Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits 50! Tour: Le Zénith, Paris, France, June 30, 2015

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The Who have been coming to Paris nearly as long as they’ve played in England. There are some great photos and stories of early Paris Who shows. We’re told several people who were in the small teenage audience of the very first show in the great city (1965) came tonight as well – literally lifelong Who fans. Welcome back!

Yesterday was our day off, and it was PERFECTION. Beautiful as can be, almost the ultimate day in this beautiful city. Many of us went to museums or walked around parks and the Seine, others simply bought the classic bread, wine and pate, then sat in a cafe enjoying doing nothing (post festival comedown.) Speaking of walks in parks, we expected this Paris show to be a “walk in the park” for us compared to those trying festival adventures; this was a “normal” Who show, the kind we are quite good at doing.

The area is full of museums, parks, and performance spaces. Literally four minutes away is La Musee de la Musique – the Museum of Music, which may be the most well-designed and well-curated music museum on the planet. Both Pete and myself have been there, and it’s a wonder of instruments, from Stradivari violins (and the maker’s own molds to shape the wood!) to the earliest electronic instruments: a 1929 theremin, Ondioline, Ondes Martenot, early Moog synthesizer, EMS synthesizer (as used on several Who tracks) etc. See it if you can!

This show venue has been called La Villette and now mainly Le Zénith, and The Who have played here quite a few times in their history – although the space itself has changed. Now it’s a truly unusual shiny fabric skin stretched over a frame, which creates a multi-thousand seat venue. Only one problem: No air conditioning. And it’s nearly 100 degrees F onstage as we set up equipment – this WITHOUT thousands of people, lights, etc heating up the place further. We were in serious trouble. Nothing can be done but prepare. We bought every damn fan in town, and had them all over the stage, buckets of ice and water, drinks, dry and wet towels – all good attempts to make the suffering less. Didn’t help much.

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Admittedly, the show was a “short set” (slightly abbreviated) like the festivals, as we knew no one would make it through a two hour and 15 minute full set show. As the audience was just as hot tonight (maybe more, no fans blowing or cold towels) it was perfect length. I’ve never seen so many humans fanning themselves all across a big room.

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We had some of music’s “heavy friends” tonight as they say; Jean-Michel Jarre (who’s a synth expert right alongside Pete Townshend), Nicolas Godin (from AIR) and Liam Gallagher from Oasis was here with his pretty wife. Liam stood on the side of the stage during the show, just amazed at The Who’s strengths and proclaiming he still feels them THE BEST band of all time – the ones to look up to, even today. You know, he may be right.

Opening band The Last Internationale did a smoking set and the crowd ate it up. Maybe they love the rich heavy voice of singer/bassist Delila Paz, the solid pounding of drummer Fern , or the trippy guitar work and stage moves of Edgey Pires. Together, it’s quite a power trio, and tonight they were received as well as many headliners would be.

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Nice response from the audience when we showed a memorial slide for YES bassist/singer Chris Squire. He’s loved by many and this crowd was obviously moved to see it. Even before “Les ‘Oo” came out, the audience began chanting for them as the headliners. This is the first time in ages that’s happened; a good start.

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WOW – despite the heat (long before the show started) the band tonight were terrific. Again, not flawless, but a 99.5% amazing show. The crowd went crazy, the band played well, with many inspired moments from everyone. Beautiful piano intro to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ from John, great feedback moments from Pete, powerful held notes from Roger. Everyone was firing on all cylinders, and soaking their clothes in sweat as they did. It’s a truism that instruments don’t vibrate well in cold weather, especially guitars and drums, but also speakers and so on. Tonight, cold was never a possibility, and the opposite happened – everything vibrated loosely and freely, with great tones from the bass, drums, guitars and voices.

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Bob Pridden, the band’s longest employee (since 1966) Arrived up for the show wearing a bandana around his forehead, an unusual look but likely smart way to keep the drips off the face. Another roadie (no names) put a handful of ice down the front of his pants, which refreshed him almost instantaneously. True.

Even in rehearsal, Pete had noted that “it sounds really good in here” and then noted that ANYTHING sounded better than that huge Pyramid Stage we were on at Glastonbury! True. It sounded superb and Robert Collins (our sound mixer) celebrated his birthday by mixing one of our best-played and best-sounding shows in ages. Pete tried to coin a new Anglo/Franco word during the show: “Fantasticment” I think it was! During ‘Eminence Front’, Pete also made some comments about Fashion Week, which I shall not print here! Dress yourself to kill.

The ’60s side of The Who is well-represented on this tour: ‘Pictures of Lily’, ‘The Kids Are Alright’, ‘Join Together’ – great concert material and works well for this crowd especially. Plus “the big ones” everyone knows.. I really think this may be the strongest Who tour since 2000 (the last when John was alive; it also had a stellar setlist, and was a tight little five-man band.) Surprised to see ‘You Better You Bet’ was so popular here – incredible audience singing. Who knew? Pete visually translated the positive attention into hops and jumps, extra boosts of energy on such a scorching show.

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All’s well that ends well, and this one ended WELL. I ran out to the crowd to shoot a few final photos and got probably my best photo of the tour: Coming out underneath the bleacher sets toward the stage, I stopped in the “tunnel” to the floor and caught the stage, lights, roof, audience, and structure all in one shot. A great look.

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After a minimal flub during the closing of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, Pete “took it around” for a second ending (which didn’t fare better than the first try, but it gave everyone a taste of newness and exciting new parts added to an old classic.) Positively drenched, they took their bows and left, job WELL DONE.This show was leaps and bounds ahead of the last two, musically. Just a night went things went right.

Maybe, maybe . . . we’ll have a nice, normal show in Amsterdam coming up?


Tonight’s Set List

I Can’t Explain
The Seeker
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See For Miles
Pictures Of Lily
My Generation
Behind Blue Eyes
Join Together
You Better You Bet
I’m One
Love, Reign O’er Me
Eminence Front
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
See Me, Feel Me
Baba O’Riley
Won’t Get Fooled Again

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