Like their British brothers-in-arms the Rolling Stones, The Who is getting in the habit of regularly releasing old concerts in their entirety on DVD/Blu-Ray for public consumption. This time out it’s their set at the Isle Of Wight Festival in 2004, where they headlined Saturday night to a worshipful crowd eating up their every note. Being that this was part of their first UK dates since the death of John Entwistle, who passed away in 2002 in a Nevada hotel room, the set could have been a soggy bottom mess. But The Who know how to take over a stage in the most dire of times and they nailed this performance.
Being that this concert happened thirteen years ago and the band is still performing live in 2017 is not an anomaly but a sheer iron will to keep doing what they do best – to hell with “Hope I die before I get old.” In 2004, Pete Townshend had just turned fifty-nine the month before and Roger Daltrey was a fresh sixty. Yet other than a few less jumps and spasmatic shenanigans on stage, the band sounded fresh, healthy and ready to rock. In fact, Townshend was quite displeased with the decibels. “Is it loud enough?” he asks with a snarky look in his eyes before “Behind Blue Eyes.” “Turn the fucking sound back up again. It’s only once every three hundred fucking years for Christ’s sake.”
You can always count on the guitar god to speak his mind and then take it out on his guitar while Daltrey stands staring at him like a fussed-at puppy. But once the music got going, it was almost like old times. The Who first played the Isle Of Wight Festival in the summer of 1970, superstars from the hoopla over Tommy a year prior and basking in the new release of Live At Leeds in May. “We were rock stars,” as Townshend has put it. That set was heady and electric, thirty-three songs, ten more than they would play in 2004; 1970’s set was loaded with tunes from the popular rock opera, 2004’s show was sprinkled with goodies from, at the time, their past forty years. Both shows ended with “Magic Bus.”
All was not power chords and bellowing. One of the finer moments came when Daltrey and Townshend hooked on acoustic guitars for “Naked Eye.” “Just to give the ears a rest … or what’s left of the ears,” quipped the singer. The song directly prior was “Drowned” from Quadrophenia, featuring only Townshend and his acoustic alone on the stage. And although we have become accustomed to hearing “Eminence Front,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley” in television commercials galore, when those opening notes kick in, you can’t help but feel that old excitement of a kid hearing The Who for the first time. It’s much better seeing the band playing those songs instead of a polished car flying down a highway begging you to buy it.
Other highlights include Townshend shredding a fireball of notes on “5:15,” “Bargain,” “Who Are You,” the mod ditty “Substitute” and the “Amazing Journey/Sparks/See Me Feel Me/Listening To You/Magic Bus” uninterrupted sequence that ends the DVD.
Zak Starkey, who has been the main man on the skins since 1996, was introduced by Townshend: “This man always makes me forget whose chair he’s filled. The drums is always a difficult seat to fill in The Who – always has been, always will. The memory of Keith Moon still lingers and lingers and lingers.” Starkey is quite solid. He never falls into the chaoticness of Moon, the boringness of Kenney Jones or the jolly head-boppingness of his father, Ringo Starr. He is quite able to hold his own supremely between Townshend and Daltrey, especially appealing on his exchange with the former on “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere.”
So in closing, it wouldn’t be a waste of money to throw down some currency for The Who: Live At The Isle Of Wight 2004’; especially for the package that bundles video with the music CDs. That way you can take some of these songs with you wherever you go. Now if we can only get them to start inserting posters like they used to in the vinyl days.