The Who are, in my not so humble opinion, inarguably the greatest of the first wave of post-Beatles UK bands. At least as famous (if not more so) for their stage antics as their many Top 10 albums and singles, The Who were as much a live performance group as recording artists. Though compositionally Pete Townshend may not have exhibited the lusher harmonic palette of Lennon and McCartney at their best, he and The Who capitalized on their own theatrical ambitions better than the Fab Four ever did, not only in their live concert style, famously filled with instrument destruction and the like, as well as their own brilliant forays into the then nascent form of rock opera. The Who at Kilburn 1977 features a wealth of previously unreleased concert footage of The Who in their prime.
Watching the main concert featured on the Blu-ray is like watching dynamite exploding over the course of about an hour and five minutes. We get Pete Townshend's furious circular strumming, Roger Daltrey's huge lassoed microphone cable spinning incessantly, Keith Moon's manic drumming, and John Entwistle's--well, someone has to just stand there, it might as well be him. The 1977 Kilburn concert was originally filmed to be part of Jeff Stein's monumental The Kids are Alright, but was jettisoned for reasons unknown (though Townshend disparages--unnecessarily in my view--their performance in at least one point of the concert) and has since sat in The Who's vault for 30 plus years.
Kilburn finds The Who in near-perfect form, blistering through a slew of their hits, all performed with the same ferocious energy that made their live concerts so legendary. Daltrey is in exceptionally fine vocal form (though one of my few qualms about this BD is that the vocals are mixed too low, strange considering the concert was evidently recorded utilizing a mobile 16 track unit, which should have provided ample discrete channels to have achieved a more consistent mix). Townshend and Moon are nearly out of control at times, Pete leaping and dancing across the stage while Moon pounds his kit into submission. Entwistle is--well, someone has to just stand there, it might as well be him.
While Tommy is represented by at least a couple of tunes in the main concert (and one of the extras has it virtually complete, more about which below), there's a surprisingly varied playlist here, including stalwarts like "My Generation," "Behind Blue Eyes," "Who Are You," and "Won't Get Fooled Again" mixed with more unusual choices like "Baba O'Riley," "Dreaming from the Waist" and "My Wife." It makes for a musically adventurous outing and The Who, as was their wont, do not simply recreate the studio versions--you get subtle changes, as in Townshend's strumming pattern that opens "Pinball Wizard."
Speaking of "Wizard," and indeed a lot of Tommy, has there even been a pop rock writer like Townshend that has built such an imposing edifice out of a simple sus4 chord? A lot of Tommy's harmonies, as in many classical operas, can be traced back to one simple idea--in this case, a sus4 resolving to its major triad, and, by inference, a whole set of cascading triads a fourth apart. It's one of the things that help gives Tommy so much cohesion and is a testament to Townshend's compositional prowess, albeit cloaked in an unpretentious rock mantle.
If we don't ultimately get a big conflagration of destroyed guitars in this concert, we do at least get Townshend tossing his axe up in the air at concert's end and letting it slam to the stage floor, as billows of dry ice smoke fill the proscenium. In an even more alarming moment, Entwistle actually jumps around for a minute or two, proving he wasn't a cardboard cutout all along.
This is one primordial concert catching an epochal rock group at the height of its powers. Filmed with a multi-camera setup that is able to capture both the big picture as well as telling close-ups of the quartet, and recorded unusually well for those days, this is going to be a treasure trove for rock fans in general, and Who fans in particular. The Who managed to carve out a very special niche in rock history, managing to eclipse The Beatles with such provocative recordings and performances like Tommy, and that's something that really is pretty remarkable. The Who at Kilburn 1977 is a fitting testament to how exciting it was to see these rock legends live.
The main Kilburn concert arrives in a 1080p AVC-MPEG4 1.78:1 transfer that is amazingly sharp for its age. You're going to notice some pretty evident grain at times, mostly in the wide shots (strangely it pretty much disappears in close-ups), but color and contrast are both quite excellent, not only considering the age of the concert but the fact that it was filmed live with stage lighting. While there's a bit of softness overall, I found this to be one surprisingly good looking concert video for a circa 1977 source element.
Three mixes are offered, two of which are superb. Both the lossless DTS HD 5.1 and PCM Stereo (48 kHz) mixes sound stupendous. If the 5.1 mix is, as usual, a little light on surround channels, it presents a forceful and throbbing reproduction of The Who's performance, something that, again perhaps surprisingly, the PCM Stereo mix also captures. Call me crazy, but I actually preferred the PCM mix to the 5.1--I personally had an easier time hearing Daltrey and Townshend's voices. As for the DD 5.1, I'm not sure if someone was asleep at the mixing console, but this is one of the most paltry anemic mixes I've heard recently. Volume levels are pathetic compared to the other two mixes, and clarity is therefore severely compromised. Thankfully it doesn't matter much since you have the two other, better choices. No subtitles are available.
Almost as exciting as the main concert itself are the extras, including the first ever live performance of Tommy at the London Coliseum in 1969. The best sections of the Coliseum performance, video-wise at least (and that's not saying much--these are pretty badly damaged 16mm film masters), are presented in a separate piece. You can also access the more or less complete Tommy from the same performance via the main menu, though there are some gaps in the filming augmented by stills. There's also a performance of The Who's pre-Tommy mini-opera "A Quick One." While the image and sound quality of these concerts is not on a par with the main feature, their historical value more than makes up for it. Soundwise, I actually wasn't that disappointed (though there's nothing close to the clarity of the main concert here), and that's really what matters as far as I'm concerned. A trailer for the Kilburn concert is also included.
Anyone who never had the chance to see The Who live now has this remarkable high-def vicarious experience waiting for them. This is one of the great bands of all time at the apex of their powers and the concert, despite Townshend's evident dislike of parts of it, shows them off brilliantly. Highly Recommended.
"G-d made stars galore" & "Hey, what kind of a crappy fortune is this?" ZMK, modern prophet