Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog

The Who Hits Back! Tour: United Center, Chicago, IL, 12 October 2022

A little while ago, we were approached by Scott Wells, a long time Who fan from Chicago. Years ago, his daughter had battled (and won) Stage 3 colorectal cancer. During the process, they’d started the Wishing Wells Cancer Foundation, raising money for cancer work and having good success for a few years. Meanwhile, the Foundation was less-active but eager to do something with the funds they had remaining. They contacted us and arranged for a hand-off, a donation of several thousand dollars to Teen Cancer America. I set up a meeting before the show, where Roger enthusiastically welcomed them and discussed his work in the field. I learned a lot myself – specifically how cancer research IS well-funded, but most of the work being done centers on end-of-life cancers that affect seniors. The things that attack younger people are not as heavily funded, so he’s working to change that as well as the great number of facilities which The Who charity has already funded. Here’s Scott with his family and Roger with true survivor, daughter Jessica celebrating their donation. If anyone else is in a similar situation, Teen Cancer America (and the Teenage Cancer Trust in the UK) are doing great things over and over again. We’d be happy to connect you.


OK – It’s time for Chicago, and this one is different.

I was already feeling like this blog has been a little bit “the same” each time. Our setlist changes a little now and then, the talking changes each night, but I saw our hardworking crew people fixing things a lot today. That inspired me to write today’s piece about that, truly a Backstage Blog subject.

Normally, the crew members all have something to “set up” each show – a system or combination of equipment that each crew member has under their control. We are all part of a Who machine, and each does its smaller job so the big machine can roll smoothly. With the orchestral experience, this has expanded, especially for the sound crew.

We’ve discussed the various roles before, monitor engineers, riggers who hang the things from above, the lighting crew and backline (drums, bass, guitar.) In the old days, everyone was called a roadie; it’s not used as much anymore but we still like to throw it out now and then. More so, people are called “techs” – guitar tech, lighting tech – because of the high level of training and skill that’s usually required of each position. Some more than others, but no one on our tech team is a novice, and they’ve earned their spots by previous work and years of experience on world-class shows.

Set up – which we all do simultaneously – takes hours. I suppose one small segment (such as the electric bass guitar rig for Jon Button) only takes 10-20 minutes to break out of cases and connect up. But that’s not all his tech Mark Sidgwick does – he’s in there hours earlier working on setting up the stages and platforms we use during the show, plus working on instruments for other musicians as needed. We ALL multi-task in various ways, you have to as there are so many interlocking systems to make a big show run.

When we set up, ideally everything is ready to go. But once in a while, something is wrong. Maybe broken, maybe needs maintenance, or maybe our artists have requested changes to be done. This is where it gets tricky, and starts to utilize the real talents of this crew.

For Pete, our guitar man Simon has recently changed out the old scratchy volume knob on the No.4 guitar, Pete’s red Stratocaster – his main guitar over the recent decades. He had to change to all new tuners on another, and one of the Stratocasters was loaded with a pair of Gibson pickups (called P90s) which match the ones Pete used to use in the 60s. Pete now plays this guitar for ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’.

Our video team had their soldering iron out – a sure sign something was being worked upon. They told me there was a new tally light indicator used for the cameras, and they needed to wire up a special cable. Some of our sound guys were working on or replacing the speakers in one of the many PA cabinets we carry with us. They rarely blow, but now and then . . .

Tom, of the sound crew, was winding tape around Roger’s microphones and cables, something Bobby Pridden invented decades ago, it lets the microphones fly safely and securely when Roger twirls them. I’ve seen various technicians learn this job then pass it on to another after them.

When I unloaded my gear, Emily Marshall’s keyboard wouldn’t come on – but that’s so rare that we initially thought it was a power problem. After checking and checking – we found good power coming in, and it was definitely the keyboard itself not coming on. Easiest thing that may cause that is a fuse; opening this particular model was nearly impossible. With two of us and some tools, we managed to break it open and check – yes, a blown fuse. Weird – in that it worked fine even as we shut down at the last show, and it must have gone out the instant it was turned on (or tried to) today. With modern digital keyboard, this is a problem we virtually never see.

