Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Moving On! Tour: Wembley Stadium, London: July 6, 2019

6 July, 2019 – Wembley Stadium, London

Photo: Richard Evans

Without question, this is one full of memories.

A big show, so a long report follows.

Of course, the location is key; London, England. It doesn’t get much more “Who” than that, does it? The core audience is here, both young and old, and they know this is home territory (literally) for the band. One can expect a load of old fans (I know some are here from the club days) and others who had never seen them – quite a few first-timers are present today. In our hotel, I met a man and his wife who had not seen the band in 30 years. “They’re quite good now,” I said, without giving anything away on my end. “Have you seen them recently?” they asked me. “Yeah, not long ago . . .”

Photo: Brian Kehew

I knew it was one of those shows when I see the assembled cast of characters backstage; Richard Evans (the legendary graphic artist who also does this website), Cookie Brusa from the management company, the families of the managers, sons and daughters of the band, good old Irish Jack, and EVERYONE we’ve ever met – they all seemed to be there. Someone said 250 people were backstage. For those people who live in The Who World (business and family) they don’t necessarily come out to every event, having seen dozens, if not hundreds, of shows before – and constant exposure to the band’s doings. So – attending something like this is always a big moment, worth experiencing firsthand.

Photo: William Snyder

Big thanks to our Tour Manager, Roy Lamb – who argued (and got) two full days of set-up before the event. We needed it. Often, we’re constrained – by costs, usually – to get in/out in a short time. It’s quite common in previous shows that they would have made us set up and rehearse the single day before the event. Tech crews, who began at midnight right after the previous event loaded out, two days before the show. By the next evening we were ready for the band, who came in mainly to check the sound in this cavernous (that word isn’t quite BIG enough for this) space. Mainly, their focus was on two new songs; we’d tried to attempt them at rehearsal in America, but things were not quite clear yet (the songs are still not fully finished on the studio versions either.) For this rehearsal, everyone knew what they were doing, with the backing band running full takes even before Rog and Pete arrived. With a few tweaks, we were done and ready to take the night off, knowing we had another time for rehearsal tomorrow with the orchestra.

Photo: William Snyder

Without question, this rehearsal was a hard day for all, as we’d just learned that morning of Alan Rogan’s passing. Tears came and went throughout the day, hitting everyone in different ways at different times. No doubt you’ve probably seen our postings about this, and if not – you should. He was a unique and great personality, as big as any ‘rock star’ has ever been. Although he’d not been on our last leg of the tour, the stage amps, guitars, placement etc – belong to him, as his footprint/signature/spirit – whatever you call it – continues to surround us as we work. We’re still in his world here, as The Who on the road was his life for four decades. As with Bob Pridden – who still means as much to our life here – some of the main people in this family are significant enough to be known to outsiders; a rarity in this business. That’s also a sign of how The Who treats their family – allowing them a good amount of spotlight now and then as well. It takes nothing away from the band to see that certain parts of their team are important and so special to what we do.

Photo: William Snyder

In a way, the timing of Alan’s passing was helpful – we were hit hardest that first day by the news of Alan. We had a second day of rehearsal/setup to get used to the thought, and the third day would be show day – so he’s still in our minds, but we are all more able to function. Still, very heavy come the big show.

Photo: William Snyder

The 6th July came and everyone was prepared. It was good that it was not a long day; the doors open at 3.00pm with the first music was 3:45pm. Up first, Connor Selby – a new name, and I went out to watch. I’d seen some clips online but did not yet “get it” so I wanted to see him in-person. His band is simple, two guitars, bass, drums and his vocal. Musically, very straightforward, too – but very enjoyable and comfortable music; think classic American blues and rock mixed, something you’d easily hear in 1968 or 1972. Bill Curbishley (The Who’s manager) had discovered them and was out watching it. I’d had the exact same impression he did – Connor plays guitar very much like the early Eric Clapton or Peter Green/Bluesbreakers guitar – really solid, musical melody and feel. Honestly, I cannot recall the last time I saw a full Marshall stack onstage, and it sounded GREAT. There is hope he can support The Who on some future shows – I’m sure the audience would enjoy it as much as I did.

Next up, Imelda May followed, with many strong songs and arrangements, some sexy high boots and positive energy. Her voice is a powerhouse, and the band is just really tight. She’s been a supporter of our TCT events, and I hope we get to do more with them. Kaiser Chiefs played at 5:20pm (each band having relatively brief sets – this is good for keeping a crowd interested and saving energy ’til the end.) The Chiefs have done quite a few festivals with us since they hit it big over a decade ago, and they are still going strong, being one of the few lasting bands of their era. They have style and the crowd seemed to know most of their songs.

