Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: Set Up & Rehearsals, Toronto, ON, 1 October 2022

“And get on the bus that takes me to you…”

Here we come. The Hits Back! tour – is back.

It’s been a nice long-ish break. Seems like a significant time since we all did this, but when we started unpacking the cases, everything was VERY familiar. We’ve done this many times before – even pre-Covid actually – so it’s all extremely familiar territory. But possibly you’ve had one of those situations, time away from home or long work outing. Coming back feels weird but good – a mix.  “It’s like deja-vu all over again” as Yogi Berra once said!

This Who family is just that: We live closer and more intensely than almost any relatives do. We wake together, eat all meals together, and work 12 or more hours that same day. So we know each other well. Probably half our team has been with us over 10 years, some 20-30 etc, and others fairly recent. But all become familiar faces and names by the time you get past Month One even. Indeed, this is the best part – although we all love The Who as a band and employers, if our team wasn’t so strong; this situation could be really tough some days. It’s only natural that when we get back together, we like to stand around talking to catch up – before the hard tour work starts.

Besides the team that works on and around the stage, we have the “band handlers” – those who organize and move the band members to/from their respective hotels or planes each day. We also have our main Production office, where they organize the trucks, security, media, crews and anything to do with the shows coming up. Our tour accountant is back to handle the books. There are always representatives here from Live Nation, our tour promoter; they handle the tickets, arrange the VIP events each day, organize advertising, special promotional things, etc. We mustn’t forget the phrase that “an army moves on its stomach” so we have people to order food and make sure that everyone has been fed and liquified properly each day, that buses get food of all the right types, and drinks from water to alcohol – we have all types in our crew.

Before any tour, we TRY to do rehearsals. Since we were only “on a break” much of our gear has just been in storage. But not all of it – any hired/rented equipment like sound/lights often go out on other tours while we break. Our drums, guitars, keyboards, amps etc all belong to us, and those stayed in storage with small exceptions . . . there was the Daltrey tour in the UK meanwhile, and a little bit of our stuff went there as well.

So old gear, returned things, new gear  all has to be put back together into a traveling stage setup for this leg. Six weeks of use, so we streamline things (we tie certain cables together to make setup/teardown faster, etc.) and prepare – and no band is needed. So Day One in Toronto was “tech day” – unpack it all, see what might be missing or needed. We make sure things still work, change the guitar strings, order batteries.

Our location was new to us but very accommodating – MDC Studios (formerly Track Toronto) is a large private complex that houses several studios, mixing and filming rooms, voiceover, podcasting – and our big rehearsal room. Even though our main room is fairly massive, it’s not big enough for our orchestra platforms – but they are not needed for this kind of band-oriented musical testing. MDC’s Gina Phillips and their team really made it easy and comfortable, and brought us some classic Canadian food options – the donuts with maple syrup and bacon on top were a prime example!

Day Two was scheduled for finishing up and getting the backing band in. Fairly simple stuff. But Roger decided to come in and join us as well, and it turned into an early rehearsal. For a few hours, we were able to work on some tunes, mainly things they’d not played in a while. It kept feeling strange and most people were vocal about it; the feeling was not right and it felt hard to tell when things were working. But eventually, it makes sense. A heavily-carpeted and draped room has no echo at all (unlike our normal arenas!) and we don’t even have a big PA near the band as in concert, and . . . no Pete. Some seriously different things that affect our usual sound. So while it sounded good, it was so different.

Day Three and all is set to go. Pete arrives for what was our original planned rehearsal day. More work began, once all the “saying hello” pleasantries had been done. Work was focused on the band-set music; pieces we would play without the orchestra. As with the day before, we ran through those, new and old, but it was easier to gauge the state of things with PT on guitar, of course. That much closer to the reality of a Who show.

These are always different sessions, with some discussion on what to play – and how to play it. Working through ‘Young Man Blues’, Pete was explaining how he’d gone to see Mose Allison at the Jazz Cafe in central London; Mose told him he’d made far more income from The Who’s cover than he had done from anything else. Makes sense though! And live, the song became such a large platform for The Who to work with. The 2022 band has essentially learned the now-famous Live At Leeds version, but that was just one-night’s-version; Pete doesn’t want to replicate that night, but also realizes they needed to build into some kind of structure that makes sense and could be followed each night today. ‘Naked Eye’ was another song discussed. Pete explained how they’d evolved it from live jams, each member responding to the others and it grew. He mentioned that they’d recorded it at his studio once (I thought it was in NY maybe?) but it became fairly well-known as the best “unreleased” Who song – only coming out much later on Odds and Sods. That old studio Life House out-take of it is much faster, so the feel and impact of it is so much stronger live when they do play it nowadays. After two-three hours of this, time to pack up and load the trucks for the show.

We were grateful for the MDC studios facility and help, all wonderful people – the Canadian stereotype is true, and we always have nice experiences here in this great country. Toronto’s exploded, almost more than most major cities, with massive skyscrapers coming by the dozen every year. Traffic was unbelievable this week, much worse than London, Seattle, NYC etc – part of the issues of growing so much.

But – we’re glad to be starting here, and just glad to be back again!

Onward . . .