Brian Kehew’s Backstage Blog
I’m going to call this show “Cobwebs and . . . Strange.”
You may know the obscure Who track, an instrumental mostly-known for The Kids Are Alright sequence where they find a robotic Keith Moon in “a bleedin’ box!” But the title is appropriate for tonight’s event.
Usually I spin things positive. I’ll be honest about issues we’ve had at shows, but always look for the good side, as it’s always there – and our opinion about things is quite slanted. Most Who fans see only a show every year or two – or less. Any Who show is a good show; that’s the general rule. And there’s a common saying among fans that this band on their worst days are better than most bands on their best days.
Tonight we tested that theory.
Jones Beach should be a familiar name to some – a long-running venue on the coast of Long Island, NY. Literally, on the coast, you can see water of this bay from the stage and audience seating. It’s mainly concrete and some steel, built to withstand extremes of coastal weather. It looks a bit like a prison, but we’ve always liked the shows here, and the band has been looking forward to this one.
Long Island – for many not from this region, that’s a name you hear a lot, without explanation how it related to the famous New York City (Manhattan). Long Island is directly to the east of Manhattan – it’s sort of an Eastern-jutting peninsula many miles long. It points out into the deep Atlantic Ocean, and contains some other areas you may have heard about: Brooklyn, Queens, Flushing, Hempstead, and Forest Hills (home to The Ramones and site of some Who and Daltrey shows).
Before the show itself, things are groovy, man. We had a good soundcheck, and the orchestral rehearsal was minimal – as many of these players are friends of conductor Keith Levenson and have done recent shows on this tour. We’re particularly happy to see one of the violinists – Nicole Trotta – who was with us back in the VERY start of our Florida rehearsals. She worked with Keith organizing the music as the tour was being born, and also recently played both Madison Square Garden shows. Pete and Roger are slated do a photoshoot for Rolling Stone magazine here, and are comfortable and casual. There are even Who cookies in catering!
The weather is STUNNING – just a gorgeous evening, warm with slight breeze. The venue sits against the bay, so they’ve added a rear “pier” as a dining/seating area on the water, and the band and crew eat dinner out there as the sun sets. It’s absolutely charming and so balmy, we al wanted to stay and vacation here. It felt good.
Then the show starts, or attempted to! Tommy‘s great ‘Overture’ begins and we hear the crowd easily. But Pete (wearing his blue boiler-suit from the get-go) appears reluctant. He’s listening intently to the sound – focused more on that than the pure playing.
It’s apparent there are timing issues – the drums, the singing, the guitar playing, the orchestra – all are slightly off – in different places. So hard to tell, as we also have this major echo coming back from the steep set of bleachers facing the stage. This echo is LOUD and it seems as if we have a PA system facing back at us – very unusual to experience that onstage. This mainly affects Pete, as he doesn’t use the in-ear monitors the others do – and the orchestra, who hear a lot of sound coming back at them. As we use electric drums, they don’t really hear drums (for timing reference) onstage, but they are hearing the loud drums in the PA bounce back at us a half-second later than they are played. Weird.
Still – it’s mostly together. I suspect, as usual, that the fans don’t really know how unusual this all is, but they will notice Pete calling out his guitar tech Simon AND his monitor engineer Trevor for onstage meetings during the show. Adjustments are made over and over to try and improve, but PT is visually not happy today. He’s also wearing sunglasses and a baseball cap, so there is sort of a visually-disconnected appearance, too. Roger seems happy, and is working hard to make it a good show – it just ISN’T so far.
I write myself a note that this will likely improve, as it always does. By they end, they always snatch victory from the jaws of defeat . . .
Pete finally talk to the audience after the Tommy set. “I hope you’re enjoying yourselves . . . because it sounds like shit. This is us with orchestra.” Honesty, indeed. The audience laugh and probably are understanding now what they’ve been catching as visual clues. One of my friends in the crowd told me the mix engineer did a stellar job, as he was bringing down the various instruments and players having problems; guitar, drums, vocals – and raising up the orchestra, who were playing well and making it sound immense.
It’s visibly tough, even though ‘Who Are You’ comes on strong. Like walking through your house with the lights off – it’s very familiar territory, but it’s difficult. I see people in the crowd having a great time, and still some who are still – either listening or hoping it gets better. Pete explains we had a great sound at the evening check, but it’s all different now – because the crowd are in the room, changing the sound.
