Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Tour Rehearsal 1: London, England, March 21-24, 2017


“I have no reason to be over-optimistic . . .”

Well, here we are again, the family/team/organism that is The Who and their people. About 90% intact from our last run, we always lose a few crew or band members every once in a while. Some changes always come . . .

“Welcome to the camp!”

Pino Palladino is booked out this year; he’s gone off with John Mayer, whose trio (with Steve Jordan on drums) features Pino’s excellent playing right up front. It’s a good gig, and with PP previously committed, we have . . . a new bass player! Jon Button will be a familiar sight to those of you who have seen Roger’s solo tours. Jon was hand-picked then from auditions of the finest. He does bring some special things to the stage, as he’s well-versed in string/upright bass which may come in handy for these acoustic shows coming up. His electric bass tone is a little more aggressive – We definitely hear a resemblance to the old Ox bass tone here and there, which is great. With very little fanfare, Jon was brought onboard and will likely remain. He’s solidly prepared and slots right in without question. He’s certainly enjoying himself, too, as he bounces along to the music, right next to an equally active Simon Townshend.

We are here in a private London location (rehearsals often move for secrecy and availability situations) with 10-pounds of stuff pushed into a nine-pound box! We do have a LOT of equipment – as one visitor remarked. It’s not ALL needed, but as this is the “first” of a new thing, we have to bring extras for testing: new amps, possible instruments, set-ups and baffles, etc. Not to mention someone’s brought in a massive flat-screen (about three meters wide) to show off some new visual content being developed. Barely enough room to walk, but enough room to make noise. It’s not a soundproofed room here, so passers-by on the street or neighbouring construction crews are getting a blast of some famous tunes.

Blast? This is slated to be an acoustic version of Tommy coming up this week at the Royal Albert Hall. It has certainly some acoustic parts, but the usual set-up of drums and keys and amps is present too. They are playing with the sequence of songs, evaluating which ones fit best in different ways than before. Which songs have more meaning now and which have not aged as well. The principal members decide how each song will be arranged. There’s a lot more acoustic guitar and a lot less electric, but there certainly will be some electric power chords when useful. As you likely know, The Who – even when played on acoustic guitars – is not necessarily a quiet, gentle thing. It will feel quite familiar but with enough surprises to interest any Who fan.

Fiddle about . . . fiddle . . . fiddle . . . fiddle

They are still choosing who will sing what, trying out various versions that come and go. The Who are still creative as ever, taking each song apart, choosing which version to play (there are hints of the original album, the 1969/70 touring versions, the 1975 film score, the Broadway musical, the 1989 version, etc.) It seems to lean the most toward the original album, with some nods to the way they took it on the road with the original band. It’s exciting as they mould together a yet-unheard Tommy.

Without question, Tommy‘s still a masterpiece. Although it may have grown a bit too familiar to some, this new version with the current Who, shows what truly great melodies and chord progressions make up this epic. They hold up today, and oddly enough, don’t sound dated at all compared to most music of the late ’60s. Even the players themselves; Pete is feeling surges of excitement hearing these new versions and Roger has certainly nailed even the hardest ones like ‘Sensation’ and ‘I’m Free’ with gusto. With the bigger backing group, the dense vocals of the original record will certainly be matched, if not bettered.

Some interesting conversations happen at any Who rehearsal, as Rog and Pete drift off into stories about the recordings and creation, taking things onto the road, or whatever. Evidently, Keith couldn’t follow Pete’s off-time intro to ‘I’m Free’, and required nearly 30 takes, so they had to simplify it for him. And John and Pete sang the backing vocals on ‘Christmas’, but used a tape-delay to create the odd syncopated parts we hear on the album.

“I wish I knew . . .”

We have new visuals that even the production team have not even seen. Next week we move to a larger place that can handle the full staging we’re taking out. No doubt, there will be some moments quite familiar to the diehard fans who have seen the last 17 years of tours. The Tommy medley always delivers a similar version of some of these: ‘Sparks’, ‘Amazing Journey’ and ‘Listening To You’. But no one yet knows how this show will shape up for next week and the coming short run of UK shows.

It will be a quintessential English music experience: To see The Who playing Tommy at the Royal Albert Hall in London. Only a few were able to grab tickets, but it will generate an incredible memory for everyone in the building. And for a great cause, the seemingly endless fight against teen cancer.

You’ll feel me comin’

Onward . . .

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