Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Dolby Live, Las Vegas, NV, 4 November 2022

Las Vegas – another iconic city, pretty much unlike anywhere else in the world. Yes, there are “casino towns” all over the world, from Monaco (one of the greatest/weirdest Who shows ever!) to Atlantic City here in the States. But none are as large, excessive, obnoxious, crazy – as Vegas.

If you’ve never been, it’s situated in the Nevada desert. Seriously, there would be NOTHING here if there wasn’t a casino life here, most likely. There are mountains to the far sides, and a lake or two, but no reason to be here BUT the Las Vegas experience that has grown. Those who came here in the ’50-70s wouldn’t even recognize it. More than any normal city, it’s expanded and continues at an exponential rate.

We have time off here, post the exciting Hollywood Bowl experience. And there is much to do. Some went to shows – each casino has at least one or more major entertainment thing every night. So much food and drink, museums etc. Myself – I went to the newly-moved Pinball Museum! Because (1) pinball and (2) The Who/pinball. It’s an impressive collection of a few hundred machines and some video games as well. Free to enter, cheap to play – what’s not to like.

I’ve been pushing gently with management: Rush, GnR, Aerosmith, KISS, AC/DC, even Spinal Tap have their own modern pinball machines. But not The Who: the one band everyone in the world associates with pinball – and had a hand in the resurgence over the years. You may know the story – Pete’s friend Nik Cohn was a prominent rock critic, and fan of the then out-of-fashion ’50s pinball fad. So Pete wrote the pinball thread and song into Tommy to get his attention; it worked! I’m hoping someday to get a true Who pinball machine authorized, as you can incorporate music, screams, drums fills, synthesizers and all the images of Boris, Tommy, and Lily and whoever into the graphics. Could be fun!

Meanwhile, our tour promoters are Live Nation, and Dave Fortune (their longtime expert in the job and great guy) is our personal representative; here everyday on the tour handling thousands of details per show. Dave has offered us a tour party on the night off; bowling, food and drinks! Wonderful fun. We’re not sick of each other yet, this is such a fun family that it’s cool to see each other strap on the bowling shoes and try to hit the pins. Oddly enough, there is a rock venue in the same building, and we’re on the balcony above, bowling. So we get a little taste of someone else’s show while we play.

Vegas is busy, as usual. The same nights we’re playing, you also have Santana, Jeff Back/Johnny Depp, Earth Wind and Fire, and many more. Shows here get a mix – the die-hard fans blend with “who shall we see tonight” people that come in looking for a big night out.

Finally – it’s into our theater. Dolby Live at the Park MGM Casino. I’ve been here twice as an audience member, once to see Queen and once for Cher. Both fine shows with excellent sound – they pride themselves on the quality of the house PA here (more on that soon!)

A little scare today. For some reason, most of the band were still in LA, flying in today. And then the local airport CLOSED unexpectedly! Another Tricky Day! Their flight could not leave, and we hoped it would open up (1) in time for soundcheck, which is really needed here (2) in time to play a show for 5,000 people! After an hour or so of worry, they are let loose to fly out, and arrive a little late for soundcheck.

We setup and soundcheck, and there’s a bit of concern as there’s a hard slap-echo coming off the rear wall. Unusual in that it’s a curved wall; not a flat one. Why is that bad? Well, a sound coming off the stage to a flat wall actually bounces sound away from the stage, for the most part, except for the very middle of the wall – that bounces right back. This happens to us in places like Jones Beach Amphitheater in Long Island. But here, a curved wall means ALL the wall faces back to the stage. When a drum is hit – it bounces back from ALL parts of the wall to the stage. We hear about 35 snare drums coming back about a half-second later. No problem, typically, we get all kinds of weird reverbs and echoes in the various spaces we’re in.

We’re late, but hold back the opening of the doors . . .

Unlike most bands, The Who REALLY do care for support/opening acts, and we want to give them also a proper soundcheck to do their best. Many bands give them openers nothing or the most minimal. Rog and Pete are empathetic to all musicians, and also want the audience to get a better show; hold those doors a few more minutes and get things right!

Our opening act is once again, The Wild Things. They’re not as wild as the name suggests, though they rock. It’s more crafted songwriting, with a mix of pop and hard rock – like The Who really. And a powerhouse singer/personality in Sydney Rae White; not tall, but packing a ferocious voice! We had them before in NYC, especially as Pete has produced their record, it’s a family thing. They are well-received as usual.

Roger and Pete saunter onstage – how many times have they done that, literally thousands. It’s like walking into your office, for most people, but there is still energy there – a pregnant pause as things are about to happen AND thousands of people screaming (we don’t get that in our offices!) The audience is mixed, as I said, so many are sitting most of the show, and rabid fans are really up and down a lot. No matter, but it’s not quite as crazy as the other shows in this matter.

Tommy is good, usual, and I notice the ‘Sparks’ theme sounds great today. That beautiful riff started on ‘Rael’ during Sell Out, re-used again for Tommy (because it was too good to let go, Pete told me) and has now become iconic. I do miss the other version they played, with the massive peak power chord, but adding the orchestra brings along something also great, especially the tympani rolls that make the Moonie part even bigger.

