Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: St Louis, MO, May 23, 2019

Hollywood Casino Amphitheatre, St. Louis

OK! Finally a show without (much) drama. Well, some.

Meet the new shed – same name as the old shed!

But today our “outdoors” show is OK. No birds, no Arctic winds, and very few bugs. Nice weather, actually. And it’s in St Louis, a very pleasant place to be situated. Pete said he loves the great rivers, and even more, the great people here.

Our opening act is The HillBenders, a group of traditional bluegrass players that came across Pete Townshend’s radar as they’ve done Tommy: A Bluegrass Opry! He really loves it. They were different than you’d expect at a Who show, but in the tradition of Bill Graham, you can often mix artist genres and the audience will go along: They loved it, it’s pleasant and fun to listen to.

Soundcheck was interesting today. We found these players to be among the best orchestras we’ve found. Keith even said “Can we take them with us!?” halfway joking. They were good. Makes it easier.

Pete’s throat has gotten worse, he can still talk and sing, but it’s a struggle. Roger’s fine – strong actually – so that will make the show fly no matter what. And the guitar stuff should be easy; except it’s not. Some issues came about with slight – but notable – tuning differences. The orchestra was playing tight and strong, but somehow was sharper than Pete’s guitar – sometimes and yet not always. It was visibly frustrating, and he’s not one to hide momentary feelings, good or bad. Fingers crossed for the show . . .

This crowd was not LOUD, but they were smiling, a lot! It was weird but cool – they seem happy to be here, warm and good sight lines etc. And I’m told the sound was exceptional out there (we can’t really tell.) Quieter is ok, as long as the signs of enjoyment are still visible – it really feeds the band’s willingness to drive things higher.

Pete spoke to the crowd after Tommy, and the rough voice was apparent but he made no specific mention of it at first. Yet, when time came for ‘Eminence Front’, he did mention that it was tough, but “it won’t make a lot of difference” as ‘Eminence Front’ has had a rougher, more textural vocal sound in the recent years. Roger said “YOU can sing to Pete!” to the audience, and some did. There’s something that was pointed out to me years ago and still holds true today; If Roger OR Pete is having a troublesome night, the other holds on strong, carrying the show in any way possible. They will root and support and take energy and attention to themselves to make it easier for the other to get through. Noticing this (as you might, now) it’s very sweet and charming; they really are looking out for each other. And it’s incredibly helpful to the show – one is struggling, and the other makes it positive and brings extra effort to make the audience’s night a full experience.

A nice touch – during the intro to ‘Join Together’, a slide appeared on the big screens, the name and logo of the St Louis Blues’ team, with Stanley Cup written under it – the crowd went crazy! A long half-century of effort is paying off, and they love it being mentioned here. After the song, they chanted! “Let’s go, Blues” mixed with “Let’s go, Who” across the seats. Roger told them it’s just like him in the stands at Arsenal football matches at home, suffering a long time, supporting your team and always hoping: “I wish you luck!”

Roger also mentioned we’d just played a show in the extreme opposite (in the 40s) and yet it was clearly summer here. “I’d forgotten what it was like to sweat!” The other night, he’d mentioned that he and Pete had been mates for 60 years now! (‘Mate’ is, of course, the English version of ‘good friend’) Tonight he asked Pete, “Are you ok, mate?” “I’m exceeding well!” Pete replied. He’d been seen by a doctor or two, who had thought it was not illness maybe so much as overwork of his voice. Although, apart from a few key athletes in this audience, I could out-run any of you f*ckers!” Then he noted, slyly, that this includes anyone who could outrun him.

Pete launched into one with a gruff simple comment; “Here’s one for those of you who are still looking” . . . which led into ‘The Seeker’. The song’s notable in that our longtime sound man Bob Pridden (now retired) says it’s his favorite Who track ever; he was there when it was recorded (or anything from 1966 onward, he was there, too!) It’s also the sole cover song Canadian rock legends Rush would do in their sets, a key holdover from their days as a club band; it has meaning still for many.

Yours truly (me) screwed up royally on the click-track playback during Tommy; As a metronome sound used to keep orchestra, conductor and band synchronized together, the machine must change from song to song in a few seconds between tunes, and I quickly dialed it to ‘Pinball Wizard’ then hit PLAY without noticing it had crept forward one more track – to another song! The click track started ok (luckily it was a similar tempo) but seconds into it, I had to stop it mid-intro as it was wrong and could really screw things up later. No one else knew what was happening, just that their click-track was gone. (We do have some songs without click in the show, so it’s likely to be ok and make it to the end, as you normally do – The Who always forges ahead.) But in this case, despite the screwup, I thought ‘Pinball Wizard’ tonight came out better than any version yet on the tour – for feel. Hmm.

