Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Rehearsals, Barcelona, 13 June 2023

“I can make it on the road . . .”

Yes, we are back. It seems time for the big Who family to ‘Go Mobile’ once again. Familiar faces, some for many decades, and others are new to us/this. All are welcome, as it promises to be good. Has it really been six months since we did this? Or more, now that I think of it, seven? And yet, the feeling of “this is all very familiar, we’ve done this before many times” is present. Our orchestra show hit the road long before the pandemic even, so we’re looking at nearly five years of this particular setup and team. We have done this a lot. We don’t mind it at all, it feels good to be back in the groove.

Our lifetime-award-winning tour manager Roy Lamb is at the helm, and our sound crew, video team, lighting, and onstage techs are putting it all back together. If not exactly, very much as it once was. Some of our equipment just went right into a lockup storage right after the final shows in Vegas last year. Others (like the PA and video equipment) were rental and were returned – who knows how many fashion shows or monster truck rallies they’ve been at in the meanwhile. Our guitar man, Binky is playing ‘Dancing Days’ as he used to work for Jimmy Page, but then he cuts into ‘Summertime Blues’ and even sings a convincing Entwistle vocal part into the microphone.

Barcelona is just wonderful, what a place to start. Spain is a most comfortable, warm country, with a sense of style and pleasure. They sure know how to gave a relaxed good time. And history-meets-modern comfortably here – certainly architecturally but in many more ways. They respect and preserve their beautiful, historical buildings, but the European modern sense of style is what makes it feel fresh and not stuck in its past. If you ever get a chance, it’s a fabulous city to visit, one of Europe’s best. And we have several days here to get ready for the tour.

We were here before – in 2006!? On the Endless Wire Tour (I believe the largest and longest Who tour ever . . . nearly a year and a half on the road celebrating that new album in 2006/7. I was trying to recall our European shows since then, but I could only remember just some Paris and Amsterdam shows in the last decade (each of those cities twice) as they are so near to England. But it’s been ages since we did a proper European runaround. I remember Barcelona well, it’s so beautiful and comfortable here – but they don’t see any Who shows ever here? Then I found an old announcement in Spanish from 2006; the Barcelona show canceled for “personal reasons.” I can’t recall that situation at all . . . but it does appear we have no shows here on the books.

And that proposed 2006 show was to be in the same place as we are now rehearsing: Palau Sant Jordi arena. The overall complex where we are is called the Olympic Ring, from the Barcelona ’92 Summer Olympics hosted here, and this large arena was the home of gymnastics etc for those Olympic Games. I recall walking around the hill here before – just one of many memorable sights to see in this great town.

Sort of ready! Most of our crew had flights with delays, or worse. The London contingent were bumped as their flight canceled last-minute. Then a few hours of waiting, then two hours dealing with the new plane – which took off without a speck of luggage on-board!! So most of our people are without their clothes or personal stuff – it’s still coming, but likely two or three days before everyone is reunited with their bags. Not fun. Our video team is, as always, the talented and friendly French Canadian team – and their own flight was held back, never a good thing when you’re dealing with inter-continental journeys. Needless to say, they are in all in good moods and set up before everyone else can be ready, and they are already working on new material for the evening’s concert.

Day One for us was load-in, unpack and test the older equipment, install and test the new equipment used for this summer’s tour. Things seem OK but . . . the PA sound system is, um . . . not here! Most of it is still offsite, being used for something in Madrid today. Nothing much we can do about it. We set up, there are some speakers, but not much. A shorter day for us today, which is a nice change.

The band comes in on Day Two, with time to run through things just a little, given the lack of PA. Everyone does their hello’s and “What have you been up to?” while we work.

Our second day is better, the full PA is finally up. The band returns again – easier to work things out before the orchestra arrives tomorrow on show day. They have some laughs, some discussions, some ideas and hopes for new ideas on the tour. Regardless, the European and UK audiences to come haven’t seen the orchestral show before, unless they were at the Wembley show in 2019. Even if we have almost the same show – it would be new to everyone here. Still, there are some proposed changes to the band’s set, especially some ’60s-era Who songs from the singles years. Nothing shocking, but some timeless classics like ‘Tattoo’ (always welcome, these kinds of tracks.) It’s much harder to change the orchestra set as we have charts written for everyone – or need new ones made up and rehearsed (expensive) if something new is added. There is talk of restoring some deleted bits of Tommy or Quadrophenia to lengthen those parts of the show. So likely there would be minimal changes there, but the band set can flex and change most during their non-orchestra set. As Roger said “we’re always being asked to shorten things, get the show out more quickly . . . But at this point in our lives we should just be able to play what we want.” They both felt it was a good show we’ve been doing, but even when it ended over two hours later, the time had just flown by.

Everyone has a good chat about things as we work fairly casually (there’s usually someone stressing in the background but the pace is otherwise very lax.) Pete and brother Simon work on some bits on ‘Substitute’ – Pete advises that most people play it wrong, and the middle but is NOT just like the intro. Simon suggests going to a 12-string guitar on his part, and it works well. Later on, I was asking Pete about the gigantic Who’s Next box – it’s still coming; later this year. He’s very enthused and I’m as excited as you are for it! Pete’s got some very cool news coming soon – about some of his personal instruments in London. Hopefully we’ll hear news about it and what it entails. I promise you’ll find it unusual and newsworthy. We talked a bit about recording and how Keith Moon always had too many cymbals: It started with Kit Lambert taking cymbals away while recording Moonie, and then overdubbing some later, as needed. Same for the Glyn Johns sessions after that – Moon’s cymbals were always an issue. And he’s not the only noisy one; at one point in rehearsal, Roger asks Simon Townshend to speak up because “My John ear is more deaf than my Pete ear!!”

We only have four shows on this leg, a short two-week run before the longer UK tour. Exciting though! And we always have insanely great crowds come out for any Latin countries – Spain and Italy, or in South America – those have always been younger and wilder than any “normal” Who shows. It’s not a prediction, so much as an eager expectation – Barcelona and Florence may be incredible nights for anyone in the room.

Onward – but in the same place.

First show tomorrah!

Welcome back, everyone.