28 Jul 2023
The Who Hits Back! Tour: The Eden Project, Tuesday 25 July 2023
Ah here we go, tying it all up with a final show, for now. Our hardy team of hard workers and fine players ought to be having a reunion in exactly one month.
Today is not only the end of this summer tour leg, it’s a peculiar and enticing one. We are in Cornwall, the southwestern tip of the big island of Great Britain that makes up England, Scotland and Wales. This is between Penzance and Torquay, familiar names if you’re into pirate lore. We are outside but not in a sports pitch/field; this is The Eden Project: A valley that was once a china clay pit, where excavations were abandoned when trade fell off, and replaced by a healthier option. Here there are scientific projects showing Bio-Domes that are formed sub-environments inside huge clear metal/plastic domes. The largest one is a Rainforest dome (hot, moist, tropical), and the other is Mediterranean (warm and dry); both are fairly remote climates to this British isle. It’s stunning to see for the first time, photos don’t do justice to the size. Our crew arrives the night before (we’re on new buses with sleeping bunks, as there is no hotel here) and in the fading twilight we see the domes from up on the hill; they are more than impressive!!
They have summer concerts here known as the Eden Sessions, and we are the final show this year. It’s an ideal place to see a concert, although rather far from cities and buildings – you’d have to drive. You can also make use of the exhibits and domes here, the fine food and merchandise and all that – not just a concert, there’s much to see and do.
If you’re a plant-lover, gardener, environmental supporter, or just a curious kid – you’ll absolutely love it. The size is enormous, but it’s filled with winding, twisting paths, bridges, viewpoints, and displays inside. They have teaching elements, ideas on how we use plants, how to sustain the environment, descriptions of each area and the flora. If you are on a vacation/holiday – take the family, you’ll find the mix of Sci-Fi situation and actually stunning views is well worth your time.
This is the setting for our “pre-final” show of the year. Right alongside, they’ve built a similar-looking arched stage (with rooms and offices inside and behind the stage). This faces a fairly sloped green grass area on the hillside, with several terraces. It’s an ideal place for a show – and today is unusual; no reserved seats! Which means that it won’t just be “sitting rich people” down in front – as we’ve had most shows on this tour. The eager and dedicated fans will finally have a chance to be up-front as close as they can manage. The band will be happy to see some new faces, as we often have the same people over and over and over, this is a welcome change to have fresh faces reacting.
There are some accommodations up the hill, where they put our Catering, plus some offices and dressing rooms. To get us all back and forth (we usually make many trips to those places in a day) they have three shuttle vans constantly running people back and forth up and down the hill. Today, it’s a “tight stage” without much room to spare. We’ll fit in, but there’s not much room for anyone else. So our support act is . . . Simon Townshend! Simon’s easy to set up, we don’t have to move any of our gear, as we do when other full bands play. But as we’re so remote, there’s no soundcheck for the band, they’ll come in later today. For fun, the crew have been attempting to play something so the sound-makers can check their levels and mixes. We usually run through ‘Who Are You’, or a version of it, as that’s what the band themselves always uses as their sound benchmark for each show. Ours is called ‘Crew Are You’ and we’re also hoping to do ‘Listening to Crew’, or ‘Behind Crew Eyes’ but we can’t be bothered to practice…
We’re all set up and the sound seems ok – very “Plain Jane” acoustics, as there’s no echo here, no reverb like a concert hall or arena. Just the music – might be good, if the band likes that. And then our man Simon Townshend takes the stage and begins his set; people are mostly already in.
Our special guest Simon Townshend opens the show
Video courtesy of the Gazzas
I suppose most attendees have made a day of it, coming here early and seeing the sights. Plus there aren’t as many shows around here, so the locals probably love coming out and plan ahead as the congestion on the main road is tough! Did I mention the weather – not yet: It’s ideal, sunny, clear, and not too warm. Finally, what one might call “a nice day” . . . We’ve not seen much sun since Barcelona or Florence a month back.
