Honesty really rocks

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Thu Jan 22 15:30:28 UTC 2009

>From The Winston-Salem Journal:

DVD of The Who's 1977 show tells us: Honesty really rocks

By Ed Bumgardner | Journal Reporter 
Published: January 22, 2009

The dirty little secret about live-music albums and concert DVDs is thatfor the most part, "live" is a term loosely used at best.

What you see is not always what you hear. Most concert films are shot over multiple shows, with performers often wearing the same clothes for continuity. "Fix it in the mix" studio overdubs often correct flubbed notes or vocal harmonies. Judicious editing drawn from multiple shows not only provides a more neatly flowing document, but also, in the case of grafting a better-performed section of one performance onto another of the same song, builds a more pristine portrait of the live act.

There is one particularly famous concert film that one member of the band claims is almost entirely overdubbed in the studio, and some livealbums -- The Eagles live album springs immediately to mind -- have been overdubbed to the point where they're barely live at all.

Even the best band makes mistakes. And the best bands are the ones that are most likely to fix flawed live documents of performances.

All of which makes the release of yet another live two-disc DVD by The Who -- The Who At Kilburn 1977 (Image Entertainment) -- such a welcome addition to the iconic band's ever-growing canon of live albums, videos and DVDs.

The leader of The Who, guitarist and songwriter Pete Townshend, is a well-chronicled control freak who wields a nimble hand in the editing studio -- or encourages employees to do so. In the band's most famous piece of film, the documentary The Kids Are Alright, the sharp viewer will note that songs are rarely played in their entirety. Snippets of performances are used to document the raw power and fury of the band at the various junctures of its career. The two full songs that bookend the film -- explosive, triumphant performances of "Baba O' Reilly" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" -- perfectly capture the band at full roar (and document the final live performance by drummer Keith Moon, the band's great, flamboyant, but chemically fueled drummer, who died not long after the show).

The secret: those two songs are taken from a concert staged in front of a few fans to capture live footage of the band at thatpoint in time. And it was the band's second stab at getting the needed performance.

The original performances are on The Who At Kilburn, the first show filmed for use in The Kids Are Alright.  Little of the footage of that performance has ever been seen -- until now.

The reason -- the band's playing was technically below par, although there are moments that could serve as defining examples of The Who'slive earthquake-level performances.

To Townshend's credit, he has released the film as it happened, nothing fixed, problems glaring. The performance may not be right, butit's mighty righteous.

It is The Who at its prime -- a portrayal that is flattering only because it is honest.

The back story is that the members of The Who, a battling, boisterous lot, had not played together, not so much as rehearsed, in a year leading up to this show. Tensions had been building in the band. Drummer Moon was a physical wreck, overweight, bloated. And it shows inhis playing.

When the band walks out, the tension is palpable. Nobody is smiling. Townshend's mood grows worse as the show unfurls. Moon is missing cues and struggling to keep tempo, obvious and often embarrassing. Singer Roger Daltrey forgets a verse in "Dreaming From The Waist," prompting a vicious solo from Townshend and an unprintable assessment of theperformance.

Townshend, and the band, were often at their best when they were at odds, and Townshend shines throughout, windmilling his arm across the guitar with uncommon ferocity (even for him), leaping to astonishingheights that would leave him staggering upon touchdown.

The set's best moment is the late bassist John Entwistle's wry "My Wife" -- the band explodes, takes off on a flight of fancy, playing brilliantly. As Townshend continually turns around to turn his guitar volume up to what had to be a deafening level, he is finally stopped by a hapless roadie, who then looks in horror as Townshend rakes drinks and towels off the amp in anger, then shoves it off, cutting his volumeby half (oh, the irony).

Elsewhere, Townshend belittles the band, telling the filmmaker to stop, and verbally attacks someone in the audience. He is in rare form. Still, there are moments when the band is The Who of legend, transported away from mundanely playing pop music into a world whereperformance is a no-quarters attack, and all band members are playing extraordinarily, almost telepathically.

There aren't many such moments, but they are there. They remind us why The Who is legend -- and the bad moments, well, they show that theband had bad shows, just like any other band.

The set also contains a second disc of footage from a show in 1970 at which The Who performed its rock opera, Tommy, for the first time. It was not professionally filmed or recorded, and the quality is rough -- but still, somehow, at least for fans, right.

The lesson gained from watching The Who at Kilburn is that perfection does not greatness make. And greatness becomes more so when mortal flaws are revealed.

All concert films should be as revelatory as these shows.

 -Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!


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