‘Substitute’ was done, it’s always welcome; the early Who is just universally good and cool. Before it started, Roger repeated his concept that one of the really GREAT lines in rock is “I was born with a plastic spoon in my mouth” – for a writer that has birthed some of the ultimate lyrics ever, that’s yet another real gem. Thanks to Rog for pointing that out.

Again, mention of Roger’s coming Tommy live album (next week!) but Pete said that he and others often think the next songs were from an album “a damn sight better” – Quadrophenia. Jon Button is hitting strongly on unique ‘The Real Me’ bass parts, and they are an integral part of the song’s unique power. Loren Gold similarly does a beautiful intro to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, that Pete mentions and thanks him for during band intros later. It’s nice to have the supportive team get some moments in the sun; Zak and Simon are always being seen and heard, but nothing ‘takes away’ from Pete and Rog at all to have them featured alongside expressive musical players.

Pete did his solo singing bits, both on ‘I’m One’ and ‘Drowned’. Before ‘Drowned’, he said “I’ll give it a go, if it doesn’t work, I’ll stop.” Fair enough. I think it was fairly close to what he’d do anyway. Yeah, not exact – and some notes jump around unexpectedly – but he had good control of it and it basically worked well. An enjoyable version, and he thanked the audience for their indulgence. Then I realized he could sound a lot like a reincarnation of John Entwistle doing ‘Summertime Blues’; maybe we should have added ‘Boris the Spider’ to the set – Pete would nail it easily!

Katie Jacoby

Katie Jacoby joined us for Roger’s tour of Tommy; there she handled the sheet music and orchestral setup, but was only performing on the ‘Baba O’Riley’ solo at the end. She’s a monster talent, with classical training and improvisational skills (plus wicked on electronics and hard-rock shredding when needed!) She is now concertmaster (leader of the orchestra) as well as helping us organize the score pages for everyone. Her own ensemble is The Showdown Kids in NYC, playing stunning gypsy-jazz (familiar to those who know Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli tradition) and familiar modern covers in that style. Her favorite parts of the set are ‘Baba O’Riley’ (of course) and the new ‘Eminence Front’ arrangement. Specifically, she thinks the orchestral versions explore the majestic parts of Tommy and especially Quadrophenia – the direction hinted in the original parts and layers. ‘The Rock’ has Tchaikovsky written all over it!” She also has a record coming out under her own name that explores a lot of options available to her violin skills – look on YouTube (besides the hundreds of recent videos of ‘Baba’!) for some great examples.

Audrey Q Snyder

Audrey Q Snyder – our featured cellist – is a Chicago native, who returned home after college to bring her considerable skills back to that major city. Like Katie, she’s helping us organize the large orchestra each day, and then plays onstage to bring The Who show some new dimensions in melody and texture. She’s leader of the cello section – where many of the significant lines (and rhythms) happen during our show. She’s also featured with Katie on the intro to ‘Imagine and Man’ and ‘Behind Blue Eyes’. In her own life, she’s focused on “new music” – the contemporary classical music that pushes boundaries of art and sound (rather than those who choose to play just the “same old” orchestral classical music.) This is challenging music for a player, as the nomenclature and techniques go far beyond what traditional music would do. As she says “It’s changing all the time. Art-music has become extremely diverse, because there is still so much work to be done.” She’s extremely pleased that the field has also opened up to women and people of all races, a very positive sign. She says a good performance of “new music” invites people in, with groove-based or modern versions of familiar tunes, plus adding in pieces more “horny and dense that exposes people to something totally new and different.” Technology also intervenes, as she’s worked with electronic pieces onstage, too; other composer’s scores for electronic parts-plus-cello to be performed live (very much like the 1971 Who performing to their new backing tracks.) She has a project under the name Audrey Q that will feature three cellists and a drummer with recordings to come.

Specifically for tonight on ‘Baba O’Riley’, our dear Katie Jacoby came out to play the final fiddle solo wearing a St Louis Blues jersey! The audience roared and it certainly caught Pete and Roger off-guard, too! A great ending for a great crowd.

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
The Seeker
Behind Blue Eyes
Won’t Get Fooled Again (Acoustic)
Tea & Theatre (Roger & Pete only)

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