Tuesday, December 11, 2012


1975 was a year of transition for The Who.  The previous major tour for the band had featured the latest Pete Townshend major work, Quadrophenia.  But it had failed to match, and replace, the rock opera Tommy as the band's set piece.  Disastrous live shows saw backing tapes fail, frustrating Townshend's ambitions for the drama on stage.  Inter-band tension was also building, Roger Daltry looking for more big rock songs to belt, and Keith Moon's life spiraling out of control, threatening to disable the effort at any moment. 

The compromise was a non-thematic album, Who By Numbers, a collection Daltry was allowed to select from the various numbers Townshend presented. Although a chart and sales success, it was not full of memorable songs, and when the band hit the road again, they found themselves repeating most of the old favourites.  And the old albatross was back; Tommy was a hit once again, thanks to the recent Ken Russell movie.  Now a whole new audience, especially in the U.S., were braying for Pinball Wizard and See Me, Feel Me.  Quadrophenia was scrapped, save for one lone tune, Drowned, and a mid-show set of Tommy highlights was back in its place.

Filmed with just two cameras at a Houston venue, the restorers have done yeoman's work on this nearly-two hour concert.  Long-time Who associate Jon Astley remixed the sound to fine results, and the less-than-industry standard visuals are made to work almost as well.  It's only one camera for the first few songs, one from the left, slightly above, and only able to zoom in at times.  It takes some desperate dissolves to get through.  Thankfully, the second cameraman arrives, and gets some better, straight-on shots to go with it.  But compared to today's 9 or 19-camera shoots, this is bare-bones.  Then again, so is the show.

It's the four guys, the songs the crowd knew then, and you know now:  Substitute, I Can't Explain, Behind Blue Eyes, Baba O'Riley.  The new album is dealt with near the start.  The radio hit Squeeze Box is tossed off as the light-weight piece it is, and two more numbers follow, with Who By Numbers not spoken of again in the show.  So far, so-so.  But then "Thomas" is introduced, and the old magic is back.  However sick they must have been of it, they never failed to pull it off, Daltry especially relishing his front man role, able to rivet attention with his powerhouse performance.  After that, they've got the crowd where they want, and knock it out of the park with more classics, including Summertime Blues, My Generation, Magic Bus and Won't Get Fooled Again.

After seeing this group doing concept tours so many times, it's interesting to watch them simply playing.  They are enjoying themselves, especially Moon the Loon.  On this night, he's on his game, and quite funny.  Yelling joke comments from behind the kit at the others, standing and demanding applause at his stool, even coming forward to invade Daltry's space and make song introductions, he's quite hilarious.  Sadly, he would barely be able to play within two years.  Having that one fixed camera on the left turns out to be a bonus for John Entwistle watchers too (if such a type exists).  He's happily in view for his big number, Boris The Spider, and I've never noticed how many harmonies he provided on the 60's songs especially.

There's no quintessential Who moments here; Townshend's theatrics are kept to windmill or two, and a couple of nice leaps.  Nobody trashes guitars or drums.  The sun doesn't rise during Listening To You.  There are a handful of rare live numbers, including Naked Eye, Roadrunner, However Much I Booze and Dreaming From The Waist.  Yet its excellent in itself, proof that night-in, night-out, The Who almost always delivered as one of the greatest live acts ever.

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