Pete announces Tommy as over, what we do of it. And then there will be some “hits” – or what he says people would know from CSI. And this next one is for certain: ‘Who Are You’. Probably one of our biggest this night – so many “normal” people will know it, and they love it.

Video courtesy of DingoSaidSo 

Pete mentions, as he has a few times, that the recent WHO album was sold as part of the ticket buys in 2019, so when tickets sold – albums sold. This got them a No.1 album, “for an hour” he says. I like how they are fair about this – albums don’t sell like they used to, it was an artificial boost to do so (like Prince, Tom Petty, and others had done, attaching them to ticket sales) but charts reflect what happens – and it happened, briefly. Good for them!

I won’t quote it exactly, because this is a family blog, but Pete says something insulting to the audience. He jokes – “that’s what you expect me to do – insult you. “That old Pete which was cranky-but-lovable. He remembers insulting audiences very boldly in the past (I remember a few shows starting with a ‘F-you’! Before any music.) It’s one of those factors you don’t get with other bands. And most of the time, it’s a joke we’re all in on. Sometimes, it’s not a joke!

Then it starts – Pete’s having trouble. Gestures and motions and things signal us – maybe before the audience sees, but soon it’s VERY obvious. He talks about it. For having such money and a revered sound, he thinks it sounds AWFUL in here. Dolby theater – a name one associates with high-quality audio, right? Well, Pete tells a story of how he was arrested and lost his driving license, so he found a way to take a boat to/from the Ramport Studio – which was on the River Thames at Battersea in south London. He said he often saw another bloke and his small boat puttering along – Ray Dolby, the famous engineer who created Dolby Noise Reduction and the rest! Pete says that he should not be designing any more concert halls if this is the example! (Hint: Ray’s gone, didn’t design this hall, and so on. But the place HAS a major design flaw in that curved back wall. To be fair – it sounds GREAT in the audience area. But onstage was that horrid echo.)

Later in the show – Pete’s gesturing to Zak; what he means is that the drums are LOUDER coming off the back wall (out of time!) than they are onstage. Makes sense – we have that electric kit, it’s only heard really through Pete’s stage wedge monitors, and it’s got a zillion watts of drum sound pumping out into the room and off the rounded back wall. The echo wins.

The fabulous Emily Marshall

And our conductor, Keith Levenson

Pete talks about one night coming back from the studio, creeping along in the dark, as he fears the river lock coming up – is it up, is it down?? Either could be deadly if he doesn’t catch it right, and a speedboat passes him in the dark – Ray Dolby! He says it didn’t end well for Ray that night – whatever that means. “Does it sound ok?” he asks the crowd – they cheer, they love it. “Ray’s still chasing me in that boat,” he replies.

For the band set, and the orchestra gone, he says they are going to show what they can do just as they used to, as a small band: “Well, with just 44 of us left. Or how many?” Four? Well, seven actually. Yeah, it’s still a good amount onstage. I’m reminded back when Pete and Rog did an acoustic version of some songs just as a duo; very powerful and shows that even without drums and bass, they still have IT.

During ‘5:15’ Pete’s really having trouble, there is no click track happening when the orchestra stops, and Pete’s been relying heavily on the visual light box we had built (we call it Das Blinkenlights) so he can SEE a beat rather than hear it. On ‘5:15’, the band is able to jam when the orchestra stops, but the click goes away and no more visual, just the bad off-time echo drums tonight.

Roger tells how he was born during an air raid “My mother wasn’t too happy, I came out quickly! We grew up around bomb sites like there are in Ukraine now.” And he expresses hopes that we can all somehow work things out together. This is VERY appropriate as we have something special tonight.

You may remember previous tours with a huge video screen behind the band. To be able to afford a full orchestra we work only with two smaller screens on the sides of the stage. But Dolby Live has their own mega-screen, we can use it for the one film we have to show: ‘The Rock’. It’s Roger’s creation, this film and tonight it is revealed when the curtain we’re using rises up out of the way – and the screen starts showing ‘The Rock’ film. Music, The Who history, kids, bombs, tanks, politics, rescues, assistance, Covid, it’s all there. And on top of the amazing sound of ‘The Rock’ with full orchestra. This moment is one where everyone has gotten their money’s worth!

Then – ‘Love Reign O’er Me’. Stunning and everyone in the crowd knows and loves it. Then ‘Baba O’Riley’ – a huge finish that every single person here knows cold. Katie comes out, wows the crowd with the exact solo and incredible beauty and vibe, and it’s a great finish. SO Vegas 1 is done, and despite the issues, another big success.

BE LUCKY! Roger intones this at the very end of every show. As I recall – he’d gotten it from McVicar, back when he was acting in the film. This was a legendary catchphrase from the man ‘imself! So Roger carries it on and there is no better place to be wishing it on a crowd than in a Las Vegas casino!


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