“This captures a unique bonfire in the eternal blaze of The Who,” former Melody Maker journalist Chris Roberts writes in the booklet accompanying the new DVD, The Who: Live At Shea Stadium 1982. A definite must-have for Who fans, it contains the full concert the band performed on the second night of shows at Shea Stadium in New York in October of that year. The songs are there, the spectacle is there, the vibe that this may very well be the end is there. That being said, there’s energy but no vitality; at least not like it had been when Keith Moon was causing chaos behind Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle, and that jolt he gave to the band, forcing them to up their own adrenalin to keep up with him, was never more noticeable than on this show where drummer Kenney Jones just plays, solidly but without any extra punches.
“The tour was highly lucrative, achieving one of the highest grosses of our career,” Townshend wrote in his 2012 autobiography, Who I Am, about the tour following the release of the band’s It’s Hard album. It was their second record without Moon and it did quite well on the charts. But Townshend was done. He wanted to stop, he wanted something else in his life besides The Who, so an ordinary tour turned into a big farewell. They would not play together again until a special performance at Live Aid in 1985, followed in 1989 with a reunion tour.
It seems that Daltrey was also thinking along those lines, as he told Rolling Stone in a November 1982 cover story about The Who’s finale: “I want to end the group in the right way. On top, before we become parodies of ourselves.” “I think there’s a certain amount of relief about the fact that it’s the last tour,” Townshend stated in that same article. “There’s a tremendous amount of sadness, though, as well, because I know it’s not what everybody wants.”
The concert starts off promising, with Townshend windmilling through “Substitute” and Daltrey swinging his mic cord like a true whipmaster. Entwistle followed “I Can’t Explain” with his own “Dangerous,” one of the highlights in a twenty-five song setlist. Townshend once compared the Who bass player to “an oak tree in the middle of a tornado,” and his presence is what actually held the band together all those years. He was their rock, their homing beacon for when they would fly off to the wilds during guitar solos and drumming bacchanalias.
Other highlights include “Baba O’Riley,” “Eminence Front,” “Young Man Blues,” “Love Reign O’er Me,” a cover of The Beatles’ “I Saw Her Standing There,” Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,” and two Entwistle-on-vox songs, “The Quiet One” and “Twist & Shout.” An exceptional treat was “The Punk & The Godfather” from Quadrophenia with Townshend on vocals and Daltrey on harmonica, followed quickly by “Drowned.” Those tunes alone make the DVD worthy of multiple plays when one is hankering for a dose of The Who live.
The eighties were a mixed bag for The Who. Without Moon they added more keyboards and Townshend seemed to relish the new tones and fashions that were going on in the music world, taking The Clash on tour with them, changing his style to the hipper sides of the street. Daltrey followed him in his proclivities, although he at first felt that Jones’ playing on Face Dances, the first post-Moon Who album, caused it to have a “lack of fire.” However, songs from those two albums are represented quite nicely during the Shea Stadium show: “The Quiet One,” “Cry If You Want,” “Dangerous” and “Eminence Front.”
The rapport between Daltrey and Townshend seemed a little touchy at times. After someone had thrown a shoe onstage, Daltrey commented, “Somebody throws me a shoe every night … Pete wants a camera. If anyone wants to throw anything at Pete, throw us a camera,” to which Townshend shook his head and said, “No, don’t throw anything at me;” then almost as an afterthought he added, “Throw money.” But not even strange shoes seemed to rattle Daltrey, who kept swinging the mic and belting out such Who classics as “See Me Feel Me,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Who Are You” enthusiastically – while a few times Townshend looked bored and ready to leave the stage.
A short bonus section features a few songs from the first night, October 12th: a repeat of “Substitute” and “I Can’t Explain,” with “My Generation,” “A Man Is A Man” and “5.15” finishing it off. It would have been nice to have seen some behind-the-scenes footage in the bonus section, this being such a big show for the band; a few morsels from backstage or an interview clip. But just having the full concert can be satisfying enough … for now.