Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970

The Who

Eagle Rock, 2009

http://www.thewhotour.com

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg

ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED: 08/16/2010

The Who – the original quartet, at least -- always had a manic edge, a surplus of visceral aggression channeled and molded (sometimes only just) by a determined artistic ambition.  Their best live performances have generally taken the form of barely controlled chaos.  They’re never an easy listen; they confront you.

And so, when I heard that the sexagenarian duo that continues to perform as The Who would be performing at this year’s Super Bowl, my fondest hope was that they would not embarrass themselves (mission accomplished, though not by much), and thereby undercut their vaunted reputation as a live band.  In the context of this album—a fresh reissue of a double-disc set originally released by Lilith Records in 1996—that reputation remains alive and well.

The 1970 Isle Of Wight Festival found The Who at the height of their powers.  They had wowed the music world with the rock opera nbtc__dv_250 Tommy the year before and were starting to figure out how some of the pieces of the failed follow-up project Lifehouse might fit together into what would become one of their greatest studio recordings, 1971’s Who’s Next.

The setlist for this date includes a smattering of the group’s high-charting mid-60s singles (“I Can’t Explain,” “Substitute”), but the centerpiece of this double album is an almost-complete performance of Tommy.  Now, I have to admit that personally, while there are four or five songs from Tommy that rank among the group’s best, I find the piece as a whole disjointed and hard to make it all the way through.  That said, the band pulls off the musical changes beautifully, segueing from track to track almost seamlessly, and the climax, “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” is definitely a highlight.  According to the liner notes, at the end of the Tommy segment the house lights went up on the 600,000 assembled souls, and while the ovation captured here might not be as much of an earthquake as the opening chords of the following “Summertime Blues,” it’s still damned impressive.

The Lifehouse tracks are interesting artifacts, especially the placement of the rather bloated “Naked Eye” as the next-to-last encore, devolving at the end into the familiar opening chords of “Magic Bus.”  Which is just about all that’s familiar about this version of “Bus,” which morphs quickly into a steel cage match between Townshend’s windmilling power chords, Daltrey’s keening harmonica, and Moon’s hair-on-fire drumming.  The latter half of the track is two and a half minutes of pure unleashed aggression.

From the proto-punk of “My Generation” to the overarching artistic ambition of Tommy, from the familiar strains of “Substitute” to the obscure pleasures of “I Don’t Know Myself,” Live At The Isle Of Wight offers an absorbing overview of one of the great live acts of the '60s at the top of their game.  It’s loud, it’s messy, it’s in your face… it’s The Who.

Rating: A-

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