Columbia Daily Herald
Brian Kehew's Backstage Blog
Review by Suzanne Coker
Soundcheck was a nice taste of what was to come; Roger wasn't on the stage when we came in. Band ran through most of Overture and The Rock, and I got a good sense of how the orchestra would work with the band. The overall sound of both together isn't in any way "lighter" or "softer"--if anything, the band is even more aggressive so as to hold its own against an ensemble that outnumbers it. Amplification be damned, even acoustic fifty or so instruments working together make a hell of a lot of noise. What the orchestra does, at least to my ears, is take on the emotions of the songs and make them sort of...smoother. And there were times during the show when the cellos set up a very dark sort of rasp up under the band, making the darker emotions that much more disturbing. Having live horns made those parts sound really fresh, and the overall effect, for me, was very very good.
Roger popped out of a side entrance and said hello as we filed out of the arena and up to the VIP lounge; very nice of him.
Enjoyed Lukas Nelson and Promise of the Real; had heard of them, but never heard them. They fully lived up to the good things I've been told.
I considered titling this write up "I Heard the Drums" but decided against it. Did hear'em, though. At sound check it took some concentration, but by showtime that had been fixed. Only other issue was once or twice the band and orchestra briefly got out of sync; I think if they were touring with a consistent group of musicians that might not happen, but of course that's not a possibility, and this is a small price to pay. It was barely noticeable and fixed quickly.
Most of the best banter has already been quoted; Pete doing the Jagger Dance was priceless, and of course the Quote of the Week: "Nashville, where everyone in the audience is a better guitar player than me." I also liked "I've smashed fourteen guitars while you were singing!" There was another bit where Roger and Pete talked about how much fun they had with Jimmy Fallon; Roger said Fallon reminds him of Keith, and Pete agreed, that same sense of mischief, and according to Roger, a wicked little gleam in the eye.
Pete's fall was scary, and I didn't see it happen--I was watching Roger, then next thing I knew Pete was on the floor. He got up quickly, and all was well, and then we got the banter about it; hope he's not too sore today. I also appreciated a quick little moment where he bowed his guitar against the mic stand. Lots of mic swinging from Roger. Mostly the video effects weren't missed, the guys themselves being plenty to watch. Lighting was relatively simple, some rotating stuff beaming out over the audience and color changes, a curtain that raised and lowered from time to time between the orchestra and the backdrop curtain. Videos during The Rock made a reappearance on the side screens and were just as gutwrenching as ever; I didn't notice them at first until out of the corner of my eye, I saw John...
And let me mention up front how good Roger sounded. I think this is the best I've ever heard him live and it was such a joy to hear. He's looking good, too, trim and fit and strong. I like the simple t-shirt and jeans look. Yes, the years are there, allowed and acknowledged and eventually just accepted as the way bodies are; so much better than trying to cover up, and while I can't speak for anyone else, in a way it makes it easier to accept some of my own aging. The only thing the years seem to have done to his voice, though, is make it stronger. The band and orchestra balanced well against each other; Roger more than held his own against both.
On to the setlist.
Overture/It's a Boy/1921/Amazing Journey/Sparks: The Tommy set has probably already been orchestrated more than anything else on the setlist, so it's no surprise it worked well tonight. I have been a little worried about Amazing Journey and Sparks; it's one thing to do them with the solo band, quite another with Pete. I was a bit concerned about how his guitar and the orchestra would fit together, and frankly at first it was a little weird. Not bad, just...well, it's as if there's a part of me that's used to hearing certain sounds a certain way, to the point where I sort of crave them. Used to hearing these sounds coming from a guitar and a guitar only, but now there's strings with them. And the strings add a lot, they're worth having, and the guitar is still there, but that craving part of me is sort of doing a double take and saying whaaaa? It's not a flaw, and it only lasts a minute. By the end of the show, I'm noticing how Pete and the conductor have started to evolve a version of a band's give and take, so that Levenson and Pete watch each other, take cues from each other, so that the orchestra begins to play off of Pete and vice versa just as if they were all one giant band--the key is Levenson as a link between Pete and the mostly anonymous musicians outside the band. It might be a tricky thing to manage onstage, but it's beautiful to watch and seems to be bringing the sound together more and more as the tour progresses. A friend who's been to each show so far says this one was the best and I think maybe part of that is because of this development.
Pinball Wizard: Crowd pleaser as always, with or without orchestra.
We're Not Gonna Take It/Listening To You: Beginning to notice just how good Roger's sounding.
