Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Toyota Center, Houston, TX, September 25, 2019

You may have already heard the news about tonight’s show. But here’s a bit more from our side.

Today is another arena – downtown Houston, certainly a metropolis with long history, many buildings still left here from the 19th Century, plus the most-modern high-rises, too. Now and then you get the sense of the old West and Tex-Mex culture, but so much of it is now like any other major world city. Phil Collins was here last night, Deep Purple played in town the night before. It’s a haven for classic rockers this week.

We’ve loaded in without incident and get everything set up for the day; business as usual. We noticed the room has a pretty good sound. Despite being yet another big oval sports arena, the sound doesn’t have a nasty slap-echo bouncing back, and none of the ‘boominess’ we sometimes get; two problems we won’t have to deal with anymore.

The orchestra rehearse; today’s Houston players are fine, but a few things have to be done twice, which is a sign from Keith Levenson that there is still a bit of work to do. After a couple of hours with the orchestra, the band come in with the orchestra seated, and the VIP guests file in to sit and watch. They run through the ‘Overture’ together, but not much more rehearsal together is needed. (Usually we do the band first, without the orchestra, to dial in their sound before joining the orchestra – which makes sense. Today is backward, but no issues arise.) As the orchestra file out, the band run through their basic checks. Roger tells the VIPs that he’s having an attack of allergies from the ragweed in the air, and that it’s going to cause a squeak now and then, “but we’ll muddle through it.” OK, good. As we do – soundcheck is fine as well, all set for a normal evening.

Reignwolf again are opening up, no doubt the tallest trio ever to grace a stage. They have a unique style, distorted vocals, singer plays guitar while holding his microphone, a stack of angling guitar amps and a PA that beams light instead of sound. Sometimes the singer/guitarist also takes on the drums at the same time and the other two go away leaving him to rock out, one-man-band style. They have a good amount of smoke, which looks surprisingly like the old Who smoke from the 1967 era. Check it out.

Showtime! The place is not quite full – unusual on this tour, but still a good crowd. The floor is a loud and active bunch, up on their feet from the get-go. Someone yells from the audience, and Pete responds “He can’t hear you.” (True, Roger’s in-ear monitors give him mainly his voice and the sound of the band, the audience is not audible except during segments when the monitor engineer brings them in, too, to add ambience and discussion when-needed.) “You, big fellow who goes, ‘Aaaah!’ – he can’t hear you. But on the other hand, I can . . .” Not sure if that’s a good or bad thing, yet!

I recall years ago, when most of the world had gone onto “in ear”monitors, that sit inside your ears just like a hearing-aid. They allow a performer to roam around and hear the same sound from any position onstage – we used to deal with floor-sitting wedge monitors; speakers that sat near the singers and instruments onstage; to hear yourself or others, you’d have to be near them. These monitors were industry-standard since about 1970-71, and were invented by our own Bob Pridden back then – “Everyone blames me since then,” he used to say, as the system of monitoring that way was quite limited. Floor speakers, which Pete still uses, allow one to hear the room and other instruments naturally, and many people resist it. As did Roger, initially, it’s a weird change to try something new after 40 years of doing it one way. But Roger now relies on the in-ears, and it’s a wonderful boost; he can have his own voice loud and clear above even the loudest drums and amps. Plus effects, reverb, echo etc – it’s become a way of life now.

The ‘Overture’ and Tommy stuff go well. I can clearly hear the “dugga dugga dum” of the ‘Overture’ riff in the strings and the guitars, all locking together. Afterward, Pete says “We’ve played as much of Tommy as we can fit in.” Which the audience loves, as the meaning is “there is much more to come, we can’t do more of that.” Pete also mentions that they always play the rock opera with a “huge amount of respect,” taming down their volume and excesses to present the music as well as they could. “As Keith Moon famously used to say, ‘Have some respect; It’s a bleedin’ opera!’

Roger chimes in, saying “It’s great to be in Texas, but didn’t expect it to be allergy week! What is this ragweed stuff? Who’s smoking that shit?! (joke)” and again comments that they’d struggle through despite it affecting his voice. Pete asks who remembers the last time they were in Houston? He says he was so sick, that he sang ‘I’m One’ and gave a hoarse demo of what it was like; “I sounded as old as I am,” he jokes.

