Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: The Ak-Chin Pavilion, Phoenix AZ, 30 October 2022

Brian and guitar tech Clive ‘Binky’ Brinkworth

The Ak-Chen Pavilion is our first “shed” of the tour. Sheds are any stage with a covered front seating area and a big lawn across the back. It’s sort of a semi-covered outdoor show. Our last run was full of such “shed” shows – such as the final one at the Woodstock site/Bethel Woods. These are not better or worse than indoor hockey arenas (like we’ve commonly had on this run) but usually dependent on having good weather.

Tonight we have a slight chill and a little breeze, but it’s just nice to be outside again, for a change.

Anyone heard of this band? Very big in England apparently.

This has a metal roof and a concrete stage, but the stage itself has a wooden extension platform on the front, to make it deeper, which we need. It makes it possible for us to have the full orchestra, drum set platform, and Roger out-front as usual. However, as the front extension is a wooden structure attached to the solid concrete stage, it’s very resonant; it picks up low bass notes and vibrates. We’re well-aware that this bothers singers, so the search is on for a large carpet to cover and damp-down some of the vibrations. We hope.

Finally, it’s all set up and orchestra and band rehearsals are complete. During the band section, Roger’s concerned, he can really FEEL the bass notes rumbling on that wooden stage front, despite the carpeting. He asks our crew to move the bass subwoofers away from the front of the stage (where they belong) to another location. They try, and it really helps him, so the sound crew will make-do and proceed. It’s not perfect, but Rog is understanding and will make it work.

We have a new crew member this week, Mike McKnight. His job is running the playback computers; mainly click tracks for the band and orchestra, plus the backing tracks you know from ‘Baba O’Riley’ and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ etc. It’s an important job, as 95% of our show relies upon this now. I was running that system before, but I did not have the training and experience Mike brings: He’s just finished the Roger Waters tour, and U2 and Madonna etc are among his previous credits. A world-class engineer with expertise in this field, so we’re happy to have him.

Pete goes off on the space situation; telling the audience that they deserved better here, not a “hole in the ground, covered car-park!” It’s funny, but he’s frustrated by the weird sound that bounces back to the stage. I’m told this little rant (not very serious, but true) makes the local papers the next day! Ah well.

Video courtesy of David Sanders

After some focused attention a few days ago, ‘Pinball Wizard’ is pretty good. We haven’t seemed to nail it yet. But it’s better and all of Tommy is really strong. The tympani (kettle drums) are one of the things that really makes the orchestral version exceptional; you can hear hints of this in Keith Moon’s original playing, the low tom-tom rumble is now enhanced with BIG tympani rolls etc. At the end of Tommy, Pete explains that “we’d be here all night” if they played all of it. “That works for you, but not for us!” People still love to imagine.

Alan Rogan’s old bus pass put to good use . . .

At one point, there’s an issue – Pete can’t hear one of Zak’s two kick drums. They work on it, but don’t seem to find a problem; it might be the echo coming here that makes things sound “off” for Pete. He rants about the space some more; “You’d think with all the money made from music, they could afford to design a concert hall . . .” And then tells the people they are soaking up some of the bad sound. “YOU are the acoustic treatment in here. With less of you – we couldn’t play!” It’s true for all spaces – when the people come in, it soaks of a lot of the echo, which would otherwise be hard seats, floors, and reflective services. He’s certain not to point the finger at our current promoters, Live Nation, who pay for and promote all the shows (this place was built long before they handled this event.)

Video courtesy of Aaron Riley

The spotlight crew

At one point, Roger complained he had “mice” in his ears. Aha – I’d been having troubles with my wireless ear monitors today. Since my own listening is not critical, I didn’t bother our technicians about it before, but one of our guys tells me it’s tricky getting a clear channel here, the signal keeps getting interrupted; that’s likely what Roger means. He claims it’s not ear wax but mice – so yeah, something active is changing what he hears. He’s good-natured about it, laughing as they try to fix it.

‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ has some of the coolest guitar parts today; Pete’s experimenting with cleaner sounds and some picking fun.

Video courtesy of Aaron Riley

Pete mentions how it’s really tricky to get a good orchestra mixed with a rock band. “It’s been 20 years since I tried.” He was afraid this wouldn’t work, but changes in technology have helped – and he says orchestras are younger, more open and experienced with rock band music. And now “they rock” too. That’s good for us!

On ‘5:15’, Roger sings the “Why should I care . . .” along with Pete. That’s never happened before, and I wonder why, but maybe – just because! Also in Quadrophenia, Loren Gold does a stunning piano intro – possibly his best ever. It sounds like something Romeo and Juliet would have dialed-up for their romance. One of our crew says “Best piano solo yet, unbelievable, that one . . .”

Nice during the introductions – Audrey and Katie (and now Randy) are described as “our orchestral heart” in the band. True. Pete also describes brother Simon as a genius, and mentions they did an album called Sweet Sounds many years ago together, of which he is very proud! The show ends and we’ll call it a good day, but to fill you in on the back story, we must go back in time one day:

Remember the broken-down bus saga from last blog?

When it ended, a third of our crew were stuck overnight in a random parking lot. They Uber’ed to an airport to catch early morning flights to Phoenix. The rest of our crew had begun the setup in our absence, but things were about an hour behind schedule by the time we did arrive. This is a smaller place in general, so it’s very difficult to set up and position things today. And this portion of the crew has had little sleep, with a full day ahead.

At first, we’d heard that the damaged bus could not be fixed. Ah well, we’ll fly back to LA or something when tonight is done. Meanwhile, another message came in that they DID fix the bus and our driver was on it, leaving soon. Great! This means we’ll have all three buses here tonight, just right for driving back for the Hollywood Bowl show in Los Angeles.

Then it gets even weirder than before: Our tour manager attempts to call the bus driver – he’s not answering. We talk with the bus company – they can’t reach him either. For a few hours, we wait, in case he’s just out of range or something. Then – the company’s GPS says the bus is actually headed back East on another highway – NOT one that comes to us, but one that leads to the bus driver’s home state. Uh-oh; he’s disconnected and running away from everyone. And we’re again in trouble. Some solution will be found by the time we finish tonight . . . but we are short one bus, the much-needed sleeping space for 12 of us.

Without the third bus, we MUST take as many back on two buses as possible. We have 36 people in the space of just 24, that’s crammed. Some agree to fly the next day, others agree to give up their sleeping bunk to those who didn’t get much sleep last night (12 of us) and they will stay up and eventually sleep on couches or the floor. It’s a little rough on everyone, but we’re all team-players and we get through things together.

As it happens, we do roll back into LA. And get our hotels on Hallowe’en day. One more day off, then the huge Hollywood Bowl show, The Big One of this tour.

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