Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Who Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970


This is actually an archive release: certainly, it would be quite stupid to release this stuff as soon as it was recorded, what with Live At Leeds having just come out and all. Recently, though, there’s been a lot of uproar concerning the lack of officially released early Who-candy, so some tweaky record company hastily reconstructed this totally embarrassing piece of shitty sounding old crap and….

No, no! What am I talking about? The Beatles Live At The Hollywood Bowl? This is a great archive document! Believe me, even if you have already emptied your purse on the Leeds hotcake, you won’t regret indulging yourself once more. Pete Townshend himself said that this was one of their best nights, and there may be a grain of truth in this saying. What distinguishes this album from Leeds is primarily the fact that it’s longer (more expensive, too, though), and particularly impressive is the inclusion of the entire Tommy chestnut (except for ‘Welcome’, which was practically never played live, and ‘Sally Simpson’, ‘Sensation’, and ‘Cousin Kevin’, which were probably not played on that particular gig), instead of the short ‘Amazing Journey/Sparks’ bit on Leeds. Besides that, we have an interesting cover selection (an unedited version of the ‘Shakin’ All Over’ medley, including a magnificent ‘Spoonful’ and – believe it or not – a ‘Twist And Shout’!!), and two cuts from the already beginning to develop Lifehouse project.

Oh, yeah. The sound. The sound is completely different from the Leeds sound. Leeds was somewhat, err, ‘restrained’, if the word ‘restrained’ is appliable to The Who. This is perfectly understandable: the hall was small, the audience was intelligent and polite, and moreover, they were recording it for the official release, and Pete was feeling slightly depressed, which is always a serious influence on his playing. The Isle of Wight gathering, if you’re not too familiar with the environment, was a gang of bloodthirsty, stone-heavy, braindead motherfuckers inherited directly from Woodstock and numbering in hundreds of thousands. And good old Pete always felt somewhat enraged about such massive swarms of idiots, which results in his using the guitar more like a machine-gun than a musical instrument. In fact, if I might be permitted to use this metaphor, he practically executes the audience with his playing. Which, by the way, is often sloppy and out of tune. But hey, play a couple of windmills on your guitar and I’ll be damned if it don’t go out of tune forever…

Seriously, now, this sloppiness and Pete’s frequent abandon of diligent melody in favour of making more noise is what turns a lot of people away from this album. I know this because I originally shared the same feeling: there was a bit too much noise even for me, who’s a rabid Who freak. But put yourself in the background, picture the excitement generated by this kind of sound, the romanticism and sincerity of the performance, turn up the volume and you’re bound to be carried away with the very first notes of ‘Heaven And Hell’. And on ‘Young Man Blues’ Pete practically goes out of control totally, crashing and bashing around with ten times more zest than Jagger could ever muster on stage. (He had to change guitar after the song, as pictured in the video). Hey, did you know Pete has got more than a hundred seams on his right hand? I didn’t! You might think a windmill is something easy and stupid – it’s not, I assure you. Just go ahead and try.

So I just suppose you forgive Pete his multiple mistakes on this album (I’m the first to admit there are many of these), because his peak energy more than makes up for it. The best way is to listen to this album in headphones with the volume turned up as loud as possible – you’ll know what I mean.

But there’s not just Pete’s frustration on this album. Keith is in great form as usual, and John – well, John is always good. You can’t go wrong with John. What surprises me most of all, though, is Roger’s voice – I have never heard him sing better than on here. Tommy goes off like a hydrogen bomb, and not in the least due to his humble efforts; however, the cover versions are what distinguish him most of all (oh, that ‘LIIIES ABOUT IT!’ line on ‘Spoonful’), plus Pete’s ‘Water’ on which Robert Plant is put to shame. Shame on you, Robert Plant! Go sulk in the corner.

So I’m really not at all bothered with the overlaps with Leeds. Who cares? Good old Pete always had enough improvisation power in him to make a single song sound in several entirely different ways. ‘Summertime Blues’ is probably inferior to the Leeds version, since the solo is a bit shabby (it almost sounds as if Pete was caught off-guard when he started throwing out the lead lines), and he misses that tremendous power chord that ends the song and segues immediately into ‘Shakin’ All Over’. But that one is far more impressive than the Leeds version, on the other hand – Roger yells like a demon, and the energy is tremendous.

As for the ‘newer’ cuts, ‘Water’ is an incredible song. At about nine minutes long, it slowly unfurls itself into a bombastic, unprecedented epic where ‘water’ stands as a metaphor for life energy and artistic inspiration, and Roger’s screams of ‘WE NEED WATER!’ coming from the very depths of the band’s collective soul. Along the way, Pete creates a couple more thunderstorms, cleverly alternating passages of utter chaos with crystal clear lead lines and catchy riffs created simply out of nowhere, before bringing it down with a bang on the hilarious accapella ending. And ‘I Don’t Know Myself’ is a beautiful, confessional song featuring Keith happily tapping away on his favourite little wooden block (you should have watched his face on the accompanying video). Oh yeah, the band also does a short excerpt of ‘Naked Eye’ in the medley section… which is excellent.

Buy this album, now. And try to get the accompanying video, too: it has its flaws (see my review at the bottom of the page), but it’s an absolutely essential purchase for all Who fans, young and old. This is a ten, a damn solid ten, and a solid fifteen on the overall rating scale. Thanks Goodness the band isn’t planning on any more official releases of live shows from that era – I probably wouldn’t have any other choice but to award tens to all of them. Whew. Judging by their form on Woodstock and at the London Coliseum in 1969, for instance, these two potential albums would also be worthy candidates for tens.

March 6, 2013 - Posted by | The Who Live At The Isle Of Wight |

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