences, which is stunning in places like ‘Eminence Front’ and ‘Baba O’Riley’ tonight. Congrats to our lighting team, Tom Kenny and Jim Mustapha for spotting this option and making the arena into a spaceship, for tonight only!

Opening act Leslie Mendelson, with guitarist Steve McEwan, have already been common names to this blog. Leslie is a discovery of Roger’s, and gives us a great voice, songs, and sound – without taking a lot of effort for us to set up, a welcome break on a busy day.

Half an hour after her well-received set, the lights went out, and the cheers went up. The band came out, soon followed by Pete and Roger. An army of photographers fills “the pit” between audience and stage (they can stay for the first 3 songs only  . . .)

This is the backstory – the big framework for a big show! Next, on to Part Two of the blog, and the show details. It was a Good One, with lots of juicy details to mention… stay tuned!

Onward . . .

(PS: Some great photos here from William Snyder!)

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
I Can See for Miles (tour debut)
Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic, Roger and Pete only)
Behind Blue Eyes
Tea & Theatre (acoustic, 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