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Monday, January 05, 2009

DVD Review: The Who at Kilburn 1977

The Who at Kilburn 1977
2008 Image Entertainment
Ray Van Horn, Jr.



So very few bands in the history of rock 'n roll are considered to be larger-than-life. The Who is naturally one of those exceptions. Coming to any video presentation of their work is to be considered a jewel upon approach simply due to their legend. Could you imagine what Led Zeppelin felt like originally when The Who was grinding out their sets onstage? The Who played Woodstock and the Isle of Wight and of course many prestigious events and venues, as did Led Zeppelin in their own rightful time and place. Still, would you not feel inclined to think one begot the other?

By the time Zeppelin was winding down through their own incredible run and eventually canonized as ultimate rock lieges, The Who were still pounding away and still bearing the exuberance of their Tommy days and earlier as a mod rock act bursting out of the Swinging London era. Of course, time was a borrowed expenditure for the core Who lineup as maniacal skin slammer Keith Moon soon succumbed to his private debauchery and left The Who in a bit of shambles, though they managed to carry on sporadically over the years following.

1977 was perhaps a dark transition for The Who as you can see in The Who at Kilburn 1977. This performance, captured on a large stage in the northern London region of Kilburn bears a larger-than-life band exposed by their throbbing arterial veins. Having been away from the stage nearly a year when this show, captured for a behind-the-scenes documentary for The Kids Are Alright, reveals The Who shaking off a lot of rust initially before digging in and clicking like the master performers they are.

We see the band's inner turmoil played out in a public forum as Keith Moon comes to the gig wasted and swooning stupidly around his kit, nonetheless miraculously pulling the event off. However, he prophetically tells the audience he's going to disappear for three minutes and "overdose" while Pete Townsend begins the acoustic opening to "Behind Blue Eyes." Sadly cryptic is that Keith Moon died soon after this largely raw performance.

Moon also takes vocals at one point and caterwauls like his nuts are on fire, while Townsend and Roger Daltrey try to hide the horror on their faces. Townsend himself is the study of anger mismanagement as he verbally chides Moon in front of the crowd (you also see him venomously tweaking complex notes right at Moon's hazed face from his guitar in the attempt to confuse and derail Moon who can barely keep up). Townsend vehemently takes his frustrations out on a stage tech by swiping away a row of drinks on top of an amp, then knocking the amp off in the direction of the tech. At one point Townsend grumbles his displeasure to his bandmates that filming this concert was a waste of time as The Who struggles to get their shit together, all before a paying audience.

Daltrey and John Entwistle in turn seem fit to let Townsend work through his tirade and Moon through his loopy shenanigans until The Who indeed get their shit together and plow through the second half of their set like the legends they are. "Won't Get Fooled Again" comes off like any retro footage you've seen of this massive tune live with Daltrey swinging his mike around and nearly losing it to the universe and Townsend vaulting all over his side of the stage then sliding on his knees across the way towards Entwistle during the climax of the song.

This is perhaps the greatest asset to The Who at Kilburn 1977, watching a band at the peak of their talents finding themselves at odds with each other and with their execution, only to dig deep and save the day. It's kind of like watching a star quarterback tank in the first half of the football game with a couple of picks and down by 17, only to put it all behind him and toss three touchdowns to win the thing.

Townsend, the originator of the Rock God Pose, struts, swings, arcs and jumps to his heart's content in this show, which inspires his bandmates, despite their early-on misgivings, though no fault goes to Entwistle, who stands his ground and waits for the group to get in stride. In the end, The Who at Kilburn 1977 is just as electric as you could hope for in a DVD, if not more so because of the adversity it takes to get that kinetic energy buzzing.

Included on this DVD is an early performance from 1969 when The Who was touring the Tommy album at the London Coliseum. The footage is mixed from a couple of different cameras, one which is great, the other not so much, but considering the age of the film, it's still a wonder to behold as The Who belts out the majority of Tommy and some of Happy Jack along with a furious rendition of "My Generation."

In contrast to the Kilburn show, the London Coliseum performance is airtight. Notice the contrast between a less strung-out Keith Moon and his phenomenal presence on the stool. He's a virtual show unto himself, as are each of his mates. Though the Coliseum show isn't as grandiose and spectacular as what would come later, the precision and energy The Who gained for themselves while touring one of rock's first genuine concept albums is spectacular in its own right.

Rating: ****1/2

1 comment:

Isorski said...

Great review. I agree it is so cool to be able to see the full Tommy performance and to do a comparison between the 1969 and 1977 Who. The 1977 gig is an unreal show. I ran my own review at http://isorski.blogspot.com/2009/01/dvd-review-who-at-kilburn-1977.html. Check it out!