Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: UBS Arena, Belmont Park, NY, 7 October 2022

So this is Belmont? New to us, although the area is familiar: Long Island, NY. Just across the water, East of famous Manhattan/NYC is a long island. It goes for miles and miles, really much larger than most probably imagine. Towns and boroughs, cities and villages all across, and much to see. We’re not far from the Uniondale area or Jones Beach Amphitheater where we’ve played before.

It’s a short drive from NYC, or train ride is better – because this is Friday night! And besides the thousands just coming out for The Who, we have tens of thousands going out for dinner, movies, and a weekend in the luxury towns out to the ocean far to the East. It was a nightmare for many to get here, but we’re glad they did.

Our usual loooong day setting up. As I’ve mentioned before, this is extremely challenging for the crew, starting the day many hours before normal. Our show has to be ready – not by showtime but seven to eight hours before. Rehearsing the orchestra adds those hours to our schedule. Today is slightly different. The orchestra is “the same” as has played with us before at Madison Square Garden (remember?) on the previous leg. That being said – those same musicians have done 100+ things since then, and there’s no way they actually remember our many notes. However, they’re all excellent sight-readers, and what they may remember is how our show goes – the pace, the style and how to watch that guitarist wave his arms in a BIG way to end some of the pieces. We hope . . .

So, whether you were there or not, the report of our Detroit show was memorable. It was a rough night, and I most likely was playing down the difficulties. So tonight had such factors added to our usual concerns for a NY-based audience. ALL shows matter, all are important. But Roger, especially, was concerned with giving a crowd (that may have seen us three or four times on this very tour already) something to surprise and remember. As I mentioned, we’d done some rehearsing before Toronto, and that may come into play tonight.

Our sound and stage crew were struggling all over today, so we needed the time without the orchestra to get ready. Weird hums and buzzes kept coming and going. These things are weird, like gremlins. Some are basic, very understandable and very easy to figure out. Last tour in Dallas ALL of Pete’s amps had a bizarre chattering buzz that was really annoying. Pete’s very-capable tech was trying everything to get rid of it, including bringing in a replacement amp from a local shop – and it continued. For some reason, giant display screens up on the roof of the building were affecting our sound inside, but just those critical main guitar amps. Eventually a different brand of amp was brought in – not Pete’s favorite – but it worked for the one show. Today we have a new “option” amp here, built by George Allesandro to Simon and Pete’s specs, just in case we have the issue again. Today, one of our problems was a weird on-and-on buzz in Simon Townshend’s rig. Eventually, we found the cause – a tea kettle 60 feet away, plugged into a different circuit! Bizarre. So, after much ago, it’s time for a show.

I’ve been very remiss in mentioning on our shows when we’ve had such an excellent opening act (“support act” they say in England). Steven Page is known best as the lead singer/writer for Barenaked Ladies, and he’s here with two great musician/friends. The Steven Page Trio – very appropriate. I don’t know how they were selected (we rarely do, opening bands just show up on our schedule!) but they’re a fine choice. For one, the songs are very accessible on first listen – a great factor to an audience who’s just learning of your music, likely. They have great energy, with two guitars and cello – but not boring, quite active and enthusiastic as they sing/play. And it still rocks, despite the lack of the usual drummer, and the cello does some great bass lines as well as melodic stuff. And we’re appreciative for a simple fact – they don’t require us to tear down much of our setup! There’s barely any room left onstage after we come in for the day, but their compact size is ideal for an arena-filling sound without much footprint. Be sure to check them out, in videos or streaming ways… They’re always positive and appreciative, so it’s been a pleasure.

“Queens!” (the borough) says Pete as the band come out. “Yea. . . . I know it’s New York, very helpful,” he responds after someone yells out from the crowd. We’re in the new UBS Arena, the first time for us and almost all the crowd. Shiny and clean, and it sounds really good here for us today. The orchestra are doing great from the get-go, the lack of rehearsal is not an issue at all. They’re just great players AND our soundmen Robert and Chopper have gotten a great sound without the usual time (almost two hours of rehearsal without The Who) that they get each day. As with every show, things change when humans come in the building, so they continue to dial-in the sound throughout the show, better and better with each tune.

And yes, it’s already better than our last one, thankfully. But you never know . . . things could happen. Still, a bit of confidence is always a good booster of performance. Pete mentioned he’d thought today about New York, the first place they’d been in America in 1967, and how it was the beginning of hundreds of friendships and connections here; how America as a whole had grown to welcome them. Yes, we did!

The Tommy set ends with a huge finish and the response is similarly immense. This crowd is a beyond-usual one. Is it because of NY, or Friday, or both? But they are loud and standing and singing more than most we play to. ‘Who Are You’ is storming and tight, and we’re clearly in safe and strong territory for the night.

