THE WHO


"Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970" (Eagle Vision; 2006)

Reviewed by Ray Van Horn Jr.

On the face, it looks like England’s version of Woodstock. Six hundred thousand bodies crammed on the shores of the Isle of Wight, The Who tromping out onstage at an ungodly 2 a.m., the time most bars close up shop, much less an outdoor festival! Frizzy-mopped John Entwhistle in his skeleton jumpsuit as history reveals it wasn’t Glenn Danzig and The Misfits who originated that underground rock fashion statement now fanatically used by the Japanese punkers Balzac. Roger Daltrey in tight trousers and an opened jacket adorned with frills with a newfound outlay of self-expression. Embrace me, don’t fear me, he says with his inviting gesticulations. Keith Moon going positively berserk on the drum kit, making you realize only Brann Dailor of Mastodon could remotely keep up with his maniacal rolls and fills. Pete Townshend leaping, arm-twirling and tweaking the massive throng that gets unruly from time-to-time. As Townshend mentions in the interview section on Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, it was just another gig.

One might wonder how he could be so blasé (not to mention calling the Who experience at one point in time as being total hell) in the midst of one of the biggest rock crowds of not only the sixties and early seventies, but in rock history altogether. Apparently the subversive behind-the-scenes goings down at the legendary Isle of Wight Festival partially undermined the spirit of peace and music prevalent at least within the first fifty feet of the stage. Pete Townshend mentions on this DVD that his electric feedbacks and angry guitar thrusts were primarily out of crowd control, which makes one wonder how the other 595,000 spectators kept it all together. For our purposes, however—particularly since I was only three months old when this concert went down—this examination of The Who’s performance at the Isle of Wight reveals a band at the height of their confidence, shirked of their tempered mod sound, so much that “I Can’t Explain” played in 1970 is less bubblegummy and now a bit more gnarled in the transition from The Who as Britpop with attitude to The Who with just plain attitude. 

You can hear it in their renditions of “Young Man Blues” and “Summertime Blues,” both attacked more than played. “Magic Bus” is transformed from an experimental piece of Norwegian wood into a springboard for a raucous jam session where Townshend, Entwhistle and Moon rampage all over the place in their improvisations you constantly key in on each member with dizzying exchange. 

It’s when The Who belt out the majority of their hallmark Tommy that Live at The Isle of Wight 1970 becomes stratospheric, though you will likely have to tinker with the DVD’s sound settings in order to extract the depth of Townshend’s playing. It’s the only detriment to this concert, that the audio mix somehow downplays Pete’s performance, but considering the footage is 36 years old, we’ll take it! As The Who whirls through “The Acid Queen,” “Pinball Wizard,” “I’m Free,” “We’re Not Gonna Take It” and then brings the show to a climactic finale with “See Me Feel Me/Listening to You,” this concert discloses The Who at their best, delivering to a mega-sized crowd with the acumen and comfort level of being in a 2000-seat amphitheater. The only thing more striking is the revelatory remarks from Pete Townshend in the 45-minute interview on the DVD. His honesty is just as special as this retrieved concert footage preserved for rock history.


"Live at the Royal Albert Hall" (SPV / Steamhammer; 2003)

Reviewed by R. Scott Bolton

I hate to be anything but positive when it comes to a legendary band like The Who, especially when this CD, "Live at the Royal Albert Hall," is a record of a live performance they did to raise money for an important charity group. Still, "Live at the Royal Albert Hall" isn't the best example of their live work. 

The band is still in fine form. Roger Daltrey's voice has changed considerably over the years and that raw power that he used to get seems to have dissipated a bit, especially on "Relay" and the more demanding "Who Are You." Pete Townshend's guitars are still a highlight (and his vocals still ethereally strong), and the late John Entwistle delivers some irresistible bass lines. Still, at times it seems the band members are playing different songs - the music seems slightly off-kilter, as though each musician is trying to overpower the other.

A handful of guest star performances are interesting although none truly shine. Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder loans his vocals talents to "I'm One" and "Getting in Tune" while Bryan Adams sings "Behind Blue Eyes." Paul Weller teams up with Pete Townshend for "So Sad About Us" and Kelly Jones' sings a so-so "Substitute." Kennedy plays violin on "Baba O'Riley."

Fans of The Who will still want to add this CD to their collection as a record of the band's live sound in later years. Others would be better off starting with the band's classic "Live at Leed's."

The Who: Roger Daltrey - vocals, guitar, harmonica; John Entwistle - bass, vocals; Pete Townshend - guitars, vocals. Also performing are Zak Starkey on drums and John Rabbit Bundrick on keyboards.

For more information regarding the Teenage Cancer Trust, for whom this performance was recorded, please visit http://www.teencancer.org.


Rating Guide:

A classic. This record will kick your ass.

Killer. Not a classic but it will rock your world.

So-so. You've heard better.

Pretty bad. Might make a nice coaster.

Self explanatory. Just the sight of the cover makes you wanna hurl.


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Copyright © 2006 by R. Scott Bolton. All rights reserved.
Revised: 08 Oct 2017 14:52:21 -0400.