Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Berlin 20 June 2023

Back in Berlin – it’s been some time. Onstage, during the show Pete even said “At this point, we must apologise . . .” that it’s taken them so much time to come back here. I remember our 2006 show here on the Endless Wire tour quite vividly because: It was under an outdoor tent (unusual for us), I met guitarist Andy Scott of The Sweet that night, and they played ‘Let’s See Action’  which was really great and I wish we’d get that one back someday!

And so, we are back in this busy town. Heavy on the block concrete and graffiti – I’ve never seen another city quite like it, although the West has more greenery, but we don’t get that side very often. There are remnants of the past always around you; as an outsider, it’s impossible not to be fascinated by that past on these visits. We go to see where the Berlin Wall remains – very small parts of it painted in optimistic and positive works by select artists. It’s good to remember, even painful things like this physical manifestation of the Iron Curtain. There’s so much activity here, it’s a hub of art and performance and culture always. Certainly one of the most-active cities I’ve ever visited, bar none. 

Our show today is also in a very historical location. Built for the 1936 Olympics (mainly boxing) it’s an outdoor amphitheater made of cut stone, set in the heart of a deeply forested park. Waldbühne (‘Forest Stage’) it’s called now – and very visual. We like the steeply-raked seats along the sides and back; the band will have a great view of everyone, compared to a flat festival view or hockey arena floor! 

Flying in just before the show, we have some special guests: Nia Dennis is a world-class American competitive gymnast who also represents Teen Cancer America. She’s also been hired as a fashion model by Adidas (based here in Berlin) and here, the worlds unite so she can meet everyone on the same night. Her chaperone is publicist Danielle Dorfman, and you’ll see Nia and Danielle (above) meeting Roger onstage for the first time. Then two representatives from Adidas came, met everyone and saw the show – connections all around; the start of more good things, we expect! 

Photo by Dan Norris

Simon Law, Pete’s guitar tech, who took over from Alan Rogan after Alan’s passing in 2019. Photo by Dan Norris

Tonight we’re on quite early – by an hour or more easily – because they have an early curfew in the park for noise reasons. And as we’re in a far Northern latitude, the sun doesn’t go down until quite late anyway. All in all, that means we’re going to have almost the entire show in daylight, highly unusual. Our lighting team will be doing their business as usual (they came in last night to set up and focus everything ahead of time) although it won’t have quite the effect that we normally do. 

Video courtesy of Beatcrazyness 

We have a somewhat slow start – which is ok. The audience is outside, it’s bright, and the lighting effects are SO important to the power of the music and moods. But it still is The Who and it still is Tommy – people are enjoying it, but largely seated. ‘Pinball Wizard’ hits. At first, people seem to be very quiet about it, but afterward they go crazy – and that does it; people are up and standing. They like the hits, it seems. Each crowd has different responses; some to the big songs mainly, others like 70s arena rock, some love the 60s singles, others really appreciate what’s good about tonight, the performance moments that happen differently each day. We get ‘The Acid Queen’ back tonight! At our first rehearsals, Pete and Rog had been pulling toward extending both the Tommy and Quadrophenia sets. It’s been a while, and Pete sings it well, despite little rehearsal, it’s another classic that goes down well. The audience even starts clapping together spontaneously, in a place we’ve never seen them do, the middle instrumental break. Cool. 

‘Listening To You’ fell apart at the end – a tech issue, really. No one else could tell but Zak suddenly lost ALL his audio and had to play without the usual sound. He did well, because it didn’t sound like it affected him, but he must have been in hell trying to pull a charging-ahead rock band and “tied to the page notes” orchestra together without audio clues. He does it seamlessly each night, but this brief instance must have been a struggle. Admittedly, Tommy was sloppy tonight; no big deal, it’s The Who, right? Pete says afterward, “Those were a few selections from Tommy . . . Obviously, we’re not always sure which ones!!” Pretty funny.

Next up – Who Are You is also popular, but the 60s songs hit hardest for these people – we have some old-soul Who fans out there that grew up with the singles version of the band. As Lemmy from Mötorheard once said: We all love the music we learned before we knew much; before we “had filters up” or were sophisticated. So the music that you heard when growing-up, as a more innocent listener – that remains your favorite core era of any band. Others will have a different experience with even the same band’s catalogue. So we know who these fans are now . . .

Pete, Zak and Roger. Photo byDan Norris

Our video guys have the two side screens, but they are further out and needed to be hung in vertical/portrait mode: this makes for a new set of choices for camera and video work, but they are critical to our shows and certainly always able to take on any challenges with ease. Their team is always efficient and always self-contained; they get the job done, unlike the rest of us who are always in each other’s way! 

Video courtesy of The Gazzas, right down there in the front row as usual 

‘The Kids Are Alright’ becomes a big singalong! People must be hopped-up on beer and churros, because we usually don’t get that. “You lot sound great!” Roger enthuses, he’s clearly enjoying their interaction tonight – he can see (for miles) clearly from the front row standing to the back seats at the top. At ‘Tattoo’, Pete tells the crowd that when they were young, maybe 15 years-old, the thing that made you A MAN was a real tattoo. So – he tells the younger ones – never say the boomer generation never gave you anything! ‘Tattoo’ also very popular – those ’60s people are loving it tonight.

Loren Gold’s piano intro to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’. Always a popular feature of the show. Photo by Dan Norris

Video courtesy of Beatcrazyness 

A fine show – even with the bright skies making this a bit less-rocking visually. And then we were done – a big finish with ‘Baba O’Riley’, as usual. Katie comes out, orchestra ties perfectly into rock band. Nice!

Photo by Dan Norris

Our load-out was challenging. We usually like “the out” as it’s called. But tonight – ouch! The stage is built in front of a big stone and cement box, literally designed like a fortress in case somebody came for Der Führer there! Truth – he’d even insisted they build an exit hallway out the back to the forest; the hallway was built with jogs and curves so that no one could shoot strait down it, killing the occupants! This slim and angular route was where we had to push our many cases. As I said, the past still lingers here. Long gone, but still aware of it at the end of a long day . . .

Onward . . .

. . . Bonjour Paris!

Tonight’s Set List

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

Band Only
The Kids Are Alright
You Better You Bet
The Seeker
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