Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Scotiabank Arena, Toronto, ON, September 3, 2019

Another Tricky Day! Two interesting shows in a row.

Tonight was originally to be the start of this tour leg. It’s a long, long tradition of doing either first or final shows here in Toronto. I don’t know if there is a reason, but one obvious possibility is they are certainly Who-crazy here and that doesn’t hurt. It’s impossible to undervalue the boost from a great audience. And so, Toronto.

Yet today even started strange – without a doubt, the looooongest soundcheck/rehearsal I can remember. Someone had a premonition and warned our talented VIP-group handlers to have their people ready – just in case The Who wandered in early and wanted to make noise onstage. This is exactly what happened, as our scheduled run-though (with the band only) started maybe 15 minutes early, well before the supposed 4:30pm start. The VIP group came in quickly, just in time to catch the first notes of an early-start rehearsal. We schedule a window of 30 minutes to get things ready with the group even before the orchestra come in. And, given that we have another 30 minutes with the orchestra coming up, the band doesn’t want to do most of an hour of playing/singing before the main event…

Since everyone started early, it was about 4:25pm when the band decided they would not need to do any more. So then – it’s still 35 minutes until the orchestra arrive. So various things killed the time – some experiments with guitars and sounds, Pete played some of his solo jazz style (rarely heard onstage, sometimes at soundcheck,) everyone had a chat, and certain songs were discussed, tracks played back, whatever.

It varied between quite interesting and dull, but certainly a full glass of The Real Who. These VIPs won the lottery; it’s always random what will happen at our soundcheck; sometimes one of the “principals” (Rog or Pete) may not be able to show up, and this is in the contract – “at least one” of them must be present, but not both. For most shows, both are here, and we do a few songs through. But today was chat and jokes and jazz guitar and so on . . . Just stuff to watch, a real glimpse which goes beyond the usual onstage Who we are all so used to. I know people value the this band for their honesty, and this was a good dose of how things get done behind-the-scenes. Roger’s amp is below the stage now – to get a vintage-style guitar amp to sound good, they have to be loud, and it was too loud to be right behind his vocal microphone all night. His clever tech Binky Brinkworth moved it below stage where the microphone picks up the sound as usual. So how does Roger hear it? His in-ear monitors. But today Pete called for an adjustment to mix the sound of that amp back onto the stage in a reduced level so HE could hear it too. Simple changes, but it’s how we make each show slightly easier or better than before, always learning, always trying.

Loren Gold has been programming new sounds for the newer songs, always adjusting tones and levels. For one of the new ones, he uses his spare Korg Kronos keyboard (on top of the gorgeous Hammond organ) which can be triggered remotely to add in additional tones.

Pete’s old No. 4 guitar – THE mainstay for decades, had been out of favour, and now has a new neck from the Fender Custom Shop. It was used at the last show for the great ‘5:15’, but Pete was not quite happy with it – turns out it was the piezo bridge pickup going out, a device that is rarely used by other electric guitarists, but gives him a sort of “acoustic” sound on top of his normal electric guitar. The pickup is replaced and the guitar is readied for tonight’s go-round.

Another new thing: Pete had requested a visual metronome onstage, something so he could follow the click track (timing cues) that the conductor Keith and orchestra are hearing. In recent months, we’ve been adding some of the click to Pete’s stage monitor speakers. (In the past mainly Zak used it to time the songs with backing tracks.) The audible click had needed to be quite loud for Pete to follow its timing, so a visual indicator of the beats would be helpful. Over the last few weeks, two outside technicians designed a custom rig for us that drives onstage light boxes (one red, one blue) that signal the beats. The red lamp shows the downbeat (the first beat of each measure) and the blue lamp shows the second, third, and fourth beat of each measure. The system works impeccably, and we’ve placed one box in front of Pete and one behind, so either way he faces, we get the timing flash. It’s a cool idea – not wholly original, but no one has one quite like this – and it seriously helps the show. His timing on guitar parts is better in places where the sound of a click would get “lost,” and it allows us to reduce the click level in the stage speakers, another good use of our time today.

After the long wait, the orchestra joins and another 30 minutes of intense workouts ensue. This is timed as well, and roughly on-course, as the band try to keep it brief.

Showtime: I’d expected a huge roar from this audience, a packed house of superfans. But it wasn’t – they applauded and yelled up front, saving something big for much later. The show starts as usual – you guessed it – the ‘Overture’ from Tommy. It’s always great to see how people react to this first taste of The New Thing; a Who show with an orchestral backing. It’s obvious (for Tommy and Quadrophenia) that it will be a good match, the rest of the show is unknown territory for most.

Again I’m struck by a lesser-known piece of the Tommy set, ‘1921’. Simon Townshend and Billy Nicholl’s voices really ring together on the high “What about the boy, he saw it all?” segments. And the end bit after “I can brave bad weather . . .” is simply sublime and gorgeous. What a beautiful piece of music.

