Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Who Live At The Isle Of Wight (1996)


Amazingly, despite having prime live stuff in the vaults, the band instead decided to release the dreary post-Moon live albums Who’s Last, which documented their first “farewell” tour in 1982, and Join Together, which documented their later “farewell” tour in 1989.

The numerous other rip-off compilations and their decidedly weaker later studio albums caused The Who’s reputation to suffer in recent years, with many seeming to come to the conclusion that the band is overrated. Nonsense! Any artist should primarily be judged by their prime work, and The Who at their best were among the best bands ever.

Also, in recent years the band (or MCA – I fault both) has thankfully begun to rectify past mistakes by releasing prime material previously locked up in the vaults, and Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970, one such item released 26 years after the fact, joins Live At Leeds as the prime Who live document.

For those who don’t know, the huge 1970 festival was the most famous Wight (an island off the south coast of England) concert, largely because it was one of Jimi Hendrix’s final live performances. The Doors, Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell, Joe Cocker, Jefferson Airplane, The Move, T. Rex, and Jethro Tull also played that year, but as per usual back then The Who’s performance eclipsed them all. In short, this is a tremendous live album, with an agreeably rough and heavy sound, and a whopping 30 songs, including almost the entirety of Tommy.

In truth, I tend to skip most of the more straightforward songs that are duplicates from Leeds – that excludes the “Shakin’ All Over” medley that also includes “Spoonful” and “Twist and Shout,” and another fine romp through “My Generation” – since these versions are generally inferior, and as such I consider this album a perfect companion piece to the ’95 Leeds reissue; by contrast, this makes the Deluxe Reissue version of Leeds expendable since this version of Tommy clearly eclipses it.

In addition to more Tommy, another difference is that Leeds (’95 version) has old songs like “A Quick One” and “Tattoo,” whereas this one has later Lifehouse-era songs like “Naked Eye” and “I Don’t Even Know Myself,” as well as a 9+ minute version of “Water” (the best version I’ve heard, though it’s still not a great composition per se). As for a Tommy comparison with the original, it depends on what you’re in the mood for; the original studio version offers a more melodic, multi-colored palette, this one cuts out some of the excess fat (the only song I really miss is “Sensation,” and the band wisely cut the “Underture”) and wins hands down in the raw power department, culminating in a definitive, truly towering version of “We’re Not Gonna Take It.”

Some may fault the band’s performance as “sloppy,” with Pete in particular missing notes or sounding out of tune at times (likely while jumping around stage like a lunatic – again, get the DVD – or windmilling like a lunatic), but this album isn’t about hitting the right notes. What it is about is pure primal power and a rare band chemistry, both of which are on ample display throughout.

Perhaps the album is overly generous, and as such is for the serious rather than the casual Who fan, but said serious fan should love this.

March 28, 2013 - Posted by | The Who Live At The Isle Of Wight |

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