‘Who Are You’ begins the post-Tommy set, and Roger starts the first verse, almost. He does a few words, and the tone is gone, the pitch is not there and he backs away immediately. He looks at Pete and Simon – indicating that they might wanna jump in and sing it; he’s not going to. They don’t move, at first. The rest of the first verse goes by without a singer, then the chorus where everyone (else) sings, and the audience joins in. Verse two, Pete does take it on and growls into it, and the chorus too. His guitar playing is extra forceful, the classic thing we’ve seen where one of the two “principals” is not doing well – the other always steps up their game to cover, and it is happening here. Luckily, we have the guitar solo break, then the piano solo break – plus a big orchestra – there’s a lot already going on.

Afterward, Rog is clearly unhappy, but Pete asks the audience to support Roger. He says “Tell him that it’s going to be OK, they don’t really care how perfect it is – just ‘a bum note and a bead of sweat’!” – the classic line Roger used to give, as The Who were often sloppy, but with feeling – and that mattered more than perfection. “F*** you and your bum note and bead of sweat.” Pete was trying to be encouraging and take the pressure off, but it was far more serious than he realized. Roger snaps back “I’ve got nothing left to give!” and we can barely hear the words – his voice is just gone now, entirely. It sounds like a monster talking, something seriously wrong now . . .

Luckily, we’re going right into ‘Eminence Front’, a Pete-sung song, so he’s free just to play guitar along on this one. Same again, the song is extra forceful and Pete is pulling hard to make the show strong. Jon Button is doing some incredible bass work here, much more than the original album had, but likely not many can hear that kind of detail inside the lush orchestration and loud guitar work, plus Pete’s backing track on Yamaha organ.

‘Imagine a Man’ should follow, and I know Roger won’t be able to do it. Our tour manager Roy Lamb is sent to print out lyrics (large font) just in case Pete will attempt to sing it and cover for him. We walk them out, and there is clear uncertainty. Roger tells everyone that he can’t go on, it would make things much worse. The last time, he tells us all, he tried to sing more and it put him back into the hospital for a week. “I’m not going through that again.” He is clearly taking care of himself this time, and Roger departs – walking off Stage Left toward the dressing rooms. It’s not really smoking this time, but the rough start has turned far worse than imaginable, and we know how hard he works to carry on whenever possible. But not anymore tonight.

Pete tells the audience that they’re going to try to put together enough of a show, to give them something to go home with, but first a break – to plan it out. The band and Pete leave the stage, but the lighting people are told to keep it “stage lighting” for the mood, and to leave the house lights off. Still, we see some people heading for the exit already.

Offstage, Pete is deep in talks with the manager, the band are standing around thinking. Simon says he could try ‘Going Mobile’ as he’s used to playing it, and we think of a short setlist of things that could be done – ‘Drowned’, ‘My Generation’, ‘5:15’, ‘The Rock’, etc. with various people holding the lead vocal, IF this continues . . . However, it is not to be. The decision has been made; show is over. We’re too far from the minimum 90-minute show required. We’ve had Pete cover for Roger before (such as in Italy and, I think, Indiana or Chicago) where Roger’s voice failed before the end. That was only a 30-minute or so filler at the end. And Roger covered for Pete when he walked off in Sunrise FL on the first night of the Quadrophenia and More tour, during the encores. Today, we’re at 50 minutes, not even an hour into the show, not even halfway. Better to give the crowd a real Who show, hopefully in the future.

Pete comes back out, clearly upset by the situation but not sure how it’s gonna go down. He tells the crowd they hope this will be rescheduled (that can depend on the band’s touring schedule – our last American show for the year will be in a month) or the bookings that are already planned for this venue in the future. Pete tells the crowd, “if you’re unhappy, contact Live Nation or a representative . . .” Yeah, that’s all that can be done. 

We know people have spent on parking, hotels, food – whatever. Everyone got a good portion of our Who show this year, and we’ll see how it shakes out. As we’re done 90 minutes or so before we’d planned, the crew start loading out alone, without all the local help that is hired for each night; they’ll be in later on-schedule. I was taking a few photos before the show, and oddly enough ventured out quite early (which I never do) to snap a few photos from other angles, as I’m always tied to the playback/click-track system for the orchestra now. Our friend Mary Kelly Roberts took a few too and sent them to me; thanks Mary! So you can see some of what went on today.

Now we wait and see. Only two shows left of this run, before a week-plus break. If Roger’s up for Dallas and Denver, we’ll do them, but if not – it will be a two-week break to recover. Fingers crossed . . .


[Editor: Pete and Roger, the management and tour promotor made the decision later to postpone the Dallas and Denver shows and promised they would reschedule those two dates plus a return to Houston for spring 2020.]

Tonight’s Set List

With Orchestra
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Eminence Front