Okay let me state this up front so everyone will know where I'm coming from: I think The Who was the greatest rock band of all time. If you don't agree, if you happen to think that The Beatles or U2 or some other group deserved the "greatest" mantle, that's fine. You're wrong, but I don't mind.
The Who has been around for a long time (and while I consider the current touring group more of a Who cover band than the real thing the case could be made that they're still a group) and as such there have given some legendary performances. Some have been easily available like the fantastic Isle of Wight show, others only on poor quality bootlegs such as the 1973 Cow Palace concert where Keith Moon passes out near the end of the show and Pete asks if anyone in the audience can play the drums. (19 year old Scott Halpin got up and played with the band.) Then there are the shows that are nigh impossible to see. One such film is the infamous 1977 Kilburn show that has been released for the first time on DVD and Blu-ray. It features the groups original line up, it was actually the second to last concert that Keith Moon played before he died, it was professionally filmed and lighted for the cameras, and yet it has been stored away for years.
The concert was originally planned by Jeff Stein. He was working on his monumental film of the band "The Kids are Alright" and realized that there wasn't any useable footage of some of the group's later work, most notably "Baba O'Reily" and "Won't Get Fooled Again." He set up this concert, attended by an invited group of guests, just to get some recent film of the band. He filmed the show with 35mm cameras and made sure there was enough light on stage so the footage would be clean and clear, and recorded the audio on 16-track tape.
The Who hadn't played together in over a year at the time of this concert however. Keith Moon had put on weight, and the group wasn't nearly as tight as it had been. Pete seemed angry and the band, the audience, and himself for most of the performance and the bad became lost at times. In the end, the show wasn't as spectacular as everyone was hoping and basically no one was pleased with the results. They eventually gathered again six months later and refilmed the whole concert and that footage was used in The Kids are Alright.
So, was the Kilburn concert such a total disaster? No, not at all. There's not denying that The Who weren't at the top of their game, but it's still a rockin' performance that has an incredible amount of energy, especially coming from Pete Townshend.
The show starts off slow with a version of "Can't Explain" that's not up to their usual standards. Keith is obviously slower and has less energy. Roger and John and doing it by the numbers (no pun intended) while Pete seems to be putting more of himself into his playing as if to make up for the others, even though it's obvious that he's a little rusty.
Things start to click soon after. Pete is performing like a mad man, jumping around, wind-milling, and getting irate at the audience and the band. He's like a force of nature at times, seeming to control the attitude on stage. John's fingers fly over the neck of his bass with blinding speed and he plays the instrument like he's leading the band at times. His solo on "Dreaming from the Waist" is phenomenal and the solo in "My Wife, " one of my favorite songs, is just as exciting. Even Keith starts picking up speed as the show progresses and while he's never as fast as he was at 20, in this concert he merely rises to the level of fantastic. If you'd never seen Keith drum before and saw this concert you'd walk away thinking he was great.
That's not to say that the show is perfect after the first couple of songs. The group does make some mistakes, Roger forgets the words to "Tommy's Holiday Camp" and John botches a line from "My Wife." At one point Pete, full of anger at the frequent gaffs, proclaims that they should wrap it up and send the cameras home. If you're looking for an note-perfect recreation of their albums, it's easy to see how this concert gained the reputation for not being that great.
The problem with that thinking is that it totally misses the point of Rock and Roll (with capital R's) in general and The Who in particular. This group isn't about trying to sound polished and smooth. They're about anger and energy and raw emotion. That's why they've always been better live... you just can't capture that spirit in the studio. This concert does capture the energy of the show and they produce some kick-ass music too. This is one of those concerts where nothing went right, and they STILL managed to make some incredible music. That's saying a lot.
The songs list is as follows:
• Can't Explain
The second concert on this disc is The Who's performance from December 14, 1969 at the London Coliseum. This is one of the first concerts where they played Tommy in its entirety (though all of that material is not included in this film for some reason. The songs that were edited out are included in the bonus section) and not only an historical performance but a very good one too. Unfortunately this was recorded on 16mm film and the lights weren't as bright as they should have been, so it doesn't have the immediacy and visual pizzazz as the Kilburn concert.
Even so, this is The Who at the top of their form. They hadn't tasted the phenomenal success that Tommy would bring them, and they were still lean and hungry. This is the group around the time of Live at Leeds and they feed the audience their energy. A rocking concert that is still amazing to watch, all these years later.
In this concert they play:
• Heaven and Hell
The Blu-ray Disc:
Both concerts feature the options of a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track, a compressed Dolby Digital 5.1 track, and a lossless PCM 2.0 stereo track. I screened this with the DTS-HD track and spot checked the others and this disc sounds great, especially when you really crank your system. The band is placed firmly in the front with some ambient noises thrown to the rears. The dynamic range is good and the music comes through nicely, especially for recordings this old.
The 1.78:1 1080p AVC encoded image is a mixed bag. The Kilburn concert looks very good. While there is some grain the image is generally clear and the level of detail is high. The flesh tones look natural and the colors, while not overly bright, have a realistic feel to them. This show really benefits from being recorded on 35mm film.
Unfortunately the London Coliseum concert is not nearly as clear. This was recorded on 16mm and the lighting was less than optimal. The image is blurry at times, excessive grain is a problem, and there are assorted scratches and dirt on the print. The colors are a bit faded and level of detail isn't anything to write home about either. Having said that, this is probably the best this concert will ever look given the limitations of the format used to record it.
While just those two concerts would have been enough to get me excited, there are some nice extras. Basically they present "Tommy" from the London show in its entirety as preformed by the group. I'm not sure why the featured concert is an abbreviated version of the show, but some of this footage is worse than the parts included in the main concert video. Some of the scenes are so poorly lit at to be pretty worthless, and there are some short missing segments presumably when the cameras were reloading. These extra songs are:
"A Quick One While He's Away," "Overture," "It's a Boy, " "1921," "Amazing Journey," "Christmas," "Acid Queen," "Pinball Wizard," "Do You Think It's Alright," "Fiddle About," "Tommy Can You Hear Me?," "There's a Doctor," "Go to the Mirror," "Smash the Mirror," "Miracle Cure," "Sally Simpson," "Tommy's Holiday Camp," "I'm Free," "We're Not Gonna Take It."
There is also trailer for the Kilburn concert and a nice 16-page booklet that has essays on the band included with the disc.
These two concerts compliment each other wonderfully. Filmed at the peak of their energy and talent and then 8 years later at the end of their original line up this is a must-buy for any Who fan. Even people who are only slightly acquainted with the group should enjoy these concerts. This disc is highly recommended.
Note: The images in this review are not from the Blu-ray disc and do
not necessarily represent the image quality on the disc.