Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Climate Pledge Arena, Seattle, WA, 22 October, 2022

Seattle now – shall we begin?

This is a mainstay, one of the places we always, always play. For good reason, it’s been popular and always a music town – from the Hendrix days, to Heart, then the HUGE era that birthed Nirvana, Soundgarden, Pearl Jam, etc etc. Lots of smaller names of the cool bands, The Rattles (check out The Witch, classic!) and Mudhoney, Fastbacks, Duff McKagan, the lists go one and on.

The World’s Fair of 1962 still has an impact here, the great fairgrounds and KEXP radio/podcast studio still making waves worldwide, the iconic Space Needle, Boeing and . . . Starbucks!

We didn’t have time for all that, mainly as our day incoming faced a downpour; lots of rain. In this case, a VERY good thing – as it’s been saturated with heavy smoke until today. We’d had issues in Portland, but Seattle was far worse – and we avoided that completely, Nature doing its job to bring back the clear air we need tonight!

This place is called the Climate Pledge Arena – new, and it’s EXACTLY one year old today! So they say, and we have seen the delicious cookies to prove it. It’s a modern building, amenities provided to attempt to reduce the impact such shows and venues have on the climate.


Whoever designed this building, I believe their inspiration was Spinal Tap, the “Hello Cleveland!” moments where people wander about for hours looking for where to go. We have never seen such a non-standard set of hallways and doors, weird angles and hidden rooms. I have no idea why this would make sense, or be an improvement, but someone did.

Rehearsal goes well. For the last few shows, the band portion has been easy. (The orchestra are in before for two-plus hours to learn/practice their bits before.) We run through ‘Who Are You’ – such a perfect track. And it uses some playback backing tracks (always good to check), dynamics up/down, backing voices – all the good things we need to hear in a room. From that base, we can judge if things need adjusting or not. In the past, we used ‘I Can See for Miles’ to get a vocals balance but we’re not doing that currently and the vocals are pretty right already.

The orchestra returns. Simon Townshend points out that part of the show had been a little “off” as far as rhythms. He was trying to recall which part for a moment, then showed us all the rhythms happening in the ‘Overture’ at one point; he played what he thought it should be – and wasn’t hearing. Pete stopped to explain to the orchestra: In 1969 or so, they were at the Royal Albert Hall, playing Tommy in its entirety – a new piece. Young Simon was in the crowd and came backstage with his “babysitter” a young singer named David Bowie. (Rog and Pete knew Rod Stewart, Marc Bolan, and Bowie from before they all were famous, as members of the Mod scene they were all a part of in the ’60s.) He said both Bowie and Simon had proclaimed “I wanna DO that!” after the show. So what Pete meant was that Simon had obsessed and learned the original Tommy album so well, that any newer version didn’t register as correct. If you’re a big Who fan, there’s probably never been a piece that changed so many times over the years for any group! Dozens of kinds, from Woodstock to Broadway to Billy Idol to Leeds, to the 1975 film and soundtrack, the Simon Phillips ‘Join Together’ version, to today. And all are pretty good, in their own ways. Speaking of, I’m really longing for one thing that is missing now – the peak moment in ‘Sparks’ where the HUGE open E chord used to ring out, and Pete would extend his arms as the guitar feeds back – what a moment, but it’s not in the original album of Tommy, which is roughly the version we do each night. Maybe someday again, who knows?!

Our orchestra today is cool – a variety of players, especially younger ones today. Our usual group is 35 to 60-ish, the typical symphony players of each town. Today I spot a few twenty-somethings in the string sections, and they are rocking out as we play. Always a good sign; they’re enjoying it as much as playing for the job. And not old enough to be big Who fans; they just like what they’re hearing. Nice.

Video courtesy of Jrod Gilbert 

Dirty Knobs open again – Mike Campbell’s band. They’re winning over each audience, both with songs and sound, plus the welcoming casual style they bring. It’s no wonder Fleetwood Mac asked Mike to join, he’s very musical – his guitar work sounds GREAT, and this kind of music is right along what our audience loves to hear.

Our show starts roughly on-time. As usual, recently, Pete salutes the crowd before the music.

“Are you OK??” he pauses and looks around. Someone yells something to him. “Don’t even ask! I thought if I put on this hat it would ‘center’ me.’” (He’s speaking of a tight red knit cap he’s wearing at the moment. But he jokes “Watch me fall over…” Roger laughs at the weirdness of all this. And we’re off into Tommy again.

‘Amazing Journey’/’Sparks’ is pretty nice, with a good bass solo segment from Jon Button right before ‘Sparks’, it’s another nice instrumental moment before the heavy bits. ‘Pinball Wizard’ is, as have most others, been a little wobbly. It’s a classic piece, so everyone knows how it goes, but the timing is a little different each night, with vocals, guitars, orchestra, drums all slightly feeling things out in different ways. Some gel together, some lean over and almost fall out of line – but it always works out in the end.

