Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Philadelphia, PA, May 25, 2019

Citizens Bank Park, Philadelphia

A big Backstage Blog today – for a big event:

A huge stadium – brings back a lot of memories from Who history. Charlton Athletic Football Ground, Shea Stadium (with the Clash), so many more. Most recently, our first foray into South America, and some enormous shows in those football stadiums – with some of the best crowds the band has ever played to. Certainly a peak, and a moment in time that Pete and Roger considered a possible ending. It’s hard to “top” that, and equally hard to go backward, to just playing normal Who shows over and over again as they have done during the decades.

Roger and Pete’s own orchestral experiences in the off-year brought a new option, one that brought serious hope for a NEW future. This tour is it, Moving On! 2019, and we should all be grateful for this opportunity to see them again. It’s very likely that they wouldn’t have toured at all without some sort of reinvention of The Who. It was called “the grand experiment” a few shows ago, and experiments are just that – neither sure nor clear what they will bring. With an open mind, an experimenter hopes to find solutions and answers.

Results have been good – certainly some big HITS and a few misses now and then, too. The nightly process of this, Tommy gets everyone used to the sounds/staging of this orchestral Who. Then a version of some classics with the orchestra continues that thread, a new version of the familiar. Then the orchestra leaves for a while and the band stays for some basic rock fun. Then Roger and Pete take over as a simple duo. Without a doubt, it’s harder for the mind to appreciate something smaller as bigger, but these songs are just that. The rawest elements that make the current Who great are fully exposed – and I think are fully satisfying in these two pieces. This portion has become the unexpected gem of the tour, and certainly opens up new possibilities for different appearances of The TWO in their futures, if they chose to . . .

We move from the band-only set back to the orchestral version to round out the show. The second half is a treat for those who love Quadrophenia (there are so many, I don’t even think it’s considered “an underdog” album anymore.) As ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ moves into ‘Baba O’Riley’ – that one-two punch is about as strong as a closing gets, and two completely diverse sides of what make this band world-class. An emotionally raw ballad matches perfectly with the stadium-rock anthem to balance it. Ah, stadiums . . .

This is Philadelphia’s famous Citizen’s Bank ballpark – the home of the Phillies baseball team. It was ambitious to book this – I’m told about 35,000 seats, so Live Nation deserves credit for seeing the potential and taking a huge risk that the die-hards from this city (and neighboring states like New York, Washington, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware. We know a few people outside of PA came to help fill the seats, as it promises to be a special night of the tour. Opening act Peter Wolf is back for a second time, and he really works it, with a tight band and great songs. No one could be bored, he’s bringing his own stadium performance tonight, too.

A show this big is a drain on performers, but it lifts them up at the same time, too; you can see all the way to the back and top, and they are trying to reach and entertain those people so far away. The yin/yang of it is a good balance; just the sight of those tens of thousands is inspiring, and when they are into it – you really can’t ignore that positive energy.

Tonight starts with an entrance full of promise – we had a good orchestral rehearsal, and the band did well; this sound is better than many places we played, and Pete’s voice has practically returned to normal. They stride on to the big crowd noise, and we’re waiting to see if the show will start with comments? No – not this time, they’re prepped to start with the instrumental drama that presages Tommy.

The opening is good, but with some slop – those timing differences that mean the band, orchestra, drums or singing have detached from each other in timing. When this happens, some of the players can usually forge ahead, guided by Keith Levenson, anchoring the orchestra, or Zak (who has a sense of where things go) or Pete – who is used to leading, not following. Yet it feels tentative, like a mind-game, to match up those parts sliding away from each other a little. Luckily, these pieces are not that long and most have landmarks that let someone know where the others are – and corrections are made on the spot. This happens with or without the orchestra, even with just the band themselves.

The orchestra members are directed to just “stick with the conductor” – which keeps that large mass one unified group. After the ‘Overture’, ‘It’s A Boy’ was similarly sloppy, but all came together for ‘1921’. That’s a simple enough piece, but the ending instrumental chords are literally one of the most-beautiful moments in the whole show (I’ll try to catch this moment for a future blog, the orchestral parts are just incredible here.)

After Tommy ends, the first talk happens – always a welcome moment; no pressure for performing and some newness and fun. Another true highlight of our shows that is not often valued. Rog and Pete thank everyone for coming out, and keeping an open mind to buy tickets to this new venture. Pete is happy to be here, as the “sheds” before had such weird sound for him, and here he could hear the orchestra and himself much better, plus I know he loves the sound of guitar notes bouncing off the distant walls. (It’s a musical effect you will sometimes hear added into their studio recordings, even Live At Leeds, which was in a small room with not much echo.) He thanks those who have seen The Who before and those who may not have ever seen a show – whereas immediately, a set of teenagers grouped together in the front jump and yell, making their presence known! “Teenyboppers!” Pete calls them; happy to see people of their age at their first show.

Our orchestra has a strong low-string section, the basses sound HUGE through this PA system, and the cellists are actually rocking out, swaying and banging heads to the beat at times. In every orchestra, the percussion section is the one to watch; they share instruments, trading back and forth across tuned (xylophone, chimes) and non-pitched instruments (like a drum or cymbal). They also seem to be Who fans (or Moon fans, commonly) and enjoy playing this. It’s fun visually, and the sounds are often the punctuation of the music; a low tympani roll, a bright cymbal crash, etc.

‘Who Are You’ continues the orchestra/band set and those famous power chords are there, augmented by both those low strings and the brass stabs; it’s their version of heavy rock guitar, and it blends well – a notable amount of intensity! One song started rather weakly, and Pete yelled “Hold!” into his microphone, and “Again!” then everyone jumped right back into it. These moments are one of the things I like about this band; they’d prefer things not go wrong, but if they do, it’s not a big deal, they will start over than play something badly.

Before another song, Pete admitted his voice was not yet ideal for singing, saying “I’m gonna croak my way through this one, not that you’ll know the difference.” Roger again suggested the audience sing TO him. Then Pete told the crowd it was going to be “the theme song from Aladdin!” Ah, no – ‘Eminence Front’ was up, and Pete left a little bit more of the singing parts to his guitar, which is fine. A good way to cover, and even the playing during the normal solo parts of the song was more intense and busy than usual. When in doubt, lean towards guitar. In this world, no one minds that at all.

‘Imagine A Man’ was introduced, putting it into perspective that it comes from The Who By Numbers; an album that has received short shrift in live shows over the years. They mentioned it sort of “fell between the cracks” over time, and there is a lot of diversity on it, which may have meant it received less attention than the more-successful ones. No doubt, it’s a fan’s album, with many people calling it their favorite today. The presentation of this one really highlights the beauty of the melody and lyrics, especially the moody violin and cello parts by our featured players.

‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – possibly one of the night’s two best pieces. Again, just performed as a duo, it twists and turns every night, with only a few similarities as milestones within it. Roger and Pete launch into it with open freedom of what they might do each night. Tonight was possibly the most loose and fun version we’ve heard yet.

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
I Can See For Miles
Behind Blue Eyes (with orchestra string section accompaniment)
Won’t Get Fooled Again (Pete and Roger acoustic)
Tea & Theatre (Pete and Roger acoustic)

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