And at 6:30pm, a popular lad named Eddie Vedder came out. He’s ending his solo tour tonight, a really well-thought-out variation for the frontman known from Pearl Jam. He played ukulele, Gibson acoustic, harmonium (a vintage acoustic pump organ), electric guitar, stomp box, etc. Along for the emotional texture and interest were a string group from Ireland, the Red Limo Quartet. Unquestionably beautiful, it was a great way to detour from the concert power Pearl Jam brings. Noted Irish singer/actor Glen Hansard (of the film Once) came out for a few numbers, playing guitar and tambourine – and singing along where needed. Of course, Eddie’s voice was the centerpiece of the show, or maybe his earnest and endearing character. Ed is one of the world’s biggest Who fans, and mentioned his deep connection to their music during his show, as well as a special thought for Alan Rogan, who was a good friend. (I think Eddie has about a million “good friends” as he treats everyone with honest and warm intimacy, a rare welcoming un-guarded persona in the world of big musicians. We are all glad to see him anytime, anywhere, whether he’s performing or not.) This audience was composed of mainly Who fans, but a significant number of the thousands were Eddie fans. Those who weren’t before – are now Eddie fans, as his simple and diverse set really kept things interesting for both sets of people. Great music, performance and playing from all on his team.

Photo: Brian Kehew

A notable thing: the day before the event, as Eddie and friends set up, they pulled out a drumhead that I instantly recognized; Keith Moon’s original hand-painted “exploding logo” drumhead from the 1969 tour. An unbelievable find, and he’d just gotten it – so it was featured prominently on his harmonium organ during the show. I snapped a nice pic of proud owner with his new acquisition . . .

Next up, our long-awaited show. The weather had threatened rain. For days it had been sunny and warm, but we went from a 10% prediction last night, to an almost-certain 70% tonight. One radar site showed the rain starting during our set and running all the way through our last numbers. Yet – the place was still dry as we went on. Tommy mini-set started the show, but not after Pete and Roger jogged on, and Pete displayed his hard-to-miss outfit; a long knee-length grey coat, fancy and tailored-looking but somewhat resembling a worker’s coat of the 50s/60s. He obviously knew the resemblance as he said “Anyone need their sink un-unblocked?!” and then drew the coat open to reveal – a boiler suit, in deep indigo.

Photo: William Snyder

To my knowledge, Pete has not worn a boiler suit onstage (workmen’s overalls) since the 1969/70 era, when his white ones became the defining anti-fashion statement of the era. At first, as a reaction to the frilly Sgt. Pepper/Clapton-Cream/Hendrix band looks, the minimalist white boiler suits not only rejected trendy fashion, they functioned well in the days before video screens, so people in the back could see the animated motions of this stunning guitar player. I recall Pete mentioning he’d taken two boiler suits on the current tour, and the red one appeared on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon a few months ago. So, besides the posh workman’s coat, he was wearing an equally elegant boiler suit, a nice nod to the past, without actually going there. Subtle touches accented his suit – a red kerchief in one pocket, very dapper, and a small Meher Baba button on his right breast. This is classic Townshend.

Photo: William Snyder

For a stadium-full of people (I’m told about 50,000 people) the Tommy set sure started slowly, it seemed. They audience knew the music, but the response was measured and polite. I think it took the next post-Tommy song (‘Who Are You’) to get the crowd out of chairs and reacting. I think the distance has something to do with it – it takes a while to break down the barrier (figuratively!) in such a massive, open space. In the past, they’d done some shows (like the legendary Charlton Athletic football ground) with the stage facing sideways to the seats, so the audience was closer, but wider. From the start, Pete and Roger seemed relatively comfortable and confident, and this helped bridge the gap and ease the crowd into the new musical setting. The night sky was still light; this part of the year it stays fairly light well past 9pm, but the lights and video were fully effective from the start – great work from our visual team. It’s hard to imagine such a show now without them.

Photo: William Snyder

Pete warmly thanked everyone; for spending money to come, for struggling through the outside situation (both a major wreck on the motorway and a murder scene had brought much local traffic to a standstill for much of the day) and for just finding their way in the giant space. A few numbers in, Pete went to take off the robe/cloak, and Roger exclaimed “I used to have one of those, when I worked in the factory!” To which Pete replied, “You never had a job in a factory – you were a priest. But you just don’t want anyone to know!”

They explained this was their only show this year in the UK, with orchestra, but (to the shocked expression of the crew!) Pete said we’d be back to the UK in the next year for more of the same. Ah well, I guess we’re working!?

I heard many people gasp audibly as they started into ‘Imagine a Man’. It’s a gentle, pretty number – especially with the strings added – and Roger proclaimed The Who By Numbers album as one of his favorites. After this, they started the debut of a brand-new song, called ‘Hero Ground Zero’. It’s a mid-tempo pop/rock song, with an incredibly catchy chorus. I’ve found myself and other members of the crew singing it during days-off, so that’s a good sign it will hook others in eventually. So nice to have something fresh and new during a notable event like this. It seemed to be well-received.

Our orchestra tonight is exceptional – stunning players abound in London, of course, so we’re not surprised. The percussionists are particularly active and animated, making the show more fun to watch.