Then on to something wrong with the organ speaker, the big wooden Leslie speaker that sits behind the stage. This is not usually seen, even by those backstage, as it has a flight case surrounding it. After a bit of work on it (my second time this week) we seemed to find it was a combination of microphones and setting on the mixer that caused the strange sound, not the speaker itself this time. This all takes time and some heart-stopping moments for those few pieces where we do not have “a spare” (extra copy, just in case something breaks.)

Emily herself was a crew tech – for the Josh Groban tour this summer. She related her experience going inside their big old Leslie speaker box and replacing a rubber O-ring. It’s a feeling of great accomplishment to stop the misfortunes and set things back on track again.

With all that being done, I figured we were ready for rehearsal and the show. All the drama and tension would be behind us. Well . . .

We’re indoors at the Arena – a place we’ve played so many times. Good memories! It has a huge ceiling, a great sound, and a great crowd. Same tonight as usual – all good.

‘Sparks’ – Turn it up until it rattles your windows! Video courtesy of Rick Vods

Somewhere toward the end of the first set, Loren’s main keyboard went out. In our show, he relies heavily on it for piano parts – and The Who show is 80% or more piano and organ. He signals and we try to restart it while the band plays.

As with many computerized things nowadays, it takes two or three minutes to load up. Again, it crashes. Again reboot and wait – crash, and again. So it’s time to take it offline for the show. We have always had a backup using the keyboard just above: it’s mainly used as a synthesizer, but we can use it as piano if needed – we just never really do.

‘Join together’ while Brian swaps out Loren’s keyboard. Video courtesy of Sojahsey1 

Loren asked us to bring the synthesizer down to the lower part of his keyboard stand; it’s so much easier to play down there. We remove the old piano keyboard, and manage to work the new one down into place without ruining the cable setup. It is now our main piano.

I remembered an older keyboard we keep on the trucks. It’s not nice for piano playing, but it DOES do a nice piano sound, and coming up is ‘The Rock’ – where Loren uses both a piano and the synthesizer we’ve just lowered for him. So, after a bit of running, the additional keyboard is brought to his stand.

His “piano” for ‘The Rock’ is on top, and the synthesizer parts are below. Doesn’t seem tricky, but it is reversed. Yes, he’s reaching above for piano sounds just on this song, and down for synthesizer. No one noticed but me, but he was struggling to adjust – try crossing your hands and tying your shoelaces; what is normally done with easy is now nearly impossible. I was so proud of him for nailing that part without any issue. Well done!

Video courtesy of Sojahsey1 

Then on to ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ and his beautiful piano intro. Only – no sound. For some reason, his “new spare” piano wasn’t working now?! It had been fine for the last hour, just a few minutes ago even. Now at the most-critical point in the show.

I ran out to assist. We checked all the settings and the cables, nothing. It was incredibly frustrating to have thousands patiently waiting – and a change in mood for the show, certainly. Very soon, Pete was tired of it; he sensibly said to just go on with the song, which we did. No piano intro, and just starting into the song – which Roger enjoys every night.

We always finish with ‘Baba O’Riley’ – and it was great, as had been the rest of our show. For some of us, a very rough day/night, but for most in the building, it was one of our exceptional shows. I’m sure a few people noticed, it was quite obvious at one point, for sure. But others may have never spotted me running on/off to help and change gear. (If I spend anymore time onstage, I’ll need a tambourine to play!)

Photo courtesy of Katie Jacoby!

Emails were sent to our keyboard company reps and experts, and soon they had replacements ordered for the next show – just in case. We may never know exactly what happened, but there’s often no time in the short moments onstage to fix something. That’s why we spend all that time setting up and preparing.

Hmmm, I decided to write a blog on fixing things that don’t usually break AND then it happened a LOT during the show. Maybe I’ll write the next blog about making money on tour?

Another Tricky Day!

Onward . . .


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