Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Noblesville, IN, May 18, 2019

Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center, Noblesville IN

From Nashville to Noblesville. Only about a six-hour distance, and we’re on the level of major groups who no longer do “back to back” shows – most major-level singers don’t put themselves through two nights of hard singing (Roger sings harder than most in their 20s ever will!) So we have a day-off to travel between.

I doubt any former teenagers will be saying “Remember when we went to the Ruoff Home Mortgage Music Center to see . . .? Not a catchy name, this one. This is another “shed” – covered outdoor amphitheater – with a big lawn in back. A classic concert venue for the spring-through-fall big touring season – and we’re right on the front end of that season now. Which brings us to the less-pleasant side of tonight’s show; I’m just going to discuss it and get it out of the way.

We are only the second show here this season. And surrounded by nature, a place like this (a permanent structure here year-round) becomes a haven for wildlife. Not bears and zebras, so much as birds. As soon as we came in, we are “greeted” by the constant screeching of many birds overheard – nesting in the rafters and beams about 50-60 feet overhead. It’s their spring season, too, and nests have hatching and growing offspring. Which is where it gets rather dark; throughout our day of work, we were on constant alert for (a) falling bird faeces, and (b) falling birds themselves.

The first is not fun for anyone, or any equipment – and it’s unavoidable. Soon after setting up, our monitor crew (on Pete’s side of the stage, with two large, expensive mixing consoles) requested a tent be set up over them. We’ve had tents put up over the years, usually from intense sun or rain, of course. It’s the simple pop-up canopy with legs. Good thing they did – within minutes, messy spots were appearing right over them; bird droppings right over their seats and the gear. Not ALL of their space could be covered and there were a few audio pieces that got splattered, too.

Musicians, too – one of our cellists was hit full-on, hair and clothes, and I saw other near misses in the cello section right near us; those are expensive instruments in an orchestra, and this is a hazard not expected in any venue. During Loren Gold’s piano solo for ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, he was nearly hit, as we saw something drop right behind him. And that is just part A, the droppings . . .

Part B is worse; the birds themselves. Sadly, some were chicks or trying-to-fly young ones, but dropping 50-feet they don’t survive, for long. We counted no less than five birds falling and dying onstage during our event here, and we had to do cleanup as well. Some fell and tangled in our curtains/rigging – not a nice part of one’s day. Really – this was a significant problem, and slightly horrifying.

We’re used to the problems of outdoor shows: temperature / humidity / rain / wind, dirt and dust, insects and so on – not fun, but it happens. This was something different and they REALLY need to learn to do something about it – there are various methods to prevent them nesting there, or to get rid of them humanely before the concert season starts. (I can recall two or three other venues that had some bird habitation, but this was far beyond that.) This didn’t halt the show or cause a serious issue, but it’s really a downer – and so mentioned, we’re done with this negativity and on to talking about a great night.

Tonight was a BEAUTIFUL evening, just perfect balmy weather with a superb full moon. This audience was – by far – the most-enjoyable one, standing and rocking out, singing louder than any of the others so far. They seemed to be a Saturday/weekend crowd – all day off to prepare and enjoy, then come in early without stress or rush-hour traffic – and a modern, comfortable space to have a night of music. It’s one of the smaller venues we’re playing on this tour, so all seats were pretty good, and even the far lawn seats were only $20 in some cases, a great price for a night of Who music – plus orchestra – if you didn’t mind sitting that far away. Pete even mentioned it early on; thanks to those who sit all the way in back, and mentioned those who sit in front (paying more) who really do pay for the tour costs to be covered.

This tour is harder work – everyone is doing their bits, from the musicians to the lighting and sound crews; it’s a LOT more work than usual. During soundcheck, the VIPs came in to see the band working-out with the orchestra; a nice sneak-preview of the evening to come. Pete had joked that back when they were “young and wild” their soundcheck used to be “the first 10 songs of the actual show”! – they never really did sound checks properly until a few years ago, now it’s become a ritual.

Good old Tommy was played – no surprise – and they said it was some of Tommy‘s bits, not necessarily the best bits (we’re not telling the story here, so there was even a mention of breaking it apart into individual songs to be played in other parts of the show – but that’s really not as good as combining them into a set.)

When ‘Who Are You’ hit – the audience moved beyond fun into wild mode, and it became more of an “us” feeling than a distinction between stage and audience. Eminence Front has become a great Pete showcase, and tonight started with some spontaneous unaccompanied guitar noodling – this was cool stuff, great to hear, and totally welcome; we formally request more of this!

There is a nightly onstage discussion of the local orchestra – complimentary, and mentioning that they are required “by the rules” to take a 20-minute break. Each night, Rog and Pete get some mileage of that joke; Roger proclaimed he’d NEVER been offered a break, but that they’d earned it many times! Pete once offered everyone in the audience $100 if HE could take a 20-minute break.