At ‘Join Together’, Pete tried to explain why things were emotional today. He discussed the Alan Rogan situation, as a large pair of photos (young and older) of Big Al came on the screen behind him. I really loved what he said about this, as we live our lives as if they were a given stable situation – then when someone close to you comes down with such a disease and is determined to be terminal, it brings a strange new perspective. As Pete said, it’s just weird – not sad, or hard, or the usual terms – it just felt weird to have someone who would soon never be around anymore. He noted all these people here tonight and how they were all sharing being alive, and how to be alive is frankly a miracle itself. I often say “Life Is Temporary” – a feeling we don’t often come to grips with, until something shocking happens to break the illusion of permanence. It seems unthinkable to have Who shows without Alan Rogan about, but it’s happened without Moon or Entwistle, or even Bob Pridden (very much alive and visiting us all onstage for the first time since his retirement!) who are core elements of this band.

Photo: William Snyder

The break to the band-only set let the orchestra leave the stage (a require union break anyway) and the basic format show brought the audience even more into the fold. ‘Substitute’ was followed by ‘The Seeker’ and both clearly satisfied everyone. A quick detour into the acoustic duo, as Roger and Pete started ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ with just the one guitar. I thought Pete was improvising something new as Roger began to sing over the new chords, then the song suddenly stopped: Pete explained he was still playing ‘The Seeker’ (by accident) and they restarted to many laughs all around. I think there were three full re-starts during tonights show – a big difference is The Who do not mind any of that, as long as the presentation is eventually right, a small mistake is easily forgotten, sometimes even a bonus! Somehow, seeing them connect so well with the audience here – it really was a strong moment that truly won over the last of the audience holdouts – I realized that smaller production may actually break down the divide between performer and audience. Eddie Vedder’s set was full of this, our own smaller performances connected the best, as well.

YouTube video by Jeff Galasso

‘Behind Blue Eyes’ followed, with nice mentions of our touring string players, Katie and Audrey. The orchestra came back then, and just in time for another new number, which will also have strings and winds and brass on the album. ‘Still Waiting for the Big Cigars’ is the name of the new song, Pete informed everyone. It has the type of tough/rough muscular vocal that Roger really enjoys, and the complex looping, shifting electronic backing that will be familiar to many Who fans – another custom Townshend creation for this coming record.

Photo: Richard Evans

The Quadrophenia set received a roar of approval (true Who fans, no doubt!) when it was announced. The big surprise was getting Ed Vedder back onstage for ‘The Punk and The Godfather’. The Quad album is a favorite of Ed’s teenage years (although he’s told me The Who By Numbers is the top in his book today, as with many deeper fans.) ‘The Rock’ was perfection again, the ultimate Who-meets-orchestra moment of the show. Power upon power.

Photo: William Snyder

Another special moment; as the band kicked into ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, you can guess what happened. It began raining (mostly on the field, the expensive seats, the rest were covered) as had been threatened all day. We’d seen a few sprinkles here and there before, but the moment was truly magic when combined with the song, and I saw many people with outstretched arms soaking it in and singing along. As usual, Roger stuns us with his vocals on this, and I really think it was HIS night tonight; such a confident and positive performance. Pete even said later “He’s always worried about his voice, but it was SO great tonight . . .” And, as soon as the song ended, so did the rain – thanks, Alan!

Photo: William Snyder

After finishing the Quadrophenia appearance, Eddie V remained on the side stage with his lovely wife, watching like a kid and filming as much as possible – like any Who fan would do. I decided to give him a thrill and when the time came, let him place his finger on this certain button and PUSH: out came the backing track for ‘Baba O’Riley’, a huge thrill for anyone. I’ll never forget my first time doing it – and seeing the crowd go nuts. We love to return a favor, and Ed’s done a lot for and with this band. Looking forward to more anytime…

Photo: William Snyder

‘Baba’ ended, and many rushed away to catch trains or drive home – it’s amazing how quickly a massive stadium can clear out! All in all, it’s been a night of major memories. For us onstage, it was hard to gauge the show versus others we’ve done. But the audience response from the few I polled was that it was stunning and brilliant! Nice to hear – we’ll take it. You’re probably right!

Soon we return for the last USA/Canada leg of this year, again with local orchestras. We’ll be in a sure comfort zone then, but until that time . . .

Onward!

Photo: William Snyder

Tonight’s Set List

With Orchestra
Overture
1921
Amazing Journey
Sparks
Pinball Wizard
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Eminence Front
Imagine a Man
Hero Ground Zero (from the forthcoming new album)
Join Together

Band Only
Substitute
The Seeker
Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic: Roger & Pete)
Behind Blue Eyes (with strings)

With Orchestra
Still Waiting For The Big Cigars (from the forthcoming new album)
The Real Me
I’m One
The Punk and the Godfather (with Eddie Vedder)
5:15
Drowned (acoustic: Pete)
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Baba O’Riley