‘Hero Ground Zero’ – a great moment, to play the new song for everyone, but then the whole PA system cuts out before it ends! We onstage are not aware, as it sounds mainly the same to us. Rog and Pete try to calm the audience with some discussion – at that point we don’t realize the crowd can’t even hear a word they’re saying! “It’s the fucking crabs!” Pete yells out, acoustically, lightening the mood a little. Eventually, four minutes later, Pete says they may have to leave until it’s sorted out – no need to stand around. And then magically it comes back; we can tell from the audience cheer. The show resumes and soon the orchestra leaves for their break. “That’s what happens when you put a rock venue IN THE SEA!” Pete notes. “It’s usually one of my favorite places to play,” he adds, and says NY is really their home-away-from home state. Roger mentioned the crew trying to fight the humidity before the show with hairdryers. True – at various times, it was affecting both the mix and monitor consoles; the evening air was getting things wet. The consoles started changing their setting on their own! Another problem we don’t need!
Then a few minutes later… the whole PA goes out again! And again, a good wait – then the band leave. This time it’s more serious and everyone is in limbo. (Afterward we learn it’s got something to do with a UPS power supply – the source of power control that supposed to SAVE the show from disasters, and a faulty unit has now caused it.) Modern sound systems use computer control to maximize power and EQ, fairly sophisticated systems that must also boot up and load like your home computer does. More delays, but eventually, we are back on-line and the band return. They’ve only been waiting in the purple light of the side stage, not much talking or anything, just a low mood from the pretty weak show and then the stoppages. The show must go on, and it does. “Who am I? Where am I? What do I do for a living. ” a confused Pete asks the crowd.
From then on, it should be fine – something is better than nothing. ‘You Better You Bet’ was not great, but it was fun. Tonight’s version of ‘Won’t Get Flamenco’d Again’ has moments – of good and bad; both some very exciting bits and some truly missed cues. Still in limbo – not terrible, but not fun and satisfying. Yet . . .
The Quadrophenia set is also – kinda rough. ‘I’m One’ starts, and then Pete stops, explaining “It’s not old age, it’s not arthritis, my fingers just don’t work tonight.” Then he starts again, then stops, a third time, it goes a little longer, then stops again. Ouch – he’s visibly upset but honest and wants it to be good. Fourth time is a charm, and it then moves forward without incident. The last verse (“I’ve got a Gibson . . .”) I hear a lot of voices singing along; this is not a major Who hit, but it’s popular here, and most of the voices are women! That’s really cool.
‘5:15’ is a time when it could “take off” in a nice jam and improv, but true to the night, it doesn’t. Again – not bad – but not the calibre of a usual Who show even. It takes the final arc of the show, beginning with ‘The Rock’, to grab hold and really become A Good Thing. ‘The Rock’ leads into a lovely piano solo from Loren, then ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ (without exception always the crux of our shows) and then ‘Baba O’Riley’.
Roger has pulled hard the whole time, very positive and mainly effortless on his half. There are just days when things do not go right, and without question the players did their best to try and try. The sound issues and timing were not easily overcome, and caused a lot of grief. No-one threw a fit, no fingers were pointed – we all had the same goals. Lives are not at stake here, but the costs and efforts on the audience’s side deserves a good reward.
All in all – we still got some rave reviews from the audience. Many said they were “thrilled” have seen this show, a weird one that literally fell apart twice!? Some said it was a triumph of honesty and realism over the faked pre-recorded shows many put on. Others told me they knew of the issues but it didn’t really bother them. Seeing how a comedian handles an unexpected heckler is the true tale of their brilliance and control; it’s when things go wrong that you understand the qualities that make or break a performer.
And this team did admirably well in difficult circumstances. They landed the plane in the Hudson River – not the show anyone intended to do, but it ended safely on its wheels and made people leave with a smile.
Tonight’s Set List
We’re Not Gonna Take It
Who Are You
Imagine a Man
Hero Ground Zero
The Kids Are Alright
I Can See for Miles
Your Better You Bet
Won’t Get Fooled Again (acoustic; Roger & Pete only)
Behind Blue Eyes (with violin and cello accompaniment)
Ball and Chain
The Real Me
Love Reign O’er Me