And tonight, it went further: Pete mentioned that the 25th Anniversary tour was almost a three-hour show, so they took an intermission during the show, which was “weird.” But then Roger proclaimed, “we’re going to play TEN HOURS tonight” (to huge cheers!) “Serves you F-ing right!!” he said. “Sounds like a solo show,” Pete replied. Then Pete countered with some solo show he’d done at Jones Beach outside NYC, where he played about three and a quarter hours! He talked about Springsteen and those who do that – and how unthinkable it is now. There was talk of the South American shows we did with Guns N Roses; how they loved the guys, but the GnR show was over three hours long (and mostly consisted of Slash guitar solos, they joked.)

Then, with the orchestra filing out for break, Pete said “this is a bit of a change, hope it sounds alright.” Yeah – there is a section of this that is often tricky as we’re not “the usual” Who tour setup. It’s balanced and adjusted for this orchestral run, with everyone giving in a little (or a lot) to make that work.

Our biggest change is the drums – not mentioned much yet, but here are the details: On Roger’s tour, Scott Devours was playing drums, but the volume of a rock drummer was just too much when only feet away from orchestral instruments. So Scott was surrounded in Plexiglas (Perspex in England) shields on all sides, and there was even talk of putting a “roof” of Plexi over the kit, too (which requires an air-conditioner system – a noise issue of its own.) Besides the clunky nature of setting this up, the drummer has to climb in and out, as does his roadie trying to fix a snare drum or cymbal, which makes it nearly unworkable. Besides, it’s not fully clear – the drummer is in a fishbowl of plastic, not a good visual, no matter how you try to hide it. On the good side, the lead vocal microphone (always LOUD in the mix) doesn’t have so much spill of the drum sound into it, so when Roger walks back and forth, it doesn’t change the drum sound when he gets close or far.

For this tour – Zak has arranged an all-electronic drum kit. It LOOKS normal, as it’s a custom-build gold DW drum set. But if you look closely at photos from rehearsals or our other shows, it has black drum heads and black cymbals. Black and gold – a cool look! – but these are actually Roland V-drums and cymbals triggering a set of acoustic drum samples. The sound is fairly accurate – it has dynamics and he can play different parts of the cymbal and get different sounds, just like “real ones.” In our case, we gained a few MAJOR things: controllable volume – we can have his levels adjusted for each other person (like Roger’s in-ear monitors, and Pete’s floor “wedge” speakers.) In addition – no microphones, so our sound guys have a lot less to set up and worry about. Also – no Plexiglas/Perspex. Zak is clearly seen and can talk back/forth to people without needing a microphone. Yes, it’s still different to a real drum set. We now have some benefits, like consistency, control of the sound, and less drum tuning and changing of heads. Zak’s drum technician (Laurie Jenkins) has designed and implemented the setup, and is doing a major job keeping it all working and sounding good. I doubt most people would ever realize these are not “real” drums during a concert, it’s not that obvious. Were we not on an orchestral tour, I have no doubt they’ll go back to the acoustic drum set. It’s nice to be able to take advantage of recent improvements in technology, while keeping a firm foot in what’s good about the past.

‘You Better You Bet’ remained in the usually rotating slot of “new songs” as it went over so well before, and tonight, the same. A huge hit for these people, and Pete’s bouncing feet also showed he was enjoying it a lot. Roger always loves ANY song where the audience sings along, and this crowd loved doing it.

During the middle, someone yelled out for “Heart to Hang Onto” – and Pete countered “What? That’s a SOLO song. That’s a different gig, a different place.” Roger mentioned it’s a great one, though, then Pete added “Let’s play ‘SATISFACTION’!! That’s a great song, too!!!” So good.

The orchestra returned and Quadrophenia started:

One nice surprise, Pete had asked to do ‘Drowned’ on his own – no band, no orchestra. Likely for more freedom, but it really works. It’s another part of the light/dark that The Who does so well, the contrasts between big and small, power and intimacy. We will see if it stays, but it’s good.

As has been the case, ‘5:15’ had guitar “issues” – nothing specifically wrong, just a weaker guitar sound/response that Pete has been trying to improve (remember the rejected guitar from last blog? It was also the guitar from the one time it DID work well, at MSG.) Our current guitar tech Simon Law spent the better part of his day working on a new guitar, specifically set up to make ‘5:15’ better – and it still didn’t fly. Someday – maybe. It’s all a combination of things that makes this one different this year, but it’s such an important song (with great guitar potential) that it is worth the effort.

At the end, Pete was introducing people, and suddenly proclaimed “I think I’ve found my alter ego!” to much confusion. Then he wandered over into the orchestra and sidled up to one thin gentleman with a similar nose and height, posed beside him then kissed the startled man on the cheek – a great, great moment we’re not likely to see again. Yeah, they did look alike! (Sorry, no photo, I was far behind them, but maybe we’ll find one from the video and post it later, if they caught it . . .) [Later] Yep, they did and here he is . . .

Tonight, Roger went on and on at the end, really didn’t want to leave the stage – which is unusual but shows something great: He and Pete were clearly having a nice night, not the pressure or expectancy of MSG or Nashville. No – it was not perfect – but it was a lot of fun tonight. And –

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
Won’t Get Fooled Again (Acoustic, Roger and Pete)
Behind Blue Eyes (With orchestra string section accompaniment)
Tea & Theatre (Roger and Pete only)

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