Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Rehearsals May 3, 2019

West Palm Beach, Florida

Now that the band has set up and found their basic approach, we bring in lights and staging. The staging provides risers for our musicians and the orchestras, and the lighting and visual set are impressive. It’s still on a similar scale to the shows we play (stage sizes cannot change much) but with more detail and quality than we usually have.

Some may have seen Roger’s tour of Tommy, and our conductor will be Keith Levenson (below, right) for this tour as well. He’s got a long history with Roger (as you can read in previous Backstage Blog reports.) David Campbell (below, left), from Los Angeles, is arranger for most of the new material, in addition to that previous Tommy work. We’re not certain yet exactly what the set will consist of, we do have a high certainly there will be certain expected pieces included.

Pete and Roger are bringing a couple of the deeper gems, rarely-heard (never?) in some cases. Some of these songs also represent those very under-appreciated Who albums rarely seen during live shows of recent decades. Again, no point in talking much about them yet – as our guitar tech Alan Rogan has always said; “In Who World, it will change – then change again – before we get to it.” True words. So we’ll see what songs emerge as the winners by the Tuesday night debut. We’re told there’s too much to deal with, just yet, so other songs may be added as we go through the tour.

This symphonic juggernaut is about to sail, and for some it’s a dream-come-true experience. However, I expect there’s always a strong base of those who just love guitar-only rock. I’m often quoting my friend William’s adage that . . . “there was never a more expressive, powerful, and economical musical design than guitar/bass/drums.” So right. The Who became the archetype of rock trios, circa 1964-79. Later, with the addition of Rabbit on keys in 1979 (or even tapes of the electronic parts since the Who’s Next tour…) the band grew beyond that minimal/powerful start. I can’t imagine hearing ‘Who Are You’ now as just a trio, or ‘Baba O’Riley’ without all those backing parts. The live Tommy in 1969 was amazing, but I also love the LP’s acoustic guitar parts, John’s horns, majestic organ, and the layered voices – parts they could not play live back then. The sound of the band has grown – and they do not like standing still.

It’s a challenge to scale-upward tastefully: Live Quadrophenia was attempted with just the original band in the ’70s, but it didn’t go that well – as the album has such a cinematic sense of dimension. As powerful as that trio was, it didn’t work as well on much of Quad.

The band had been scaled back and forth over time, just never again with only three (plus Roger) Yet without question, we’ve seen some shows as stunning as any band could ever do. Many people have told me seeing our Quadrophenia and More tour live – in full – with all the horns and sound effects and synthesizers and layered guitars – was their life’s highlight concert, even over seeing their vintage Who trio gigs.

On Roger’s direction, the show will also lean backward – away from intense visual content of recent years. No more bouncing pinballs, spinning cards, swimming sharks, or ’60s miniskirts on a mega-screen. The stage will look more simple – “a return to the roots” as Roger called it. The focus will be on the band as players, as singers/musicians, just as it used to be. However, you’ll still be able to see: There will be screens with cameras on the players, as there’s NOTHING more exciting than watching a great musician onstage – or to see someone laugh at a joke. Our new video/camera technology this tour is far advanced from what we had since 2006 (the first tour with video content.) You’ll have views of the musicians from all over.

The stage set has some elegant things to bring out moods, and it’s beyond what this band has had in the past. It will look cooler and more interesting visually, without losing exactly what is good about the band – the rawness, the loudness, the human parts, the wildness – these parts ARE being cared-for. I would hate for anyone to think this is a “sit on the chair” tour of theatre music.

David Campbell has been working specifically to get the orchestra to play like powerful rock musicians. He’s working the sections to get the horns or the strings to function like an electric guitar would – bolder notes, longer, bigger gestures. Sound-mixer Robert Collins has already avoided the pitfall some tours make – to just add a tiny bit of the orchestra (like a keyboard string pad sound) behind the same old rock band. Robert’s dynamically using the orchestra to lead in some parts and follow in others. Pete’s specifically coming on this tour TO PLAY LEAD GUITAR in front of a huge crowd – and not one soul will mind . . .

Yes, the orchestra is a challenge; new timings, lengths, textures, sight-lines, audio feeds. It’s a monster to grapple with, yet it is coming together and promising. I wanted to show you some of our wonderful orchestral friends we met this week: The group is known as The Craig Turley Orchestras; a group of hired musicians in this part of Florida who do various types of contract work for special events. These orchestral players were good and all very workable – about microphones, stage position (we make them sit in usual ways compared to classical symphonies, for our own sonic reasons.)

The Craig Turley musicians played for two full rehearsals before meeting the band – this allowed everyone to sort out their charts, hear the parts before the loud rock instruments stomped in.

Just today, we assembled it all and played together, The Who and full orchestra. It was better than either one on its own, despite the rough bits of timing, following and learning. There will be some standouts highlights, like ‘Eminence Front’ and ‘The Rock’. Every single piece has fascinating elements that reinforce what Roger or the band is doing, adding a new dimension – it’s new, it’s different, it’s good.

Note: Some of this concert will be JUST THE WHO. That’s the only way to play some songs, really. Plus, they have designed a few surprises; small things becoming big, big things becoming small… maybe. So hard to explain because

“In Who World, it will change – then change again – before we get to it.”

Onward . . . see you TUESDAY in Grand Rapids!