Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: T-Mobile Park, Seattle, WA, October 19, 2019

A new venue for us, I think. Of course, they often change the names of places to suit this year’s corporate sponsor, but I think we would have recognized this one. A massive professional baseball stadium, with a motorized sliding roof that can go in our out. In our case, the roof is closed as the days have been rainy, cold, and slightly windy. Ugh. But for some reason, they left the sides of the stadium open? We’d be comfortable and fine had they decided to cover the sides, and instead, we are not comfortable. There is no rain on us, and the wind is minimal, but we’re here for a very long day, essentially outside-but-covered.

The stadium is nice, modern and yet still feels like a vintage park. I asked how many seats there would be tonight (as a stadium can hold different crowds depending on whether you use the field or rear seats.) In our case, there will likely be 17-18,000 people here tonight, many of them drinking coffee; it’s Seattle – the only town I know with TWO Starbucks across the street from each other.

Keeping warm at soundcheck

Load in was slow as it’s such a long distance and lots of care is taken not to damage the infield and grass (they told us stories . . .) We’re all moving a little slowly anyway in the cooler outside air. We’re set up in time, and Keith Levenson says “I’m gonna make this as fast as possible, so we can get out of here” to the assembled orchestra. Still, it will be a good two hours before they can retreat indoors. They do well, generally, and Pete addresses the orchestra as they join the band onstage for a later soundcheck: “I have here a pair of fingerless gloves! I’ll start the bidding at . . .” and everyone laughs. Then he mentions he’s a big fan of the Seattle Symphony and their conductor. Some of those players are here tonight.

What am I bid for these fingerless gloves?

Katie runs through her ‘Baba’ solo at soundcheck

To counter the highly-trained sophisticated musicians, Pete tells the orchestra and watching VIPs that we also have brought  “a local yobbo” (thug) along to counter that; Mr. Eddie Vedder. A great wave of pleased faces and cheers erupts as Eddie waves from the sidelines. It was hoped that this might happen, as Pearl Jam are in the studio working not far away. Timing has been good.

Binky keeping warm as he writes out tonight’s setlist

Out guitar tech Simon Law and Binky have been struggling to keep the guitars from getting too cold. It’s not brutally chilly, but getting colder all day, and as the sun descends, we’ll have more issues with tuning and stiffness. When a wooden instrument (not just guitar, but cello or viola) gets cold, it doesn’t like to vibrate easily – and sound is choked off. Simon Law has devised a simple idea – he bought an electric blanket to cover the guitars with! (I asked him if he broke his “acoustic” blanket!) Local companies have rented us powerful space heaters, large fan blowers in tubes that somewhat help warm the orchestral areas. It’s not much, but it helps.

Loren demonstrates his knuckleball technique to Simon, Billy and Eddie V

Showtime is up, following a good set by Liam Gallagher and his band. He’s been well-received by much of our audience, and it’s certain most of them have not had a chance to see him in-person before. He’s a larger-than-life character, and sounds just like himself! You’ll recognize a few of the songs if you see them, for sure.

Simon and Pete and dualing guitars during ‘Amazing Journey’

Our show starts well – the usual Tommy segments, one after another. The room sound is . . . unusual. It’s a huge stadium sound (like Wembley or Fenway Park) so we have a rather long slap-back echo. Whatever you say or do onstage is repeated back from the distant walls – about one full second later! All rooms do this to an extent, big or small, but a larger space makes a more distant and distinct echo. Shorter times sound rather musical – and a short echo is something we often use on performances and recordings to enhance a sound. Pete even has a guitar pedal just to control his echo on the guitar, and the timing of how long it will last. On top of this large echo, we have a very long reverb time here, the smoother version of time delay, and often musically helpful as well, within reason. In some ways, it’s more of a factor for those onstage – as they hear an echo coming from the walls, where the fans sit (so they don’t hear it.) Tonight the sound is really helpful in a few spots that rely on sheer power; the big chords after the piano solo in ‘Who Are You’, the brass blasts in ‘Eminence Front’ and ‘Amazing Journey’.

It’s clear that Pete’s guitar is still a bit cold, it’s not really singing out when he plays it, sort of a muted or dulled version of its usual voice. It’s probably true for the other acoustic instruments onstage, it’s just that Pete’s instruments are always so easy to hear in the mix. He’s struggling a bit with it, but not too affected by it, these are small things a professional can overcome. Yet it does sometimes prevent the fluid freedom that induces really great moments. Despite the weather, both Rog and Pete are still feeling confident and showing their strengths throughout.

Slowing it all down for ‘Imagine A Man’

As always, I’m struck by the simple beauty of the ending section of ‘1921’. No power, not full of energy or wildness – it’s just so damn beautiful this way. Lovely slow string lines, harp, Pete doing newly-made melodies on top and Roger singing “What about the boy?” gently over it all. Some masterpieces are subtle – this is yet another example of newness being as great (or greater) than what came before, and these additions from David Campbell are so welcome in places like this. Tommy has had SO many approaches over the years, it’s a real shapeshifter that changes form every few years. Some of these 2019 versions are truly stunning.

