Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Golden 1 Center, Sacramento, 26 October 2022

Hello Sacto!

Sacramento is the capital city of California; not an obvious choice for the center , with now better-known mega-cities like Los Angeles, San Francisco, San Diego, etc. in the state. But the history goes far back, to around 1848 when the Gold Rush happened in this very area. Before that, California was still under Mexican rule – hence those very Latin-sounding names everywhere. By 1850 the influx of Eastern-based Americans and Chinese workers completely changed the population of the area and it became a US state. And so – there are some really old buildings (relative to California) in a beautiful part called Old Sacramento, and the seat of power is the California State Capitol and associated government buildings around the center of town.

Memories – I lived here when young, so it’s very familiar. And oddly enough, the first time I was invited inside a Who show was near here in 2000, having become friends with longtime guitar tech Alan Rogan. He’d invited me to a show just outside of town – in the middle of nowhere – as it should not be busy and I’d be able to visit and see the behind-the-scenes of it all for the very first time: I met Rabbit and Zak that day, most of the road crew – but Rog, Pete and John were away off-limits from visitors. Ah well. I think that was what’s called the Toyota Amphitheatre now, about 30 miles out of town between Plumas Lake and Wheatland.

Pete mentioned this when he came out – he was under the impression that they’d never played in town. Sort of true! They’d really only been to Sacramento proper in 1968, with Iron Butterfly on the bill at the Memorial Auditorium; both bands fairly new to most people then. Certainly – that’s a long time ago. I’d been to this same arena just a few years ago to see our friends Foo Fighters in this very room; and when we arrived today, they have one “concert photo” in the building, a large framed b/w shot of Taylor Hawkins (RIP) and Dave Grohl sitting backstage on a case. A lovely memory to see them in their prime. And now it’s The Who’s turn on this stage.

There is a large yellow TOWER RECORDS sign inside here – probably a familiar name to many music people. Yes, the old record store chain is gone, but Tower began here in Sacramento, first a cinema, then a little shop that also sold a few records; then an empire. The cinema is still downtown, but the only “real” Tower Record stores left are in Dublin, Ireland and Tokyo, true!

Something is up – this crowd is definitely bigger than San Jose; filled to the brim with people all around. And they are highly positive. Yeah – most of our shows are good, most crowds are good, but this one is really having fun. Not as LOUD as some, but enjoying the moments during songs, not just between. Moving and singing and dancing around – lots of that. Drinking? I think so. Whatever it is, we’re in a good space tonight, literally.

Roger is dressing casual and comfortable as he has been recently, with Pete slightly more dressy in a coat with red kerchief in the pocket. Pete discusses his trip in, as he’d flown up from L.A. He saw the many fields and river deltas around here – it’s surrounded by food production in these big, flat valleys.

Tommy: Today during rehearsals, Emily Marshall is commenting on a horn part that’s seemingly played badly or out of tune. Correct – but it’s the climbing horn parts John Entwistle recorded back in 1968 for the Tommy ‘Overture’. It’s definitely something traditional, and we’re all used to it now but the part does end on a really sour note. I asked Roger about this, and he was curious “which one?” ‘Overture’ – “oh year, that was supposed to be a submarine going down.” And then I mentioned it’s similar to the ‘Pictures of Lily’ horn solo John plays – “that’s a klaxon”/air raid siren effect. Both kinda wild and not the usual stuff.

Right after ‘Listening To You’ ends tonight, Roger tells us all: “Yes, with whatever hearing we have left, we are always still listening.”

Pete’s guitar man Simon Law has pointed out that Pete has recently gone back to using the red No4 Stratocaster that really is THE Pete Townshend guitar of his career. Not so memorable, as it just looks like a normal red guitar, but if you’ve seen the shows in the last 25+ years, this is the longest-lasting, most-used guitar. In the last year or two, he’d favored a gold one over the red, but just gone back this week. Guitars change in setup (adjustable) and feel (often not) and sound (somewhat.) You can only do so much to help a guitar, but size and shape and resonance – all complex interacting things that make one instrument magical, or not. A great instrument can really help you play better. Same for any job, as an ideal tool makes the work a breeze. But tonight, as Pete plays, he’s struggling at the beginning, some very visible signs of frustration. So much so that he mentions it: “If I’m making some strange faces it’s because this guitar – which I use all the time – sometimes it sounds fabulous, but tonight . . . I think it needs to go to another place!” HUGE cheer – because you know what they wanted him to do to it! But no – never going to smash the No4 guitar, it’s always back eventually, and he knows it – if there ever was a guitar to preserve. The fans are out of luck on this one – he simply moves to another as his main for tonight while his tech attempts to adjust and change No.4 during the show. (We must have told you that Alan Rogan “invented” the stick-on numbers that used to adorn Pete’s guitars in the 70s and later. They were just sticky house-numbers from the hardware store, but very visible as “5” and “2” when stuck to the front of the ’70s Les Pauls. Now they are all still numbered (even the acoustic guitars) but on the back, so it’s not visible. Too bad, I think, it’s fun to keep track.

‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ is about to begin, he makes a rather unexpected comment about songwriting. He mentions Bob Dylan often “writes about things like an injustice done to a guy in 1958.” Something specific and tidy, all complete in a nice little package. But talking about the more general political/revolution side seen in ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, he states that “we’re not really an angry band, we had a lot of fun!”

Speaking of guitars, Pete stopped ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ tonight – “This needs to be louder” he told his monitor engineer. Adjustments made and the song restarts. They are pretty common, these start-and-stop moments in our shows. Other people are more slick, but this team is not afraid to stop and get it right, then resume.

As usual, Zak nails the iconic Keith Moon drum parts from Quadrophenia – especially those in ‘The Rock’. Then he adds his own stuff, as this is not a tribute band – originality is always prized. I remember Day 1 when Pino Palladino came into the first rehearsal, that shocking day when The Who would continue on without their original friend and bandmate. Pino asked Pete about what and how to play “Just don’t play like John” was the answer – they didn’t want someone to clone such an original style, that was John’s unique way – and still is!

Speaking of Zak – he and Pete often look right at each other. These are the moments when you can feel “things are happening.” Much of our show is planned – has to be. Because of this orchestra and so many parts to play. But when it reduces down to a freer mode; Roger improvising lyrics, Pete trying new things, Zak pushing and pulling – it’s very exciting. Not always perfect, as they are experimenting – the outcome is whatever happens. Zak once told me “My job is to kick Pete in the ass every night” – in other words, to wake him up and keep him engaged in the moment. That’s a good role to have.

And look who’s here . . . it’s the Hurleys! Good to see you, Gary and Melissa

Whatever’s in the water tonight, this is a fun crowd; not too rowdy, medium-loud and enjoying things a lot. We’ve had good ones all along here, each night is just a different flavor of it. Even our roughest show in Detroit was interesting and fun overall. Good stuff happening and people seem to love it.

Lastly – our good/new friends Elliot and Ali are in charge of our special VIP events every night. Those who buy the VIP package each night come in early for a decorated room/museum of Who-ness and are provided food and such for a relaxing experience before heading out to the show. We’re pleased having Ali and Elliot as daily members of our team riding the bus with the crew each night; they fit right in. We hear from so many people that they enjoy seeing the artefacts and such, John Entwistle’s custom Buzzard bass is certainly the highlight for me. He loved those basses.

The VIP suite

Yep, those are Keith’s stack-heel platform shoes in metallic leather

John’s legendary custom Buzzard bass

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