At ‘Who Are You’, Roger is handed his guitar and announces his able assistant, “That’s Binky!”” Clive Brinkworth is his name, a longtime English guitar tech. One of our favorite crew people, Binky started with Jimmy McCulloch (of Wings; a Pete Townshend discovery) and Stone the Crows in 1972. Binky has worked for a zillion artists (including Jimmy Page for years, plus Talking Heads in their heyday, The Cure – and so many others.) Our whole crew is like that, but Roger has really bonded with Binky. “He’s been here longer than I have!” Roger explains. Not quite true, but he’s been here for nearly two decades now. We stole him away from Robert Plant’s band around 2006!

Pete says something about musicians, especially in the larger groups like orchestras or dance bands. He relates how string players would always sit together and the brass section would never turn up – a hint they were off drinking. He mentioned his own father’s dance band (the Squadronaires) and how he’d hand a beer to a Scottish brass player, who thought Cliff Blandford Townshend has SUCH a wonderful son – since he was bringing him drinks!

We always have ‘Ball and Chain’ before the orchestra leave. It’s the only song from the WHO album we do. But our world is confused; we were working on playing it live before the album was completed and released when it was called ‘Guantanamo’. At one point, then changed to ‘Big Cigar’ or ‘Big Cigars’, then eventually ‘Ball and Chain’. The sheet music for the orchestra says ‘Big Cigars’ I believe, and the click track and backing synth parts we have are announced (on the headphones only, as it begins) as ‘Big Cigars’. So it always feels weird when Pete announces “Here is ‘Ball and Chain’ then the orchestra hear “‘Big Cigars’, 1, 2, 3, 4 ” and then have to play. It works, it’s just a little weird holdover from then the song was being born.

We couldn’t (or shouldn’t) start ‘You Better You Bet’ until the orchestra leave. Some did, but the others stayed, too long. Took a moment, and Pete had to explain that they were to go . . . OK, just in time for the band set.

Video courtesy of Devin Creislers Studios

‘The Seeker’ was better, more rocking and solid. ‘Naked Eye’ – again as before – but today Pete had asked the band to allow him a solo. That sure was a feature of the old live versions, but when it was re-designed for this new tour, that bit sort of got left behind. He’s missing it and asked only for a brief extension of the backing parts to make it happen tonight. It could be longer, but at least it’s back! ‘Another Tricky Day’ ends with a division of parts; some keep playing, others take the cue to halt – and it’s an unexpected moment. No big deal, Pete jumps in a jams along for a moment, guiding the train into the station a few seconds later. All done. “That one was tricky!” Roger captures it.

Video courtesy of Supercones 

As we come to complete the band set with ‘Behind Blue Eyes’, Roger sits down at Katie Jacoby’s chair! He’s taking a quick break while we move and set up chairs and stuff for the string trio. He jumps up when it’s time to play, entertaining us all. These guys are so casual onstage; it’s a good lesson for anyone getting too-serious about their music.

Katie and Audrey continue to do fine work as “librarians” as well. Each orchestra has dozens of books, each contains all the parts for that one player, like viola or cello. Each day Audrey and Katie get them out, sort things, place them, move pages as required for each show. It keeps them very involved in the day-to-day operation and keeps the crew from having to work even longer hours. We’re so pleased to have them along, as they’re both delightful folks; hand-picked by Keith Levenson before these tours started.

Pete mentions an interesting factoid: As of tonight, we’ve done 2/3 of the shows from this tour leg. But we’ve only done half of the shows we will play. This seems like a black-hole concept, but it’s not: We have a private Teen Cancer America charity event between two coming shows next week; just a short thing, but nonetheless NOT a day off. And the final Vegas run has two shows back-to-back, which we never do anymore. Most big groups don’t do next-day back-to-back shows for singing and energy concerns. 20-year-olds can do six shows a week and laugh it off, or used to! But we can only keep the quality UP if we get days off in-between to travel and recover. As you see/hear – these 2022 Who shows are not “phoning it in” at all; they are working hard every single night, for two hours plus. It’s unsure when/where/how this will all go on, but we all hope there’s more Who in our futures – whatever way they deem that to be.

The crowd here LOVED ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, the biggest response we’ve had, and it’s all due to Roger’s vocals. No one expects this, but he’s hitting it so well. And that’s astounding at this part in a long show, on even a good night younger people have trouble singing this song. Speaking of singers, one of Seattle’s best – a young man named Eddie Vedder – is here. He’s brought his daughter Olivia again; she was here with us last time in the baseball stadium. Ed is out in the crowd rocking out and spends hours catching up with the band backstage. He’s always a welcome sight, one of the kindest and humblest people of the music business. And probably as big a Who fan as any of you out there.

Billy, Zak, Simon, Loren, Olivia, Eddie and the man who keeps it all together, Tom Kenny

Hopefully, this is “just another Seattle visit”; and if there can be more, we will be back!

Onward . . .


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
Naked Eye
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

And then . . . the load out