What a difference a span of time can have on something. Last year, a DVD of The Who’s 1982 Shea Stadium concerts was released, revealing a bit of the frayed edges that a supposed farewell tour can have on a band that had been together since 1964. Townshend seemed bored at times and fairly new drummer Kenney Jones was a bit lackluster. It was all falling apart.
But lo and behold, thirty-three years later, on the band’s 50th anniversary in June of 2015, the vibe has completely changed. The concert at London’s infamous Hyde Park was vibrant, alive, enjoyable without the underlying animosity that hung over The Who circa 1982. You’d think the old codgers would sound stale and dated – I mean, really, 71 year old Roger Daltrey singing the line “I hope I die before I get old” doesn’t have the same resonance it did in 1965 when they were bucking authority with a gleam in their eye. But what Daltrey has done to “My Generation” and other classic rebellious hits is turn them over into anthems of survival and maturity with a deeper tone, most likely out of necessity than creativity. But it works and it works well. The Quadrophenia showstopper, “Love Reign O’er Me,” is the prime example. By not attempting to hit notes of his youth, he has made the song stronger, more compelling. It’s how The Who could go out with a bang instead of an embarrassing whimper.
The Who: Live In Hyde Park is a glory mark to wrap up the band’s history. As the DVD opens with a nod to their mod beginnings, they launch into “I Can’t Explain” with a little windmilling from Townshend and a few swings of the ole mic cord from Daltrey, a good sign that we’re about to get a special show. You certainly can’t complain about the setlist. The Who cover some of their biggest hits here: “Who Are You,” “Baba O’Reilly,” “You Better You Bet,” “Pinball Wizard.” So they didn’t play “Magic Bus” or “The Real Me.” But they did play “Pictures Of Lily” thanks to a special request from The Jam’s Paul Weller who emailed Townshend about playing the song. “We haven’t played it in a long time so it’ll probably be crap,” Townshend announced from the stage. It wasn’t. In fact, it was one of the best songs of the night.
The concert is captured magnificently, visually, and the sound is crisp. There are snippets of Townshend and Daltrey in interview mode after each couple of songs and it would have been especially fulfilling if they had included more from those interviews in the bonus section, along with any old footage they could dig up, instead of the sort of lame music video-esque clips they threw in for “Squeezebox,” “The Kids Are Alright” and “You Better You Bet.” Yawn. A Moon interview collage or behind-the scenes moments of the late John Entwistle, honoring their memories, would have been delectable icing on the cake. The last of the bonus pieces is “The Seeker,” which they could very well have just kept in the main portion of the film. A sad waste of bonus space unfortunately.
However, that should not be a deterrent from adding this DVD to your collection – which you can get in several formats including Blu-Ray with either vinyl or CDs of the music. Tunes from Tommy and Quadrophenia excel in Daltrey’s deeper range and never have I heard “Love Reign O’er Me” sound so powerful; as does the “Amazing Journey/Sparks” that leads into “Pinball Wizard.” Quadrophenia is probably the unsung hero of The Who catalog, starting life with lackluster reviews but obtaining respected status in the end. “I wanted everyone who listened to the album to find themselves, and their own story, in it,” Townshend wrote of The Who’s second so-called rock opera in his 2012 best-selling autobiography.
Certainly adding Zak Starkey on drums was the best move The Who made back in the mid-nineties. He brings the songs to life with a gusto just shy of Moon theatricality and yards ahead of the plainspoken Jones. When introducing the band, Townshend shared the story of how Moon gave Ringo’s son a drumkit when he was about ten years old and adding a little jab at his former bandmate by proclaiming that Zak didn’t study at the feet of a master, instead he “studied at the feet of a wanker.” Nevertheless, Starkey has offered the perfect foundation for The Who in their later years. Simon Townshend has also been a nice piece of the puzzle, providing brotherly guitar and a steadiness to the live shows. Introducing him to the crowd, Pete bragged on his younger brother and advised everyone to check out his website.
Although Townshend snorts at the idea of them playing small theatres and telling stories as the years keep marching on, that really wouldn’t be typical of a band who has made their mark on rock & roll by being fiery, angry, at times arrogant and other times over-the-top ad nauseam. Through shattered instruments and broken egos, chart-topping successes and movie embarrassments, solo ventures and reunion tours, The Who has maintained being The Who. And no better way to bookend them is with this DVD. In the words of Townshend: “If in doubt, just play.”