Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back Tour: Barcelona, 14 June 2023

And we’re off to the races . . .

(*A quick correction from my last blog – one of our guys reminded me we did a few European shows in 2016. It was part of a larger tour, and certainly not as extensive as the Endless Wire tour I’d remembered. So these things are still a rarity, comparatively.)

La Orquestra Simfonica del Valles (the Orchestra of the Valley) is with us today, all local musicians hired to join us.

Having set up, we had planned what should have been a somewhat straightforward day to rehearse the orchestra for the first time; we usually do that anyway, it’s standard operating procedure: They came in and were good players, but then something unexpected happened – someone had told them they could leave after their run-through at 4.00pm for the day, and just return for the show – completely missing the soundcheck where they rehearse with The Who. Not ideal!

At the end of their rehearsal, someone came out and made the announcement in Spanish – to a bit of consternation. For some, it was no big deal, others had made plans to go away. Following this, the band (who had already spent a few days “sound-checking” on their own side) came in to play with orchestra, and only some of them were present. It was, well . . . weird. A strange mood, but everyone did their best and we hoped for the best. It was dinner time next, and then a long break.

Everything here is VERY casual, slower-paced. It’s part of the culture. Many people don’t go out for dinner until quite late 8.00pm or 9.00pm at night, for example. But like the PA arriving late, the orchestra going away, there is often no hurry to stress and get things done. So they’d delayed our showtime to 9:30pm, half an hour later than usual. I noticed there were no lines of people waiting outside – none of the parking lot/tailgating scenes we often see pre-concert. Everyone was very casual about coming to this, to anything really. Slowly as the doors opened, people sauntered in in groups of two or four. Took a seat or walked around the venue. Some went outside to an enclosed area – having a smoke or just watching the beautiful sunset from this Olympic hillside venue.

The crowd was similar to the ones anywhere in the world, really. Most here are between 40 and 60 or so, and there were some younger people, but hardly any kids I could see at this one – that’s the main difference. We usually get whole families or groups of young ‘teens and 20s. These are the same music fans, though, I saw T-shirts from Beatles, Stones, Frampton, Bad Co, Chilli Peppers, even Dead Kennedys; the classic-rock stuff that is so universal anywhere now.

A nice surprise; Simon Townshend opened the show with a solid acoustic set. He’s done these now and then before, and the crowd always responds well. He looks and sounds good, with the cameras and big screens showing his singing and playing in pretty good detail.

And so, with Simon done, everyone sets up for the big moment; The Who come out, and Tommy begins. Aside from a few people in this big space, this is all new to everyone. It does start out a little sloppy, a bit unsteady here and there. But the strength is in the songs, the melody, the chord changes. And the orchestral players are true to the scores in front of them – they read well so it always sounds good. By the time we get to ‘Who Are You’, the band has locked in. They feel better and the audience responds in kind. ‘Who Are You’ has a BIG finish. From here on out, we have a fine show – basically the usual concert from previous shows. Despite discussions about changes in rehearsals this week, they felt it best not to change much as it is always a challenge to be your best on opening night of a run. I can see the concentration in the players’ faces, and the interaction and looks between them are definitely cautious and you can hear things gradually pulling tighter and tighter as the night went on.

Video courtesy of Baloyoko 

Pete does a beautiful slow solo to start ‘Eminence Front’, and the later stuff in that one is great, too. He’s always able to take a few chances on that number, but it’s also great to have him just sustain beautiful tones and work slowly rather than blazing about on the guitar. It’s strong stuff and the crowd are feeling it as well.

‘Another Tricky Day’ was added to extend the middle band set (no orchestra). Our own Emily Marshall on keys was added tonight, playing a spacey organ part that is on the original recording: Pete asked her to join the band during this set and add that part as it was on the album. I don’t know why, but that song is a huge earworm to me – cannot stop hearing it in my head.

I saw our sound guys running to and fro several times during the show. I have no idea what was up – it was not obvious, but they’re very serious about their jobs and try to be very quick to rectify any new issues that pop up. Sometimes our mixing people in front call up on a “hotline” phone from the mixer to the stage. It’s called “COMS” (communication) and it looks like an old desk phone on each end. As we’re rather loud anywhere in the room, a flashing light will be seen indicating the call is coming. and our onstage engineers can grab it and hear what changes the sound man wants. Conversely, they can call out to the mixing desk in the audience and ask them questions and such.

Our video team have improved screens on each side of the stage for this tour, a nice step up from what we’ve had last time. Speaking of video, I always feel that “the best show” is actually the one captured on the screens. Yes, it’s the same show you see in-person, and I encourage you all to watch the stage and live stuff. But our video director, Mathieu Coutu, knows exactly what to show (or not) at what moment. You know the awful television appearances that show the bass player during the guitar solo? Yes, we hate that, too. Mathieu is your eyes, like a tour guide always pointing towards the most-exciting thing at any given moment. He’s done hundreds of shows now, so he even can predict when things are happening – or not – at any given moment. Seeing the right drum fill up-close, or the emotion on Roger’s face during the exact critical moment really brings out the show’s best for you. It’s live, it’s a performance, it’s timing. This is optical curation, and if you really want to catch the bright spots of the show, keeping an eye on the screens is always a good idea.

It’s just a little too hot tonight, as summer is definitely here. And on top of that, it’s just a little too humid – so everyone is sweating and sticky. The locals know how to dress, but two people in our band are wearing jackets onstage and moving a lot – that’s gotta be tough! Although some of our local percussion guys are laughing and smiling – they know this music and love being part of it. A woman in the flute section is definitely getting into it! And some of the first violin section are swaying emotionally as they play – seeing these kinds of things really pulls you into the music, too.

Video courtesy of Baloyoko 

At the end Pete says “A big hall, a little rusty, bless you, bless you, bless you!” Rog adds “It’s been wonderful; thank you so much!”

Summary – a decent start, despite some hangups. Any room where Roger is swinging his microphone, and Pete is pounding out power chords is a fine place to be on Planet Earth, maybe THE best place to be. So, hopefully, some of you will find yourselves in the same room while we’re out here this summer . . .

One down, and 13 to go!
We shall make it happen.
Onward . . .

Tonight’s Set Lists

Simon Townshend

She Asked Me
The Way It is
Break The News
I’m The Answer
Forever And A Day

The Who

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

Band Only
You Better You Bet
The Seeker
I Can See for Miles
Another Tricky Day
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Behind Blue Eyes

With Orchestra
The Real Me
I’m One
The Rock
Love, Reign O’er Me
Baba O’Riley