Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Moda Center, Portland, OR, 20 October 2022

Ah, “Portlandia” – the wonderful series about this fair city from Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein (both highly musical people and pretty brilliant at this kind of show. Fred is also a BIG Who fan who we will be seeing later this month, most likely) Why Portland? Well, it does stand out among cities.

Having visited here when I was quite young, I always dreamed of retiring here. And that was long ago, in the last 25 years, the town has really exploded. It’s incredibly popular – and for good reason. The place is artistic, culturally strong, diverse, open and accepting, very progressive. It’s a music town, and with possibly the planet’s best bookstore. Beautiful unique architecture and great food everywhere. Greenery and a big city right next to each other. Much to like.

ALL of Oregon has a “hippie” reputation, and Portland itself is no exception. Pot was legalized early-on here, and psilocybin has been decriminalized and fully authorized for medical use; a big coming trend across the States; it’s very effective. Maybe that explains some of what we experienced tonight?

Coming in from Colorado we were struck by the grey haze; it looked like London fog, only not quite as intense. Wild fires, it was explained – some in Oregon but more in Washington state next door. For areas specifically known for their annual rainfall, it was lacking when it was needed most here.

“It’s been five years or so since we’ve been here.” Pete starts the event. “Not everything is great (referencing the smoke) but hopefully the air won’t f*** you up! The air in here is supposedly heavily filtered, but the music won’t be.”

And we’re off, into Tommy. It’s not quite a full house. Although a typical hockey/basketball arena, it’s a weeknight in a smaller large-town. Fair enough, people everywhere in sight look excited and boisterous. There is a sense of a different/special crowd here. Right at the end of the ‘Overture’, they are LOUD. Small-but-mighty is good. Maybe they have indulged – whatever. Roger comments on some women right in the front row – we’ve not seen them before but they are bopping up and down to every single beat. “There’s a lot of bouncing around going on down there! I’ll have what you’re having!” It’s infectious and they are not the only ones enjoying themselves.

I sometimes reflect on this music I’ve heard so much (both before working with the band and 500+ shows since.) Tommy is from an age gone by; when instrumental music used to stand alongside vocal/pop songs. It was the growth of The Who beyond a pop singles band, adding Pete’s influences from classical/serious music that allowed A Quick One and Tommy to be born. The world had progressive rock afterward and excessive showoff-soloing music like Yes, ELP, Dream Theater, Dragonforce, etc. since then. But the instrumental music here (‘Overture’, ‘The Rock’, and even big portions of Tommy, Who’s Next, Quadrophenia) are not to show off but to compose.

We’re used to that now – in these old contexts – but there’s not much modern music that blends pop hit songs with longer instrumental passages. Would ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ be nearly as great without the organ/synth break and huge dream solo? Pink Floyd and Queen are other fine examples of instrumental pop done well, but you don’t see it in U2 or Foo Fighters, in comparison.

‘Pinball Wizard’ starts – then stops. Pete wasn’t ready when Zak and I and orchestra were: So Pete halted it with a simple “Go again!” and we’re off. Better to stop and restart than to miss that great and iconic INSTRUMENTAL opening; there is is again, beautiful musical composition apart from the vocal melody/lyrics. It’s The Who – nobody minds a bit of reality as we restart solidly.

This hall has an interesting sound, a beautiful smooth reverb like a classical concert hall should. That’s unusual – nobody designs these places for concerts. It’s one of their functions, but usually they are sports arenas, converted for music. So sound is not a priority – they sometimes do treatments in acoustics to try and fix problems later. This room needs none of that. But the feel of it is not boomy and somewhat dry; always hard to compare the experience of the musicians onstage to the one of the crowd – they can be totally opposite or in sync; there’s almost no control of a large acoustic situation.

Video from up in the gods courtesy of Tony Callucii 

We have both ‘Eminence Front’ and ‘You Better You Bet’ as big 1980s Who hits singles. About 17-18 years into their career, this band were still having big international hits. Most big bands have a brief run of something huge (Guns N Roses, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Bon Jovi, Def Leppard) that feeds their entire career from within one decade of initial success. The Rolling Stones managed to make it happen in the 60s, 70s, and 80s, too – then it stopped for them, although many bands do make great music later – it just doesn’t sell like the big hits did originally.

We see fans of all eras – and most Who fans are pretty accepting; they like it all when it’s good! Like the mod stuff early-on, the rocking and acoustic Who in the 70s, and the synth/guitar work in the 80s – it’s all of it’s time, but not dated. Just classic. And if you pay attention, both ‘Eminence Front’ and ‘You Better You Bet’ are better now than on record; they have more life and energy.

Roger starts ‘Naked Eye’ on his acoustic guitar – playing the opening over and over; “Got to get my fingers working,” he says. Pete sneaks up behind him with a grin, puts out ONE finger and moves to put it behind Roger’s butt . . . “Now, now – leave it alone!” Roger cautions him. Funny.

‘Another Tricky Day’ – it’s time for that one. “Are you gonna do your thing?” Pete asks, about Roger’s spoken introduction. “No” replies Rog.

“I’ll do it!” states Pete. “I’m having a drink” and Roger does just that! “I’m not gonna” Pete finally decides, then adds “You do it!” So Rog complies and provides us with even more detail than ever before, about the arc of the band and music, popularity and politics, from his birth through the 60s to the 90s in music. A big one – then it’s time for ‘Another Tricky Day’. That’s become a catchphrase for the crew – we’ve seen a lot of it.

Pete and Roger have found this audience very entertaining. They are pretty wild and seemingly the loudest of our crowds so far, which is exceptional for their smaller size. We’ll take it!

Just as Roger screams in ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ – Pete almost does some kind of knee-slide thing. In the opposite direction, and no knees, but he does move quickly across like he used to – he’s feeling it tonight.

‘The Rock’ is exceptional tonight. It’s the piece with the least improvisation, really, but even then it can grow or change depending on the sound and performance. Pete and Simon are brothering it up during the Russian Dance melodies in the second half, as the piece builds and builds to a massive martial peak. And then the break – the ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ theme emerges in one of music’s greatest transitions ever: Pete always soars here, enjoying his composition and moment to be free above it all. This is another magic moment that doesn’t happen as well on the records.

Video courtesy of CliffBall

The beginning of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ starts after Loren Gold’s long piano intro – another piece of the show that’s evolved over the years. The song opens beautifully, and our lighting team has ripples playing across the back curtain, a very believable watery look that really enhances what the musicians are doing.

‘Baba O’Riley’ – yes, the usual. Usually great, always great. And we’re done. NOISY! This crowd did not want to let go. The Who are not big on encores – never were – but nothing is going to happen after the bows tonight. Yet this audience is still screaming.

We’ll have what they’re having!

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