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Music DVD Review: The Who – The Who At Kilburn: 1977

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At the London Coliseum on December 14, 1969 and at the Gaumont State Theater in Kilburn, North London, England on December 15, 1977, the other famous Fab Four from the original British Invasion era, known simply as The Who, performed two legendary shows for the ages, ones that weren’t digitally restored and remastered until this year.

Known as The Who – Live At Kilburn 1977, this DVD was released in mid-November on standard DVD and Blu-Ray via Image Entertainment. And though its main focus is the 1977 show on disc one, one of the very last shows the band did with powerhouse drummer Keith Moon before his death in 1978, the raw concert footage of the first ever performance of the band’s visionary and groundbreaking rock opera Tommy in 1969 on disc two is a special treat. Call it a bonus bootleg.

Lead singer Roger Daltrey tells his audience at the start of the Kilburn show that the band hadn’t played the songs in their set for more than a year, but The Who showed little sign of rust in this much-loved show. Pete Townshend leads the pack, starting with the influential pre-punk ditty “I Can’t Explain,” where he windmills on his Gibson guitar, does a few jumping jacks and then smoothly launches into the group’s early pop rock hit “Substitute.”

What follows is a sensational version of “Baba O’Riley,” where Townshend plays the first couple of minutes with a tambourine, Keith Moon–with headphones on—twirls, throws up and catches his drum sticks with seeming ease, and Daltrey finishes it off with a concentrated bluesy harmonica solo.

There is also the first-ever live performance of “Who Are You,” which was recorded just two days prior to this show! Seeing as the song was so new, Townshend and Moon improvised the ending before heading straight into the crowd-pleasing, set-closing hard rockin’ classic “Won’t Be Fooled Again,” which had Townshend sliding across the stage during rock and roll’s most memorable scream and pinnacle moment, the elongated “Yeaahh!” by Daltrey.

Speaking of rocking, the band was tight pretty much all show long, though there are little instances of imperfection, such as when Entwistle was a bit late starting his bass line on the Eddie Cochran cover “Summertime Blues.” But heck, nobody’s perfect.

It’s not just the performances that are memorable. Seeing Keith Moon take the microphone and joke with the band, particularly when he claimed he would go backstage and “OD” while the rest of the band played the first couple of minutes of the uplifting “Pale Blue Eyes” was a little alarming given his off-stage struggles, but in the end just a joke.

As far video and sound are concerned, the DVD is in High Definition, and the audio quality of Dolby Digital 5.1 and Dolby Digital Stereo are impressive given the many years that have gone by since the show was recorded. Keith Moon’s cymbals truly splash your years in Digital Stereo, and the trebly action of John Entwistle’s bass is a bit more pronounced. But all the instruments and vocals in general sound evenly mixed throughout the show. As I went back-and-forth between audio selections, the only really noticeable difference between the Dolby choices is the somewhat louder audience cheering in Dolby Stereo.

For the much-treasured second disc, The Who’s legendary London Coliseum show in mid-December 1969 (which occurred a few months after its Woodstock appearance), you can tell the camera footage is extremely old by the grainy picture and raw sound. It’s “B” quality at best, considering the problems the show’s recording crew had to overcome, but the producers did a fantastic job remixing and refurbishing the audio and video to as superior a professional level as possible. The band made sure nothing view-worthy was lost, and that’s why you see subtitles that carry nearly every word of Keith Moon’s playful banter with Daltrey and Townshend between songs during this show.

For this show, Townshend’s Gibson guitar and amp combined to air out lots of dreamy reverb, making the type of sounds during clean parts of songs that may remind you of U2’s The Edge. Daltrey’s gritty and soaring vocals are spot-on for almost all of it (as on Kilburn), and his stage mannerisms, microphone spinning and other bodily motions match the energy put out by Moon and Townshend.

The band looks noticeably younger in the 1969 gig—minus the eternally boyish-looking Keith Moon—with Townshend and Entwistle a bit skinnier and totally clean-shaven. Moon though, with his health having deteriorated in the mid-1970s looks a bit slimmer and faster in 1969. Together though, The Who showed the lucky fans before them their inventive showmanship and concert themes, which included a few hits, plus the infidelity-themed mini-opera “A Quick One While He’s Away” (featuring Moon and Entwistle on lead vocals) to start. This was of course followed by the full-blown rock opera Tommy and it’s well-known masterpiece “Pinball Wizard” and the power chord crunchy gem “I’m Free,” among others. Guitarists will especially love the metallic hard rock edge to this show, as compared to Kilburn, right to the very end.

My only substantive criticism of disc two is the decision to put the full performance of Tommy in the “Extras” section instead of the main section, which starts with performances of Who songs like “I Can’t Explain,” “Fortune Teller,” and mini-opera “A Quick One.” Which then leads to a few Tommy cuts before closing with rockers like “Shakin’ All Over” and “My Generation.” Why not have the London Coliseum show run as one show, Tommy and all?

With valuable liner notes from former Spin editor-in-chief Alan Light, Nigel Sinclair and Richard Evans explaining the history behind these shows and the state of the band during these times, you’ll surely learn things about The Who you didn’t know before, including that pre-Tommy, Moon and Entwistle reportedly thought about forming a band with Jimmy Page because of The Who’s infighting at the time. Tommy of course, not only became an internationally successful double album but brought the band back together (until Moon’s untimely death several years later).

Overall, despite the less than top grade audio/video quality of the rare London Coliseum show, with over three hours and forty-eight live tracks, plus pages of insightful liner notes, The Who At Kilburn: 1977 is an outstanding, treasured 2-DVD package and definitely belongs in any longtime fan’s top five must-have live The Who releases—up there with Live At Leeds and The Kids Are Alright 1978 film, to be sure. Would it make a great Christmas/Holiday gift for your classic rock-loving parents? To coin a phrase, You Better, You Bet!

Check out trailers for the new DVD here and here.

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About Charlie Doherty

Copy editor/content writer for Penn Multimedia; print/web journalist/freelancer, formerly for Boston Examiner, EMSI, Demand Media, Brookline TAB, Suite 101 and Helium.com; co-head sports editor & asst. music editor at Blogcritics Magazine; Media Nation independent newspaper staff writer, printed/published by the Boston Globe at 2004 DNC (Boston, MA); Featured in Guitar World May 2014. See me on twitter.com/chucko33, myspace.com/charlied, & Facebook.