The Who # 5 The Stage
by Regis Boff
I was having breakfast with Bill Curbishley, the manager of The Who. He was my life’s best friend. In his lower class accent he said. “Oy, let me show you something.”
He picks up a hotel napkin and pulls out a pen. In large bold letters, he wrote WHO. Underneath the H’s bisecting bar, he drew four tiny stick figures. It became The Who stage for the next tour. It was a master stroke, particularly if you saw it live in a stadium.
Except for their lasers, run by John Wolfe, the band cared little for decoration. Their lasers were second to none, including the U.S. military. They could fire brilliantly across entire stadiums then bounce off mirrors at the other end, shooting upwards. They could blind if you looked straight into them.
No one who was with the band for very long boasted about their ears. Least of all, poor Pete, who might as well throw his away.
For most of us it had something to do with on-stage volumes. Rock bands always fight about who is turned up too loud on stage. They can’t hear the whole song because whoever is playing beside them wants mostly to hear himself. It seems simple enough to solve, but it isn’t. It has caused many to get whacked with guitars.
The dispute begins with one player telling his roadie to, “turn him up” in the middle of a song. Of course, the poor bastard does this obediently. Within seconds, no one knows what the fuck they are playing anymore, and the kids in the front rows are backing away from the stage, a little frightened because of how loud it has become.
While this acoustic civil war is going on, the on-stage the sound man, Bobbie Pridden, who has been with them since the band was formed, is struggling to maintain reasonable acoustic equilibrium.
The last clear sound Pridden remembers hearing was a radio address from Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the early forties. So without even knowing it Pridden is cranking up the stage sound so he, himself, can hear it.
Dragging this instrumental quagmire into further anarchy is the main sound man sitting at the huge sound board in the middle of the football stadium field. He controls the sound all the punters hear. His mixing is a science because the sound has to be adjusted as it travels the two-hundred yards to the other end of the stadium so the poor asshole in the way back can hear it clearly. Sound takes a little time to travel that distance. The sound engineer delays it just a bit, so it is the same to everyone at once. It is what happens as best as I can describe it, but I am no expert.
For the hired help like me, I always stood on stage-right watching the show. That’s the side I keep my hearing aid in now.