I always love the between-song chatter; I wish more people would START filming when a song ends – you may not know what is coming up, but those bits of talk are often as-interesting as any song they could play. They mentioned tonight how they had taken a lot of time off, “not like AC/DC or Aerosmith ”  who kept making records and touring constantly. “My mistake” says Pete, although it might not have been, as things kept fresh.

The tour name: Pete asked Roger what it was (The Who Hits Back!) and discussed previous ones (The Who Hits 50!, Moving On) and mentioned Roger often comes up with these things. Such as the title of the Odds and Sods record, “not one of your best” Pete thought, but the record is pretty great for a bunch of “leftovers”!

They explained they would be playing songs that are not “hits” but that the fans have come to welcome and treat as classics, despite a lack of huge radio play – they are songs a general audience will know quite well. Roger joked that someday they would play two hours of “misses” someday and that everyone would be glad to have the other stuff back!

Again tonight, Roger is stunningly good. Clearly holding-out the high notes and just very powerful and punchy vocals. Those of us on the crew are quite used to the daily versions we hear, and he’s “even gotten better” as Pete has mentioned. True – and unexpected, when most singers have passed their sell-by-date, Roger’s giving us all hope! Pete did mention Roger could ever really hear himself “until about what, 2002?” “2009!” Roger announced. Funny – and maybe true!

As I mentioned, the orchestra sounds huge, partially due to our friend and newer-member Emily Marshall rocking out (and I do mean rocking) on the keys. Her job is strictly to punch-up orchestral sounds and layer and weave among the orchestral players’ parts. When we started this tour long ago (it seems, pre-Covid) people behind the scenes were telling us it was weird to put microphones and such out for the orchestra; most touring acts pre-record the whole thing, and the musicians for the night ARE playing, but not really heard. Quite the opposite here; we do it the hard way, mainly as we have so many LIVE moments that require everyone to watch/play/adjust to what is happening in the moment onstage.

As I said, Emily adds not only sound power, but a great stage vibe as she’s clearly enjoying playing along with this great band. She had a cool side-job working as keyboard tech for Josh Groban between our Who tours, so she’s multi-faceted and always a welcome vibe. On our last day-off, cellist Audrey Snyder and I went to see our violin wizard Katie Jacoby play with her husband Scott Metzger and his trio in a nearby club. He’s been out with Phil Lesh (of the Grateful Dead, and Katie also got to play with them in out downtime.) I also saw Katie all over the new Bruce Springsteen video, she’s hard to miss! I hear Zak has his own new band coming – news TBA when I find out more.


‘Naked Eye’

Back to the show. Unexpectedly – ‘Naked Eye ‘showed up. It’s been a bit of a debate whether to play it and how. Pete introduced it as a “new version” and it was decidedly similar, but also changed. At one point, it seemed to go sideways, without a clear direction. Simon Townshend saved this one, and brought everyone back together. Live music, people . . . But the crowd seemed to enjoy it, as it has such a great feel, despite the lack of slickness tonight.

After this and the band-only set, the orchestra comes back in. Pete says they’re going to do some of Quadrophenia, “as much as we can fit into this short show.” “SHORT!?!” Roger laughs… yeah, we’re going over two hours every night. Pretty damn good for guys playing this hard in their late-70s!

Again ‘5:15′ kills, especially in the non-orchestra free-jam section. Pete hits more of those amazing angular, dissonant guitar things he’s been bringing to the table. Those who know Reeves Gabrels’ or Adrian Belew’s guitar work might find some parallels here. It’s an advanced form of harmony, beyond jazz chords into the realm of grinding-but-tonal music. As always, still changing.

The usual big finish, ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ into ‘Baba O’Riley’. And then – nobody leaves. They talk about this and that, Pete mentions how well Roger’s singing – and then talked about watching “This young man” do his thing on the next (unexpected) song . . .

‘Young Man Blues’. All videos from the front few rows by George George

Pete hits the riff of ‘Young Man Blues’. It takes a moment for the audience to connect, but many get it right away. As soon as it’s comfortably going – there’s a huge buzz around the room. This something-special was planned, as was ‘Naked Eye’. Something different for those who have seen this tour before. It’s pretty good, admittedly not amazing BUT Pete had said not to rehearse it, to let it be raw and loose and just see where it goes. And it did – a little on the loose side, but fun and welcome.

Finally, it’s done and we’re so pleased that it came together so well. Certainly a high-visibility show, but no complaints. Will we be back New York? – wait and see . . .




With Orchestra
Amazing Journey
Pinball Wizard
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Eminence Front
Ball and Chain
Join Together

Band Only
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
Young Man Blues