Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Rehearsals: April 18, 2022

“He’s crazy if he thinks we’re coming back again . . .”

Well . . .

This is the weirdest feeling. Once again, our road “family” gets back together to do what we all do. Familiarity all around – someone said it really feels just like yesterday that we did this (a few hundred yesterdays ago, that was true.) We fall right back into it. A few people have changed. We miss the faces and names that have been a part of this team before, but we all have work to do and soon: The Who in concert. That thing.

Which will probably conjure up a lot of memories, probably some life-highlights if you’re like most of us visiting this website. That once-hoped-for future is right in front of us, but we don’t know what it will hold. This is a fairly short run (not too long, but long enough given the current situation) and another is planned in the fall, another chance to see and do all this great stuff.

And it is great. I’m certainly not as big and deep a fan as some of you all here can be, but I am more so than many. I was talking to Pete this week about the ‘Rael’ theme also in ‘Sparks’/Tommy, something I’d always wondered, but not asked about until now. (Among our team, Simon Townshend and Zak Starkey know the Who catalog better than almost anyone – often better even than Pete and Rog.) And I get chills listening this week as Those Incredible Songs in a big live room – yep; “coming back again”. The old records and videos and memories are great – they continue to do what they do – but, for now, the real thing is still here and happening once again. That’s pretty exciting. Maybe like me, the previous two-plus years have made you appreciate the smaller things in life; it used to take a meaningful concert or vacation to get me really enthused about something, but now even seeing people and going to ANY concert or film can be something pretty damn exciting.

The feeling is weird – not a very creative word, but comfortably strange. We set up all the same old gear in the same places, do the same motions and plug them into (we hope) the right places. Roger’s got a new amp for his guitar (an Orange, which sounds great) from his longtime guitar/harmonica/tea tech Binky. Loren Gold has a new Korg Nautilus keyboard added to his arsenal of synths. The ARC Tube Trap company is so pleased (and surprised) by our longtime use of their products onstage to control the sound. Normally they are only found inside recording studios to fine-tune the sound. Years ago, Pete brought his own from the studio to let him turn up the guitar amp and direct its sound onstage; now we’ve used them around drum sets and bass/guitar amps for the other musicians, too. This lets us shape and direct where things are loud – or not – onstage. So ARC just sent us a whole new stageful of the round fuzzy pillars to use for 2022. But these are small changes the audience would never notice, as much as we may like them.

Our newest member of the band, Emily Marshall

Our conductor extraordinaire Keith Levenson had already shown us his great taste as a talent scout. Previously, he’d brought in Audrey Q Snyder and Katie Jacoby on cello and violin. Besides their talent, they became instant friends to all of us – and simply make our days happier. They take care of the orchestral librarian work each day, too, handling all the “desk” assignment and care of the sheet music for our many musicians. And there is newness, because Keith did it again: We want to welcome our newest member of the band, Emily Marshall. With the current situation, we’ve all been thinking “How can we still keep the show rolling if anyone catches something for a week or so?” Some understudy people musicians have been told to be ready for a call, just in case, and some of the crew have been preparing instructions for their own substitute should one be needed to help run the show. Bringing in Emily was Keith’s idea; as conductor of this orchestral show, he is SO critical to each night’s performance. Emily is also a conductor and a pro keyboard player, so she’s joining the band each day to play along with the orchestral parts – to be 100% familiar with everything we do. We are covered for a strong conductor in any event, plus Emily has one of those winning personalities that made her feel right at home among our people. One of our first rehearsals was without orchestra – just Rog and Pete and the band, but with Emily adding in her orchestral keyboard things as well: Pete commented how amazing it was to hear what she could do within minutes of starting. My first two days were spent working here with Emily and her programmer Taylor Williams. Taylor is a wizard with computers, samples, and orchestral scores, so she and he created a very realistic set of custom sounds she can play and fatten the sound of our live ensemble in each city. It was a BIG sound before, but watch out now – it will be stunning!

Roger is just amazing, period. I was getting so many chills this week hearing him sing. It’s just strange that he’s gotten better in recent years. He’s obviously as pleased as we are (and hopefully YOU are) to be here doing ANYTHING in 2022. He’s got one of the best jobs in the world – with this massive sound behind and around him – he’s probably the best classic-rock singer on the planet today. It’s all familiar, but as with any tour, the new setup brings new adjustments and it’s a lot of music to re-learn. Pete mentioned that everyone assumes that since he wrote everything that he can automatically just play it from memory – nope. It takes practice and memorisation and notes to get through a two-hour event like this. Jon Button and Loren Gold came in ready, professional as they are – they knew every note, which made it easier for everyone in the room. Zak is on fire, with long rocker hair that looks cool as **** and ready to do the business in that important seat. Simon Townshend has a lot on his plate, too, but has carried the rehearsals by guiding us through some of the songs when Pete wasn’t around. Billy Nicholls is back in fine form, hitting the highest notes cleanly and with feel and tone – his voice has added a lot since he came on with us.

And look who we found in one of the flight cases!

In rehearsal, there was some cool stuff added, sliding parts in the violin and cello intro where Roger comments “George Harrison would love it!” The sound crew were listening to an old backing track from the original ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ – and heard an unusual violin part. This reminded me of when I’d asked Pete about the theme riff that floats over and over throughout the song, how he’d done it. He said it was synthesizer (likely ARP) along with him on violin. I was amazed that he played violin on it – but he said it was just tuned to open strings (no fingering needed) so he could bow the parts with the tone and articulation he wanted – and the two mixed together: there you have it! Speaking of backing tracks – I made a short video while we were testing the original keyboard bits for ‘You Better You Bet’, and you’ll get a quick tour of the stage as it is for these shows.

So – we’re now ready. Break is over. Time for live music, stages and sounds, lights, emotions. We’re looking forward to Ft. Lauderdale and wherever you might be seeing us. (Sometimes I travel to see a distant show – and that makes the night even more special.) There are some REALLY cool events on this coming tour, venues that are not “just another show” at all. Jazz Fest in New Orleans will be a great one, no doubt. Boston is always one of the standout Who gigs on a tour, never fails. We have Bethel Woods – if you don’t know, that’s the exact place where Woodstock happened in 1969, the hill where the sun came up as Roger sang ‘See Me Feel Me’ to a generation in the most famous concert of all time. Madison Square Garden – the fabled MSG – if you haven’t seen The Who there, you are missing something very, very special. And Cincinnati – we’re coming back. Heavy, heavy to be there, and so important for us to do, that will be one for the history books.

More music, more music, more music . . .

Onward – see you soon!