Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

Teenage Cancer Trust shows 2024: Wednesday 20 March

Royal Albert Hall, London

We still have that family-reunion feeling, but it’s not complete: A few more core members of our team are not here tonight, primarily our personal video crew and Mark Sidgwick (one of our stage guitar techs). We have a house Albert Hall video crew (very good, as it turns out) and Paul Gibson joining Binky on Stage Right guitar world; he’s also doing a great job. We’re missing Jim and Fuji – our resident lighting guys, but we still have the boss; Tom Kenny – and doesn’t his work look AMAZING here!?! (Tom is the one who suggested having this blog years ago, so we can all thank him for that!) Our T-shirt man Terry is out on the road elsewhere, but there is cool TCT merch; shirts and posters you can probably find online, too. Good stuff for a great cause. Backstage we have a great gang: the Trinifold team (Bill and Robert, who manage all Who affairs, and the amazing Jools Broom who makes it all work no matter what), Nic, Mark, and Doug (Pete/Roger’s assistants), Zak’s family, good old Irish Jack, our Teenage Cancer folks (both UK and USA). It’s not the backstage madhouse we expected as it can be quite cramped here. Not overcrowded or intense. Feels good.

And so, we’re back for Wednesday night, after a full day off. As luck would have it, we have a much easier day today, at least for the crew. (The ones who matter most!) They had let us keep some of the Monday staging setup; the drums, keyboards, and rolling amplifier platforms. Those simply unplugged after Monday’s show and rolled onto the elevator/lift to be stored downstairs on our day-off. Today, we rolled them back and plugged in. It’s not all quite that easy, as the entire sound system had to be reconnected onstage, with so many wires and consoles and microphone stands. All the orchestral staging and seats were set up again, and so in less than half the time we had Monday, we were ready for the show. Even better; there is no orchestra rehearsal and no band soundcheck! Just stay ready and have dinner before Squeeze come on.

And they did – another flawless show (we are never that polished) which was totally satisfying to the crowd. Everyone in their band is SO good, just superb musicians and singers. The songs are Squeeze-level brilliant. If you’ve never been to one of their concerts, you should go. It will be a great time. Soon enough, it’s time for The Who Live In London – five words than never disappoint.

But first, the reason we are all here – Teen Cancer Trust. Each night, they have hosted a dozen or more of the young adults dealing with this tough situation; they get to come to the show, eat at catering, go onstage during setup, and then return during the show between the two bands. They stand onstage, are shown on the big screen, and then take a selfie with everyone in the audience turning on their mobile phone flash, quite a moving and inspiring moment. A memory for all present. And keeps the whole purpose in mind as there are films and slides running throughout the event to keep us on-track for their good cause.

Video courtesy of Michael Parson

Tonight there is no ‘I Can’t Explain’: It’s just the ‘Overture’ again, same opening as the last five years. Things sound better today. Our crew had not only the full Monday show but extra time today to tweak and adjust it all, so we’re really in fine shape for a musical evening. The rest of the setlist – you wouldn’t be surprised at all. In fact, it’s virtually the same show as Monday with a few changes. ‘1921’ is back, which is lovely, as it’s not an “important” piece in the catalogue, but so good to hear. It’s a fine example of why the Tommy “book” is still the melody capital of the big Townshend library: Listen again to ‘1921’ (you probably know it by heart) and show me any song in the last ten years that has as-interesting and beautiful a melody!

To make room, we dropped ‘Eminence Front’, which is honestly a bigger song in the States than the UK, although it is the most grooving track in our shows. Our previous show was only a minute or two short of final curfew on Monday, so they are careful to avoid that danger tonight. Rules are very strict here.

Emails were flying about the setlist debacle from Monday, but the issue made such a funny show. (You’ll have that audio to hear, from the last blog.) Tonight is quite different. A more expected setlist, not so much talking really, not a lot of jokes. BUT in return, a superb Who show. It wasn’t flawless, but it was solid and absolutely great-sounding. The reviews for the sound were excellent on Monday, and it’s even better tonight (Thanks Rob and Chopper, our men in the mix; Rob has been here many dozens of times doing The Who, Eric Clapton, The Concert For George Harrison, and so many more!)