Pete is stomping about in his work boots, another classic Who look. He tells the crowd the cold reminds them of home, but they have to be all wrapped-up to play today. “It’s feels very warm, is that love?” he asks the audience. It seems to be. “We can only feel that way for you, too. We’ve done all we can of Tommy, so now we’re going to play some songs, familiar and unfamiliar . . .”

His guitar cut out unexpectedly during the solo spot on ‘Who Are You’; quickly resolved, but not in time for the solo. Shortly afterward, the piano solo starts and then the thundering power chords leave any feeling of a missed moment behind. It sounds immense. Somehow, this famous song ties together all elements of The Who for people, it seems to be old enough and new enough to hit all the marks for powerful and soft dynamics, and is catchy as it can be.

Eddie Vedder joins the band for ‘The Punk and The Godfather’

This crowd loves Quadrophenia! Preferences always changes from city to city, older Who fans really into anything Tommy, or some Quad, and others maybe really just into the biggest hits. I don’t know whether the news of Eddie Vedder had spread to the crowd after soundcheck, but from the amazing response, it seems not. They are ecstatic, truly pleased and shocked he is here. He’s as welcome as any visitor to this stage, greeted by hugs from Roger and Pete. ‘The Punk and the Godfather’ starts up, already anthemic from the intro – and not part of our normal setlist. Ed’s presence and bouncing energy spur on Pete and Rog as well. They seem to have fun throughout, tossing back and forth lines from the verses between Rog and Eddie. They both sound great and it seems everyone onstage or off has a smile plastered across their face. Eddie finished as strong as he started, then retreats to hang out side-stage to watch the rest.

The Seattle crowd is rewarded with a very strong ‘5:15’ today. The ending jam section really caught fire – always the goal, and rarely achieved this well – and this put everyone into an even better mood. Another small highlight, as Pete does some unexpected soloing over the end of ‘The Rock’.

Pete informs the audience that he thinks that Seattle has one of the finest concert-hall orchestras around, calling them “audacious and adventurous.” He knows some of those players are with us tonight in the assembled group, so it’s nice they are given such praise in front of everyone here.

Audrey Q Snyder, a vital part of The Who family

Katie Jacoby and Audrey Q Snyder, our traveling strings, have become dear friends of everyone on tour. They are part of the family of the road now, shared life experiences and many, many thanks to Keith Levenson for selecting them. No one in The Who organization had input – something I’d like to point out is a fairly common thing – they trust their people to make good choices, and they will. Unlike so many out there. this is not a micro-managing organization. Someone recently was asking about approval for photos and videos to be used for some promotion done on the tour. Management told them that they knew that no one promoting the tour would use anything to make them look bad, quite the opposite. So, the video-makers were told, “don’t bother us with the details, just show it to us when it’s done.” It’s common for other artists to choose photos, which pieces of video, etc etc must be used, and even more so – their managers, stylists, husbands, etc get involved and vote. The Who ship sails pretty steadily without a lot of hands on the wheel. Risky, yeah, but the results are good.

Roger with Katie and her custom-made Mariners jersey

A quick, spoken “Away we go!!” signals the start of ‘Baba O’Riley’ and the crowd erupts. A terrific and reliable finale for this major event. Katie’s mother is here tonight, I believe it’s her second time seeing her talented daughter appreciated on our huge stage. Furthermore, the Seattle Mariners have custom-tailored a baseball jersey for Katie to wear on the finale. It’s likely none of their burly baseball team have quite the shape of lovely Katie, and they’ve even stitched her surname onto the shoulders as on a proper team jersey. Well-done and it was used to excellent effect tonight, the crowd not only cheering the violin solo moment (a peak and a classic “big finish”) but their hometown team being recognized onstage with this band. Simple, but effective.

PS – a nice historical story: I asked Eddie Vedder and his wife Jill about a rumour concerning their first meeting. Jill was going to a Pearl Jam concert and our own guitar roadie, Alan Rogan told her to “Say hi to Eddie!” She, as a fan, didn’t know Ed or how to reach him, so she made a sign that said “Alan Rogan says Hi!” It caught the attention of Ed who sent roadies out to fetch the sign, which he signed for her. Later on, they met in-person and she admitted to being the one with the sign. Were it not for our own Alan (Resting in peace, now) they may never have met and started their family. Nice story . . .


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
You Better You Bet
Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic; Roger & Pete only)
Behind Blue Eyes (with violin and cello accompaniment)

With Orchestra
Ball and Chain
The Real Me
I’m One
The Punk and the Godfather (with Eddie Vedder)
The Rock
Love Reign O’er Me
Baba O’Riley