During their prime years from roughly 1967 to 1978, The Who were the greatest live rock and roll band in the world. Even now, when measured strictly on the merits of their performances during this singularly amazing run – and with all due respect to Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band, or the Stones (at least on a good night) – a legitimate case can be made that The Who were in fact the best ever.
The blistering performance captured on Eagle Rock’s newly restored, digitally cleaned up concert DVD The Who Live In Texas ’75 backs this claim up too.
The cleanup job (by longtime Who collaborator Jon Astley) isn’t perfect by any means. The 35-year-old concert film is still pretty dark and a bit grainy in places. There are also a few spots where the slow-motion stop and start effects distract from the actual performance to such a point that they eventually become pretty irritating. This is most painfully true during “Magic Bus,” where a silly dance-jig from Pete Townshend is relentlessly played backwards and forwards long after its initial novelty has worn out its welcome.
But the sound is better than it has any right to be, and represents a vast improvement over previous versions of this concert available over the years on bootlegs. The separation here is in fact pretty remarkable when you take into account that this is The Who, a band most famous for creating unhinged chaos onstage.
John Entwistle’s amazing bass runs are heard just as clearly in the mix here as Pete Townshend’s slash-and-burn power chords. Roger Daltrey’s vocals are front and center where they belong, and Keith Moon’s drums are captured in all of their wildest over-the-top excess.
The Who’s formidable reputation as a live concert act precedes this DVD of course, and as a definitive concert film document, Live In Texas ’75 shouldn’t be mistaken for something as essential as Live At The Isle Of Wight ’70. Together with what many regard as the greatest live album ever made, The Who Live At Leeds, that DVD remains the final exclamation point in any argument as to just “who” really is rock’s greatest live band ever.
Part of what makes the Isle Of Wight ’70 DVD experience so exhilarating is that in the midst of making such a glorious racket, there is also always this underlying sense that the wheels could come clean off of the wagon at any moment. Keith Moon’s particularly “unique” approach to his instrument – equal parts inspired genius and caveman insanity – alone guaranteed this possibility on any given night.
It’s no wonder that The Who was one of the few ’60s-era “dinosaur” bands embraced by the ’70s punk rock movement.
Keith Moon’s antics notwithstanding – and on this DVD, Moon pretty much steals the show – by the time Live In Texas ’75 was made, The Who had become one of the biggest concert acts in the world. In the process, they also became a much-more polished version of their formerly wild selves. Recorded during an early stop on the 1975 American tour supporting The Who By Numbers, the concert shows Townshend’s newfound sobriety likewise reflected in new songs from that album found here like “Dreaming From The Waist” and “However Much I Booze.”
Despite the seriousness of the new material though (which at one point prompts Moon to bark “I’d like to do 17 songs from my new album” from behind his drum kit), The Who are otherwise loose and relaxed on Live In Texas ’75. This allows the wild unpredictability of past glories to shine through both bright and often.
As a band, The Who seem to be having a pretty great time here. Pete Townshend windmills his ass off through the crowd-pleasers from Who’s Next like “Baba O’Riley,” as well as the obligatory medley from Tommy. He even manages to knock over a few monitors and microphone stands in the process.
Roger Daltrey is, at least for the most part, also in top form as the microphone-lassoing, golden-locked rock-God on songs like “Behind Blue Eyes” and especially “Drowned” (the lone holdover from their previous tour behind the rock opera Quadrophenia). However as the concert progresses, Daltrey’s voice shows some signs of the wear that would manifest itself more fully in his later years.
When Daltrey fails to hit his trademark scream on “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” it is an instant reminder of the price he paid for all those years of being one of rock’s two most celebrated screamers (something that Robert Plant can also probably relate to).
For those of us old enough to remember, though, The Who Live In Texas ’75 will instantly transport you back to those years when the Gods of Rock walked the earth and shook the rafters of arenas, just like this one in Houston, Texas. For those who weren’t, watch, listen, and learn.