Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Pittsburgh, PA: May 30, 2019

PPG Paints Arena, Philadelphia

A high note.

As in “going out on a . . .”

After the last show, where we saw a very strong night in Detroit, things are feeling pretty good. This arena – where we’ve been many times before under different names – is similar, and very good-sounding. It’s not too boomy, and the sound seems conducive to “taking off.” It’s hard to quantify, but certain places just have it, and others may be a struggle. Aside from a tendency for the orchestra microphones to feedback here, it’s good. Roger asked sound man Robert Collins to make sure he got rid of the annoying feedback before the show tonight. “Of course, I will” Robert assured him. “Promise!?” Roger joked back, hopefully.

To further illustrate this fine room sound, Roger declared “This is my best sound onstage yet this tour” during soundcheck. A good sign. The band looked at some things they hope to add to future shows – promising new things. Yet not much was really done; they listened, thought and prepared for music to be launched sometime later. Newness is good – we know the “old stuff” is reliable, but a fresh start is always promising.

The show tonight starts with a simple “Hey!” from Pete, then launches into the ‘Overture’ from Tommy. As with last show, Pete changed to acoustic midway to jam with Simon – and the change seems to be a solid improvement, and probably will stay. During ‘Sparks’, everyone got lost for a moment, and it was headed for a “train-wreck.” Some clever drum fills from Zak Starkey telegraphed the location of the coming changes to everyone – and then they locked in together again. Good teamwork.

Pete recalled to the crowd that they had been here for for their 25th Anniversary tour, and the city was rougher, then in a state of decline. He did say he’d been to some cool bars that trip, and saw people getting wild – “You have to go low to get high” sometimes. The Who band were strong right from the get-go, and the orchestra played nicely in tune and in sync as well. It was turning out to be one of our good nights – as strong or stronger already than Detroit. And for the rest of the night, the performance seemed to be running on greased rails; it was together, intense, and powerful. Good shows are a self-feeding thing; they tend to hold together and the positive feelings reinforce more good stuff happening.

Our sound onstage is quite different this tour: If I use the video camera Pete gave me anywhere onstage, it picks up various things – but not necessarily a good audio “mix” of what you want to hear. You might get no bass or drums, or maybe too much vocal and no guitar. I’m not free to wander the space as we have a lot do to onstage now (Audience-perspective videos – which have a balanced mix – are just what you get on YouTube by the dozens.) As I mentioned in a previous post, it might be useful to get creative: Tonight, I tried to find a spot onstage that would pick up the one thing that sounds good loudest – the lead guitar. (You can also hear Roger’s voice pretty well in this clip – and bits of the orchestra coming through.) So here is a dog’s eye view of the front of stage as Pete and Roger pull off a storming version of ‘Who Are You’ tonight. From this unusual vantage point you get a clear example of how much is improvised over the basic framework of the song.

The orchestra left a little earlier than usual, as we did not have ‘Join Together’ tonight. It was explained that this tour was a way to “try some stuff.” It’s very different on a solo tour (Roger or Pete’s) in the past where they’d done this type of experiment, but it’s one thing to do it on a real Who tour. The expectation is different, and they knew it was a challenge, but it has definitely been a success and enjoyable to hit the hoped-for target.

‘You Better You Bet’ was back in the set, then ‘Substitute’ and ‘I Can See For Miles’, each played with a good amount of abandon and enjoyment.

During ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, Pete mentioned how good and different it was to have women on the tour. Besides the local orchestras, we have the great musicians Katie and Audrey as featured on that tune. “And Binky on the tea!!!” Roger added. Binky is Clive Brinkworth – our Stage Right guitar man for well over a decade. He’s got a life of experience doing guitars and keyboards for everyone (Jimmy Page, The Cure, Talking Heads, etc) Now he’s also our tea master – you’ve got to have someone with those skills with an English band, or the show would not go on!

Pete answered that he’d probably like a glass of Remy Martin instead – referring to old habits not seen in a while. “You’d probably like it if I got pissed (drunk) wouldn’t you? Especially those down in front. They are always the same. WE’RE always the same – so straight to the lunatic asylum!” No, Roger countered, “They’re here waiting for us to die onstage. So they can say “We were THERE!”

Rog and Pete (still alive) launched into ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’. It will be entertaining to watch back over all these versions and compare – each is different to the next. Same for ‘Tea and Theatre’ which is a bit more stable in structure, but also changes freshly each night. This was the longest ‘T&T’ I think we’ve heard yet. Though the song is about two people left after others have gone, it’s not autobiographical about RD and PT. It’s just a story-song from a larger piece, but the sentiment matches perfectly to how these two are onstage together after all these years. As Roger said a few shows back “He’s been my mate (friend) for 60 YEARS now!” In closing tonight, Roger states that he’s aware how lucky he is – to have been able to work with this composer who wrote such astounding music.

‘I’m One’, possibly the key piece from Quadrophenia is made more beautiful each night by the subtleties: Simon Townshend is playing some arching slow fades on his guitar, hauntong in-and-out notes, while Roger does a nice mournful harmonica counterpart. Beautiful stuff, and tastefully done. Also from the Quad set, ‘5:15’ was again strong, that’s two good performances of it in a row; it may have finally found its footing. Pete explains that the kid, Jimmy, has gone down to the beach: The sea “means more to him than all the people he knows.” Pete compares this to the people gathered here tonight, a sea of people who he says are “all one” in a way. “If you are who I think you are – then I love you.” He continues to say “I don’t know how that happened, because I spent so many years hating you – but I love you!!!” Confusing, yeah, but sort of rings true – love/hate.

Speaking of love; ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ was the usual standout, with Roger really able to hit it full-force with good results. The audience was fully along for the ride, adapting to the new sound like they’d had it forever. Then they quickly into a thundering ‘Baba O’Riley’. This had an ULTRA-long ending, where Pete sustained the final chord, with orchestra and conductor and band watching for his final jump. It seemed an eternity, even though only a few more seconds then usual, but it was quite funny as well.

PS – Thanks to William Snyder for the stunning photos of tonight’s show!

Not everyone “gets” The Who – it’s clear that this music, and their mixed messages of love/anger might confuse surface-level listeners. But it seems that these deeper layers are what really makes the Who-world great; it’s funny, sad, angry, powerful, sensitive. Most people end up liking it all. You may come in for the flash-bang concert anthems and unique personalities. But eventually you will get into the softer songs, the demos, live versions (often superior) that give you a lifetime of things to dig into. This tour adds yet a new component, hinted to but never realized until this year.

There is the huge event at Wembley Stadium coming in July – and an extended tour coming up for the Fall. For now, the first leg of the tour is over, so no more Show Reports for now. But like our Rehearsal Reports, we have planned a special blog or two coming soon that will hold you over until July. Watch this space…

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

Without Orchestra
You Better You Bet
I Can See for Miles
Behind Blue Eyes (With string accompaniment)
Won’t Get Fooled Again (Acoustic: Roger & Pete)
Tea & Theatre (Acoustic: Roger & Pete)

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