The Who Live In Their Prime (And Sub-Prime?)
First published February 2009
The Who performing live at the Coliseum 1969 and at the Kilburn Gaumont 1977 has now been released on a 2DVD set (Image Entertainment 2008) officially titled as ‘At Kilburn 1977’. Whilst the Kilburn gig is exceptionally well filmed and recorded and contains some great moments, of equal interest to hardcore Who fans is fascinating footage from the London Coliseum, filmed almost exactly 8 years previously. Well filmed it is not, but the performance is phenomenal.
Kilburn first. The gig was the first time the Who had played live since October 1976 and was arranged specifically for Jeff Stein to get some contemporary footage of the band to include in his ‘The Kids Are Alright’ documentary. It was universally panned at the time – Dave Marsh dismisses the gig in ‘Before I Get Old’ and the definitive Who Concert File (McMichael and Lyons) describes the resultant footage as being deemed unworthy to appear in the film (a replacement gig was filmed in Shepperton during May 1978). Even Townshend condemns the gig onstage with ‘This wasn’t fucking worth filming’. They are all wrong. Granted Moon looks out of shape – the purple sequinned look not helping here – and the band are unrehearsed and at times unsure as to what to play next. What saves the day is a truly savage performance from Townshend – wired, bitter and (I suspect) out of his head on expensive cognac. An embryonic ‘Who Are You’ is fascinating and ‘Won’t Get Fooled Again’ really shines here – the penultimate quiet bit features the short-lived lasers (as used at Charlton football ground the preceding May to great effect) and is followed by Townshend skidding the length of the stage on his knees whilst playing the final chord. Six 35mm cameras and a 16-track soundboard ensure that the look and sound of the gig are marvellous, resulting in a worthy addition to the live Who canon.
Disc 2 – The Coliseum is the other way round. A fantastic performance throughout, and sound and vision that can best be described as challenging. If you select Extras you will get full performances of ‘Tommy’ and ‘A Quick One’ exactly as they were performed that night in December 1969. However the source is footage allegedly salvaged from a skip outside the Track offices, so editor Mark Step has put together the best of the footage to make a coherent gig that leaves out some songs where either visuals or sound are lacking. Despite the production limitations it is a fascinating show – probably the closest we will ever come to ‘Live At Leeds – The Movie’. The gig took place as part of the Who’s tour of European opera venues – Kit Lamberts great plan to convey respectability on his unruly protogees. The set was a marathon two and half-hours – both operas, lots of singles and the extended version of ‘My Generation’.
Ideally I would have liked the Coliseum performance with Kilburn sound and picture quality, or failing that the Kilburn performance with some of the vitality shown onstage at the Coliseum. Instead what we have are two snapshots which bookend the Who’s most commercially-successful period, both dominated by the Townshend / Moon interaction. In 1969 Moon is sparky and irreverent – interrupting Townshend’s onstage monologues and constantly attracting the eye by his extraordinarily whole-body drumming and facial expressions. By 1977 Moon is sweaty and trying hard to do the stuff that used to come effortlessly – at one point in mid-song Townshend locks eyes with Moon as if he is trying to hypnotise him to deliver a better performance. There are still flashes of the old brilliance, even if now he drops as many drumsticks as he catches. But if you are a Who fan you will overlook the imperfections and enjoy many moments of the band at their onstage best.