Video courtesy of dfb0208 

‘My Generation’ – despite multiple rehearsals (though Rog wasn’t there) it still went wonky tonight! Not terrible, but basically off the rails, then back on again. That’s normal Who stuff, really, but I could see/feel Pete and Rog really getting into it once the short-version of the song was over and then they started to jam. ‘Cry If You Want’ (we played it a few times years ago) is certainly an underrated powerhouse song, but Roger loves the punchy lyric so he uses the ‘My Generation’ jam as a platform to use those words. And at the same time, Pete can cut loose and they both start getting into that “old Who” mode of open-ended jams and interplay. It’s sort of the (maximum) R&B side that they love to explore, but the orchestra format doesn’t usually allow much. We also get another jam in ‘5:15’ every night, because it’s built-in that the orchestra and click track stop just so the band can freewheel for a while. Sometimes it flies, sometimes not, but ‘My Generation’ is saved tonight by the jam portion.

Roger laughs about his misery. It’s incredibly hot, and must be more so if you’re singing HARD and moving and all that stuff he does. He says they used to get hot in the old days, but recently it’s been unbearable at some shows. For what it’s worth, he’s always sounding great though, as we always say, he’s an astounding front man, when all others seem to have have fallen away. (OK, Jagger is still pretty damn good, but never the singer that Daltrey is!)

Video courtesy of the Gazzas 

Best of all, our good friend Ed Vedder came out tonight, although not announced beforehand to the audience. (He’ll be playing/singing here Sunday of course, that show is going to be amazing.) Backstage, Eddie rehearsed ‘The Punk And The Godfather’ with Rog and Pete. Ed doesn’t love in-ear-monitors; earbuds that have become the standard for almost every performer (Pete doesn’t use them himself). But he brought his and we gave him the battery/wireless pack to wear them onstage. Right in the first minute, he yanked off the earbuds and threw the whole pack and wires to us offstage! Not as wild as a guitar smash, but certainly a solid gesture of “this must go away” like we sometimes see Pete do with a guitar! The crowd ate it up, he’s a great performer, leaning in and hugging Roger during the song. (We often don’t get the yell you would remember from the album, after Pete’s bridge to the song going “It all belongs to me you know…” – that big “OK!” that happens right before the guitar riff comes in. I asked Ed to make sure he did get it in and he was ready, but Roger jumped in and did it just in time! (Ed tells me he bought one close friend an acoustic guitar – a former President of the United States – the same model J200 that Pete uses, so now he’s learning and playing away as well.)

As one of our crew said, tonight was the polar opposite of the Monday show. And I couldn’t imagine which one I would choose to attend, if I had to pick one. Tonight was the great Who music in all its power and glory. And yet Monday was one of those days you’d never forget; because it went so wonky and yet the humour saved it all, a classic Who of a different kind. Just goes to show, there are different components that make their shows great. No wonder the fans get so fanatical.

Pete mentions Squeeze opening. He said that these two shows sold well (of course!) but that maybe two or three seats were left open, so Squeeze helped us sell out! Well, obviously many thousands would have killed to be here, so everyone is lucky who made it in! Pete also mentioned and thanked the orchestra as they often get handed 80% classical sessions, but modern players can often get rock and roll gigs like this if they are interested: and “they rocked out tonight!” Indeed, I saw the back line of trumpets stand up, and were swaying and rocking during ‘The Rock’ instrumental. They are enjoying this more than anyone expected! And we love it.

Video courtesy of Loren Gold 

Speaking of love, Loren Gold has dug out another of his piano introductions, what Pete called “a beautiful, beautiful piece” tonight. It was extra-cool in that his son Jake was visiting London and I have here a photo of Jake filming his dad doing this great thing in front of everyone; just a great family moment to see!