‘Pinball Wizard’ had an usual start, with Simon T handling rhythm guitar coverage and the orchestra doing the main intro. Pete worked on a guitar issue, then waiting until the famous furious strums to join in. Sounded great! It’s small differences like this that make attending more than one Who show a good idea – changes. This is NOT Broadway or a Las Vegas revue, they wouldn’t allow the looseness.

After a rousing ‘Sparks’, Townshend discusses the contractors, people who book and bring in each orchestra “They are called ‘fixers’ – but they don’t fix anything!” True. And then into ‘Who Are You’, the moment the crowd truly wakes up that this is still a classic Who thing. Pete launches into it with a furious pre-windmill, a windup before the chord that is as, or more, exciting than the big chord itself. Nearly, everyone in the room is off their seats. Nearly . . . still some are waiting to give up and join in.

‘Imagine a Man’ is another great moment in the set, one that almost no one would expect. It’s perfect for adding in the orchestral backing, and the slower, mellow tone of it really provide a nice respite from the energy in previous parts of the show. Light and shade are great parts of any show, and this one has it throughout.

As we’d rehearsed so long today, Pete mentions the old band (with John and Keith) never used to rehearse. Well, he says, only a bit before they recorded Tommy and some for Who’s Next. Otherwise, they’d show up after the crowd had arrived, not a long day – and probably good for having that bright energy.

As mentioned now and then, Pete says the orchestral members are incredible; any one of them is “50 times” the musician he is. After he says this, some of the audience boo. They enjoy what he does, no doubt, but technically he is right; they can sight-read nearly anything, have developed technique and control that almost no rock guitarist has ever had (well, very, very few!!) Pete is a very perceptive guy, and he knows the difference. (Likely the orchestra members don’t write classic songs or lyrics everyone on the planet knows, so there!) He also notes they are due a Union break at the moment, so then they will “go out and get drunk and NOT be as good!”

Good old ‘Substitute’ is the first of the band-only segment, and it is TIGHT. Very solid and probably the first time all gears are totally in-synch on the stage tonight. It sounds great, and everyone is fully in the mood now. ‘I Can See For Miles’ is a fairly simple song to play, but they do some jazzier things here, sort of weird experimental stuff – some of it works. Again – always changing, and no two shows are alike, on purpose.

‘The Seeker’ – not many will know this (or will they?) but local supergroup Rush have always played ‘The Seeker’ as often the only cover in their own set. Rush are, without a doubt, the most-successful rock group from Canada (Toronto, really) and have recently retired. Roger asked singer/bassist Geddy Lee to join him in London a few years back to sing ‘The Seeker’ for a Teenage Cancer Trust event. That day, our famous Alan Rogan (RIP) met and befriended Geddy and sold him a few basses for his upcoming instrument book. Tying it all together – the Geddy Lee book features interviews with several legendary bassists, instruments from Entwistle and Rogan – and a section just on Alan Rogan. It’s a beautiful tribute to Alan, and so having ‘The Seeker’ played tonight is a small footnote of connection here. The song ends with a truly wild guitar section, unique. Pete commends the Canadians here tonight, saying it’s nice to play in the only country in the world that “makes any f*cking sense!” He mentions being tempted on the way in, thinking of just staying here . . .

‘The Real Me’ is up – another serious contender for best moment tonight, They have achieved lift-off a few times now, great stuff. Then another great contrast – ‘I’m One’ – so small and pretty in comparison. Hard to believe these two tracks are from the same group, the same mind, the same album – yet they do illustrate different sides of Jimmy’s brain in Quad. I doubt many people realize the dynamic levels this show is bringing, a very natural flow from big to small, like a great film.

‘The Punk and the Godfather’ features some percussive stabbing organ from Loren Gold, who is rarely heard loudly except for those who monitor him so (Pete and I.) Nonetheless, these small bits add up the parts you feel when the song is going right, and this one truly is. More Quad in ‘5:15’ – Simon Townshend’s really playing a great role here, as he cached the main guitar bits from album tracks, leaving Pete free to do whatever the hell he pleases! A good thing.

Loren Gold again begins ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ with a serious intro. This time, snippets of various Canadian pieces float in and out, I caught some of Gordon Lightfoot and Rush in there, did anyone else? The song itself follows, and is the biggest moment of the night. This IS the time when the big roar happened, finally, and well-deserved. Standing ovation up the rafters, too. Solid walls of sound.

Roger’s pushed himself hard today. After that long rehearsal, then the show, he’s losing the edges of his voice. We finish with ‘Baba O’Riley’, but he’s not about to hang about and joke tonight, time for a few days’ rest! Pete grabs the moment before leaving himself, and yells “He was about to say BE LUCKY! BE F*ING LUCKY!” and then exits, too. We’ve all earned a break now.


In the audience tonight, Danielle Grattage who was, for many years, our friend Tom Wright’s photographic assistant. Good to see her.

All photographs © William Snyder

Tonight’s Set List

With Orchestra
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Eminence Front
Imagine a Man
Hero Ground Zero

Band Only
I Can See for Miles
The Seeker
Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic; Roger & Pete only)
Behind Blue Eyes

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