Who Are You, Eminence Front: I love the comment in the Nashville Banner's review about making Who Are You even bigger; Roger's singing really clicks into focus here, and I quit listening for what the orchestra's doing and start hearing the thing as a whole. That low, evil cello hum playing up the darkness of Eminence Front, and Pete's guitar shining even brighter by contrast--wouldn't really have thought to put an orchestra on this one, but damn, it works.
Imagine a Man: Sublime. The way strings and vocal interacted, and the way Roger by the end just had complete control of the room, not only the audience but the orchestra--they were following his lead, and it was a stunning moment.
Join Together: Just pure rollicking fun, the crowd into it and singing along, at one point Roger miming either his harmonica or that weird little thingie he plays in the video.
Substitute: Much as I'm enjoying the orchestra, it's fun to get back to basics for a minute.
You Better You Bet: In all the excitement, I didn't realize this was the first time out for this one on this tour. Much fun, as always; by now all doubts and anxieties erased, everyone's realized just how great a show this is, and I'm just rolling with it, completely in the moment, not a care in the world.
Won't Get Fooled Again: Yes, it's acoustic, but that doesn't mean it's slowed down. Pete really can make an acoustic fly, and hearing it this way refocuses attention on the lyrics; instead of just shouting them as an anthem, I find myself considering them and finding them eerily relevant...
Behind Blue Eyes: Pete introduces Katie Jacoby and cellist Audrey Snyder and talks a little about how hard musicians like this work. Not everyone in Nashville is a picker; some of them are even more serious.
And I'm astonished by how much the violin and cello add to the beginning of the song. Then Zak kicks in and its all-hell-breaks-loose-as-usual, but then: they drop into one of my favorite moments, the near-a cappella vocal harmony of Roger's solo band. Best of all three worlds!
This is also a good time to pause and acknowledge how great Simon is, and Billy Nichols, and while I'm at it, Loren's been kicking a little ass too. Zak kicking ass goes without saying, but I probably should. Great work all around, all night.
Tea & Theatre: I love this song anyway, just as itself and because it brings memories of where I first came into this wild ride, back on the Endless Wire tour, and for how it's come to speak of where Pete and Roger are with each other these days, even though it wasn't written about that at all. Pete's guitar work here is a thing of great beauty, and I love watching him and Roger work together closely this way, but let's be honest: tonight, in this moment, this one is all Roger. That unique combination of sheer power and emotional nuance that defines him as a singer, just right there ringing out without the orchestra or even the full band, literally echoing off the rafters, in a song about...well, tea.
Perfect: both intimate and daunting.
The Real Me: So apparently the orchestra came back for this one, but it rocked so hard I really didn't notice.
I'm One: This one seems to be the king of false starts this tour, but third time was the charm. Another one I wouldn't have thought of adding orchestra to, because I'm used to it getting stripped down for effect. Turns out building it up works really well too.
The Punk and the Godfather: Okay, I'm gonna go on a little more about Roger's singing. Those escalating lines that start with "I'm the new president.." are harder to sing than they sound. And he nailed them, every time.
5:15: Orchestra? Was there an orchestra? Sure there was!
Drowned: And Pete can sing a little, too. Not on Roger's epic scale, but in any other band, next to anybody else, he'd probably get a whole lot of credit as a singer. I still love both versions of this song, but it gives a nice balance to the show hearing Pete sing lead here.
The Rock: This always has been an orchestral piece, it just happened to first be performed by a band--the only band that could have pulled it off. Hearing it played by an actual orchestra brings it to full potential, but also changes a few things. Not better, not worse, just different, in the way I mentioned at the beginning of the show. There's a certain fuck-you quality to the album version that here becomes...well, smoother, more transcendent, less defiant. Still both at once, but the balance has shifted in a way that I like, but will have to live with for a while, because that defiance is part of how this music once helped me survive. Sometimes, though, survival needs transcendence.
Love, Reign O'er Me: It almost does an injustice to try and describe it. Yes, he nailed the high note at the end. But that's the smallest part of a massive performance of a perfectly enormous song. And yes, the whale-spume effect at the end is back, but with the simpler lighting, it's more effective and doesn't seem overdone.
Baba O'Riley: Katie Jacoby was lovely as always on the solo; she's started sort of dancing with Pete during it, while Roger looks on, then gives Roger a sweet air-kiss on the way offstage. I actually like this one to close the show; it's got enough energy to leave the crowd enthused, not only ending with a hit but emphasizing the orchestral side of this project, re-instating the violin. I've always liked hearing Roger do the solo on harmonica, and appreciated him taking that on, but for this tour, the violin is a sweet necessity.