Jake filming his dad Loren doing his thing

Our production manager Roy Lamb, forever making it all happen

Our long-serving crew members monitor engineer Simon Higgs (left) and production manager Roy Lamb

And tonight is also kind of sentimental for our crew. Previously, our production manager, Roy Lamb had won a Lifetime Achievement Award, and retired from touring at our last show at Sandringham. But when this brief pair of shows came up, they pulled him back in one more time with intense offers and invites. So we have him back for just this bit and really appreciate it. He gets things done, this guy who started in 1969 with The Rolling Stones! Talk about experience. And our most unique member of the crew has always been monitor engineer Simon Higgs. Simon’s been the band’s onstage soundman (what we call monitors) for nearly a quarter-century! He’s beyond professional and without a doubt, one of the finest at his role you could find. (Lady Gaga stole him away for a couple of years, and we had a very rough time without him.) Roger nearly considers him essential to our shows as it’s such a tricky business, knowing the music, it’s layers, the changes, and the personal needs of each player. However, Simon is finally done with touring and found a top-line monitors job at a venue right where he lives in Brighton. No setting up and tearing down everyday, world-class artists, variety and he can walk to/from work each day. So tonight, both Roy and Simon are doing their final Who shows: It was emotional to have these ultra-significant and core members of our team leave. It does feel very final – not some hollow gesture. So we wish them luck and many thanks for the memories. You could not ask for two finer people to work with/for – they are A++ in the world of touring professionals.

And then, The Who’s future? I hate to ask the question, but we all are: Could this be the last Who show tonight? Regardless of “farewell tours” and such, we’ve had this exact moment before. The unknown and uncertain meets the certainties of age, economics, and reality. I can tell you what I know – which is not much more than any of you, and certainly no one knows it all – because such things are undecided. But honestly – there are no more plans, and we usually know long before things happen – even up to a year or more.

In the press, Roger has been saying that he’s done with touring. Usually it’s Pete that has many projects so he’s been more resistant to playing extended tours. And “extended” may be one of the factors – months on the road is more sensible/profitable, but it’s harder on everyone. But if you’re out “doing it”, why not just push a little harder and keep going, see people, cover territories, fill the bank accounts. However, this time, Pete seems amenable to more shows of some kind. So it may be that Roger’s idea of touring that he’s resisting is long, extended things, or maybe the same old show that is taxing or boring? I don’t know.

But we do know Roger has two outings of his own in the coming months. The first is very brief, a private show or two with his rock band and one public in California. Then his bigger summer tour, in larger locations with his UK-based “acoustic band”, and that’s really a fun show for him. So some kind of road work is OK for him still, at least in these coming months. Yet there are offers on the table – but there are always offers on the table. As things go, we’ll either know soon whether there’s anything in 2024, or it will be a decision postponed until 2025 as we do have to book things so far in advance.

So you never know. I like to say “Life Is Temporary”! We’re all here for only a limited time. It feels like forever when you’re in the early years or even the middle of it. But the reality says that any of us could have something happen and be gone forever from this earth. So, plans or no – real life will be a factor, and Rog and Pete have had the most-AMAZING run, especially as a live band. After the early Moon/Jones period, they’ve done some cool things like Tommy and Quadrophenia and The Who Hits 50!, and the orchestral run (which has been running five years now). I recall years ago, just talk of doing smaller theaters, sitting in one for a week or two in London or New York and doing just Tommy or whatever. Smaller, intimate, fun, less travel – but it never happened. I’ve seen the ABBA show in London three times now – a beautiful screen-based show that is mindblowing, so with technology going forth,

So here’s hoping. Something could happen, and if it does – we’ll know soon. Everyone could change their mind – for or against – and other realities come up that push someone into or out of touring. This will be a group decision as Pete, Roger, and management decide – then the rest of us will show up for work if they want us or need us!

Whatever happens . . .  Onward we go!


Tonight’s Set List

With Orchestra
Amazing Journey
The Acid Queen
Pinball Wizard
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You

Band Only
The Kids Are Alright
My Generation
Cry If You Want
You Better You Bet
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Behind Blue Eyes (acoustic with strings)

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