Our orchestra tunes to the First Violinist/Concert Master, who is Katie Jacoby. Tuning up always sounds like the start of Sgt. Pepper’s (because that’s what they used to start the album, a brilliant move). Zak comes out wearing something over his all-yellow outfit we’ve seen all tour, finally another color, and it looks cooler this way. Pete addresses the happy crowd: “It’s great to be back in Cornwall,” etc. but mentions he has friends here that he’s unfortunately unable to see, as he’s helictoptering back to London right afterward. Roger laughs and responds “Well, I have no friends here!” And the show rolls into Tommy . . .
Video courtesy of the Gazzas
I notice something is up, and see scrambling all over our side of the stage. Only later do we know what happened. Pete started a part of a beat early somehow, and everyone followed him. So our brilliant playback man at the computers, Mike McKnight, kept the clicks running (so they would still have the right tempo) while he lines up the second computer to sync to what they are playing now; the wrong parts will soon be lined up to what the band is playing, thanks to his quick work. It’s a brilliant move to save a stage mistake. But then the band starts freaking out that they are only hearing the click (no other cues or parts) so the tech crew starts thinking something’s gone wrong with the playback system or something. They’re asking Mike questions and trying to get him to work with them – and his chance to sync up the second computer goes awry! Ah well, a valiant try to save the song, but then it all stops and the band/orchestra try to fly just listening and watching the conductor – tricky on such a big stage (this is why we have click tracks to guide them.) I will admit to hearing lots of real timing errors tonight, sometimes from here, sometimes from there – but it’s a Who show, things are usually a bit loose, and it’s certainly live – not those people pretending to play onstage. (Before the orchestra tours, we’d talked about how having a full-orchestra and fixed sheet music might really interfere with the freedom and corrective abilities the live band usually has – but it was worked out that usually we don’t have any issues, and it lets us do huge pieces on ‘Overture’ and ‘The Rock that’ bring something new to each audience.)
Tonight, we don’t have any screens, no video component to the show at all. We still will set up the cameras and video switching situation as we’re recording the show as-usual, just in case. History’s sake, you know. But it’s a test of the “old school” ways of doing a show, Pete’s windmills and Roger’s microphone swinging means that much more, as it did in the old days. It’s not a huge place, so it’s visually just a classic rock and roll show. The sun has set (because we’re in a big pit!) but the sky is still light – not yet much impact from the light show. There is a wonderful perfect half-moon floating in the sky facing the band from the hills behind. Today, we don’t have any volume limitations, as we did in so many of these cricket grounds – as there are no neighbors here at all! Rock on! . . .
‘The Acid Queen’ gets the first big response from this crowd, they’ve been nice and polite, but something in this makes them wake up. Pete declares that the Eden Project is a great place, and calls it a dream; “but I don’t know how far we will go with it (their example of being able to have food/vegetation grown all over the world), but I hope it lands . . .” He’s about to introduce ‘Eminence Front’, when he recalls that era of the band. He mentions that they were like most artists, with a raw early period, then they got more polished and refined later on. He’s just found a recording of ‘Eminence Front’ the other day, when Roger was singing it! That would be cool to hear. (Ed: Brian, you can hear it on the 2022 extended reissue of the It’s Hard album)
Video courtesy of Westcountry Design
Video courtesy of Brian Mathieson
Pete has the Rickenbacker guitar brought out again for ‘Anyway Anyhow Anywhere’. So it IS back. Nice, even for a little guitar variety, but it’s also a cool look. He picks it up and looks at it closely, as it must be bringing back memories. “I have a sudden urge to smash a guitar . . .” of course, this is greeted with HUGE response. But no. (I think the last one I recall being smashed was in Birmingham or Liverpool quite a few years ago; I think it was actually stomped-on? I don’t think thrown guitars count, they might break, but they are not “smashed” if you’re keeping score.) He does find a nice way to do the stuttered on/off/on/off machine-gun sound like he used to. Been a long time since he’s done that trick. Then after the song, he tells everyone “I said to my tech, ‘Never again, screw it.’ There are so many knobs, and they don’t to anything! Sorta true, in some positions, the many Rickenbacker knobs don’t work like regular guitars do. So maybe it’s gone again, or maybe it’s not.