Review by Pat Stanton
The Nashville show was brilliant! The sound was good, the fans had a blast and the performers were totally on all night. And Pete and Roger were happy too.
No inconsiderate people who felt that it was their right to smoke anything in the audience because they bought a ticket. Roger rewarded us with strong and powerful vocals all night.
I attended the first show in Grand Rapids and this show was a dramatiic improvement. Pete was tentative and not comfortable performing with the orchestra in Grand Rapids. Wow has that changed.
It appeared to me that the band, especially Pete, have decided to do their thing and let the orchestra follow them. I have also noticed that Pete is very attentive to what Roger is singing or doing versus his focusing on the orchestra. At one point when the orchestra seemed to be straying (during the Quad segment) Roger looked at Pete as if to say What...? and Pete looked back, gave him a slight shrug but kept playing like it should be played and the orchestra eventually got back in sync.
The orchestra changes every night except for Katie and Audrey, who travel with the band Roger commented on the changing orchestras, saying it is a sh*tload of work, although much of it falls on Keith. This is more complicated than Roger's Tommy tour last year as the orchestras only needed to learn Tommy because the B band played the Who songs that varied slightly each night after Tommy was done.
Pete lauded the efforts and dedication of all the musicians, mentioning the fact that his father was a musician and how he practiced daily for hours as do the musicians in the orchestra.
Pete started the night commenting how much they love to play in Nashville where many people in the audience are better guitar players than he is.
The set list followed the typical pattern - Tommy set, some Who songs with orchestra, Who song band only or Roger & Pete solo acoustic/Quad and Baba with orchestra. Acid Queen is gone from the Tommy set, Substitute was added previously and YBYB made its premiere.
Pete was dancing all night. He also had guitar issues throughout the show requiring numerous guitar swaps mid song. During Join Together, he was dancing so frenetic that he lost his balance and fell. Roger glanced over, continuing to sing, saw he seemed okay and continued with the song.
Before Roger and Pete performed WGFA acoustically, Pete mentioned that they performed it on the Tonight Show, which aired on Wednesday night, although a little differently than were about to perfirm it. Pete mentioned that Roger had commented that Jimmy Fallon reminded him of Keith Moon, especially in his eyes and his fun loving wickedness. Roger was quick to clarify that he is not saying that Jimmy is wicked but that he saw the same impish look (my word, not Roger's).
Behind Blue Blues opens with Katie on violin and Audrey on cello. Roger sang it beautifully - without a guitar. Imagine a Man is becoming more and more a fan favorite as Roger is interpreting it emotionally and with power.
Later in the show, Pete brought up Mick Jagger, saying that both bands like to piss on each other, mocking his hyper active movements and laughing that it is all in fun as he and Mick are great friends. In fact their children are similar ages and both families are actually close. He was thankful that Mick is okay, with Roger heartedly agreeing. Banter between them ensued that people come to see the Who to see if one of them will drop dead on stage. Pete looked at Roger and mockingly said that he might go tonight, then addressing the audience, telling us that Roger is in his little bubble and doesn't even know thats he fell or that he broke 14 guitars already. 14 was an exaggeration but there were probably 5 or 6. Roger just gave him the look - whatever you say Pete.
The Rock was back in its full glory. I was disappointed in Grand Rapids as Pete was stationary, again seemingly challenged by the orchestra, even though the local paper thought that it was the high point of that concert. In Nashville, Pete was all over the stage, playing with abandonment. The powerful video from recent tours made its first appearance on this tour on the side screens and adds so much to the drama of the piece, especially when the WTC is hit.
Roger's harmonica volume was back in I'm One, although that song had several false starts as Pete seemed to forget the first line. The harmonica bit was sorely missed in Drownded as Roger took an extended off stage break (The Rock and Drownded) before Love Reign. Drownded seemed like a mono recording versus its normal stereo.
Words can't express how much I enjoy Love Reign. Loren's solo bit was superb before Roger's powerful performance. He seems to be more intense and dominant on this song this tour. I know everyone loves Baba but it is almost anti climatic after LROM.
Katie Jacoby is really dominating her Baba solo, having lots of fun with Pete but always goes to Roger at the end for a kiss on one or both cheeks.
The entire band just seemed to have fun at this show. So many of my photos have smiling people.
Pete told the audience that they hoped to be back again in the future. Maybe playing ukeleles. Most assuredly with some new songs from the upcoming album. Pete told us that one of the tracks on the new album was written by Simon and that it is fantastic.
I enjoyed this show so much that I am reconsidering my decision to skip Wembley.