Video courtesy of Westcountry Design
During this break from the orchestra, I see conductor Keith Levenson watching the show. He tells me “Roger is tremendous tonight!” Indeed, he is. Pete is also showing the most bright energy as he plays, his feel is youthful and driven. The musical power onstage gets huge during ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, and everyone is blasted by the huge finish for that one.
We’re finally into darkness in the sky, which enhances the mood, just like the glow from a glass of wine kicking in; things are definitely different, and people are now feeling it strongly. In perfect contrast to the hugeness of ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’, it’s followed by ‘Behind Blue Eyes’. Each night, this is a lovely and welcome contrast during the show, when things are their smallest (still we have eight people playing!?!) We’ve often had weird troubles with ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ this tour, as simple as it seems, it has room to grow better.
Then we’re into that magic stretch, the Quadrophenia set. Pete’s most-gracious to the orchestra, our ‘Heart Of England Philharmonic’ players, who have been wonderful accomplices on this leg.
Beautiful shot of the bio-domes and The Who onstage © Tanya Ross
“We are the Mods!” the old chant comes up again. Roger declines; “Nah, they were too cool to sing that.” And Pete notices some activity with the high-visibility-vest-wearing security team down-front again. He mentions “The yellowjackets are moving about . . . about to start a mini-revolution.” Then he jokes and sings “We are the Yellowjackets! We are the Yellowjackets, We are the Yellowjackets!”
For the final “thank you’s” of the tour, Pete again mentions David Campbell, our talented Los Angeles-based arranger (huge list of credits, look him up!) as he does every night. That’s a wonderful magnanimous gesture, as Pete knows how critical these parts/charts are to each show, having done a few arrangements himself. “He’s not here tonight . . . But what would he do, if he was? I guess point at the sheet music and say ‘I did that’ and go off and have a pint.” Sounds like a plan.
We did it – finished now. What a space, a beautiful, comfortable night, with seemingly good sound, great food and drink, no big issues onstage or off. We’ve had a really good run this time; having the same orchestra each show was a BIG plus. At one point, the setlist dropped all the newer songs and extended the band-only/non-orchestra set, which was a big success, especially those early singles that mean so much to all of us. Pete and Rog did ‘Tea & Theatre’ as a duo, which is always so strong – anything they do in that form is incredible. But they’d decided just to end with ‘Baba O’Riley’, a stronger choice. A lot of adjustment and improvement over these weeks since Europe started.
Video courtesy of Harry Frampton
Working with our team is always the best part, the extended Who family that comes and goes every tour. Pete and Rog are the core, the sole reason everyone is here. But without question, the support team have important personalities and skills that are equally admirable. Most are world-class workers in their field: They do everything from Celine Dion, the Video Music Award’s, to Fast and Furious Live, but there’s something about the Daltrey/Townshend approach that permeates what we do. They say every tour has a personality that comes from the “top-down” – everyone reflects who we work for, the attitudes and approach of the road team come from them. Like Pete and Rog, we laugh a lot, we’re more concerned with function than form, and sometimes take things very seriously – right before we don’t. It is said within the industry that working for The Who is the best crew you can have around you; I haven’t seen another rival to our team as far as camaraderie and spirit.
The bio-domes and The Who onstage photographed from up on the hill © Tanya Ross
Next we look forward to our one-time reunion at the Sandringham Estate on 28 August. Will there be any more? Only Pete, Roger, and management will decide in the coming months. Let’s keep everyone healthy, show your support to whatever comes down the line, and we will also show up for whatever’s on the table.
Thanks for reading.
Onward . . .
Tonight’s Set List
The Acid Queen
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
You Better You Bet
Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere
I Can’t Explain
Cry If You Want
Won’t Get Fooled Again
Behind Blue Eyes
The Real Me
Love, Reign O’er Me