While the story of The Who was chronicled quite well by Jeff Stein in his classic film The Kids Are Alright, the movie ended in 1978. Although the film was released in 1979, Stein decided not to touch on the death of Keith Moon and instead ended with a blistering live take of the band performing “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, which was shot just for the film in 1978 and was the last time Moon sat at the drums for a Who performance. We are left with the powerful image of The Who as a live band and, at that time, they were the most enduring band from the British Invasion to still have the original line-up intact.
This image was a strong one but, in reality, the story of The Who was not even half over. Moon had died in 1978 (many months before The Kids Are Alright debuted in June of 1979) and, when the film opened, the band was struggling with his loss and where to take the band next weighed heavily on the band members, especially Pete Townshend.
So, 28 years after The Kids Are Alright premiered, another film, Amazing Journey: The Story of The Who (which comes out on DVD November 6), delves into the entire career of the band and is more in-depth than The Kids Are Alright. (This is not a knock of the latter, as it is one of the best rock films ever. The story just continued.)
Amazing Journey paints an honest picture of The Who and how the band evolved from the earliest days – when Roger Daltrey led the band – of doing raw and powerful covers of R&B and Motown tracks to becoming – through the emergence of Townshend from guitarist to becoming one of the most introspective and complex songwriters and composers ever – the best live band in rock.
The complex relationship between band members is looked back on as Daltrey remembers that his role as leader in the early days of the band was taken away due to an after show punch-fest with Moon, which saw Daltrey temporarily sacked from the band, only to be let back in on a probational basis. Daltrey felt this demotion for a few years, until the band recorded Tommy and he found himself again a main focus (something that he and Townshend were always competing for on stage) and indispensable to the band.
The success of Tommy turned The Who into superstars and Townshend recalls how he would then try to push himself to be more innovative and ambitious in his songwriting and in the studio. The products of his labors would produce such stellar work as Who’s Next and Quadrophenia.
The not always happy band relations are not hidden in Amazing Journey (as they were not really touched upon in The Kids Are Alright), but it seems the tension and strife were two of the ingredients that the band used (subconsciously?) to push themselves to be the best live act.
While the story of The Who is looked at more lightheartedly in The Kids Are Alright, Amazing Journey hits on the group’s entire and rocky history. Moon’s death (where Daltrey talks about his guilt and how he feels he could have done more for Moon); the tragedy at Cincinnati in 1979; the first final tour in 1982; and Townshend’s personal problems, which let to his decision to end the band in 1983 (the first time), are touchy subjects for The Who but are all tackled in the film.
The years of band inactivity from 1983-1989 (save for sets at Live Aid in 1985 and when they were given the British Phonographic Industry’s Lifetime Achievement Award in 1988) were a dark time if you were a Who fan. The group’s 25th Anniversary Tour in 1989 (a huge success) and the Quadrophenia tour in 1996-97 (not as successful) were brief moments of relief to their followers but seeing The Who with tons of on-stage musicians as accompaniment was distracting on these tours and not necessary and led to a temporary dent in their legacy as an amazing live band.
Amazing Journey harks on the hope Who fans felt with the reformation of the group in 1999, which saw that the band had reverted back to their quartet (accompanied by John “Rabbit” Bundrick on keyboard and backing vocals) lineup (the Las Vegas return on this formation is chronicled on the fantastic DVD, The Vegas Job) and hit the road to play their catalogue in 2000. A show-stealing set at The Concert For New York in 2001 was so well received and showed The Who so back on track that they planned a full US summer tour in 2002.
The death of Who bassist John Entwistle on the eve of the tour kickoff cast a giant shadow of loss during that summer’s tour (which did go on, with Pino Palladino bravely filling in on bass). Instead of a rebirth, it seemed as if The Who, now down to two original members, was really over. However, tours in 2004, 2006-07 and the band’s first record of new material, Endless Wire (2006) showed The Who at an activity level not seen since the ’70s.
The film ends with a wonderful shot of The Who in 2007 performing “Tea & Theatre”. Daltrey and Townshend are now, after all the fighting and breakups, more united and devoted to each other and look more determined than ever to continuing The Who.
Amazing Journey is a well done look at The Who. Lots of unearthed footage is used (there is some crossover from The Kids Are Alright, but not too much) and new interviews with Townshend and Daltrey add to the air of truthfulness and reality of the band’s story (tributes from such musicians as Sting, Eddie Vedder, and Noel Gallagher are intertwined during the film as well).
The Who’s story is not always a happy one, but it is embodies the band as survivors, and while they hit many bumps along they way, their legacy has many more high points than lows.
First, the misses – I wish they would have included full concerts, or at least four or five full songs from the 1970s shows (the way McCartney’s new DVD allegedly will). That would have made this perfect.
However, what is here is great. More footage of the Kilburn 1977 show than I thought I’d ever see, to hear how the band supposedly hated the gig/Jeff Stein’s footage of that show. We see part of a great, pre-album (almost by a year) version of “Who Are You” live at Kilburn, with Moon and Entwistle jamming underneath Pete’s guitar. Pete sings the chorus by himself (!), even the “Who the f ….” part, and Daltrey later joins in.
It’s wonderful to see Moon playing drums on a live version (other than the live-in-the-studio take in “The Kids Are Alright.” The Who, from the clips seen in this DVD, sounded pretty stinking good at Kilburn. Moon actually looks like he was in better shape and less tired than the 1978 Shepperton footage in “TKAA.” Don’t get me wrong, I love the two Shepperton clips in “TKAA,” but Moon seems more firey and hits the drums and cymbals faster (and with less effort) on the Kilburn clips. Good footage of Entwistle’s crazy fingers on the bass at Kilburn, although a couple segments don’t quite match up with his fingers, but nonetheless, it’s great to see 1970s footage of the Ox cuttlng loose on the bass. This happens at the end of “Dreaming from the Waist” at Kilburn. Unfortunately, we only see the end of the song, but it’s great to see John wailing on four strings.
It’s also great to see The Who clowning around in the studio while trying to do the backing vocals to “Pictures of Lily,” and there’s a quick segment of Pete laying down the electric guitar for the track. Clips of the “Quadrophenia” and “Who By Numbers” tours are awesome, allthough short like the Kilburn gig. We see Pete holding up Keith Moon (or restraining him?) at Pete’s mic stand, then Pete and Roger carrying Moon to his drum kit, and then Moonie collapsing.
Interesting interviews with Pete and Roger, although much of Pete’s is lifted from “An Ox’s Tale” DVD and the 2004 interview Murray Lerner did for “The Who Live at the Isle of Wight” limited theatrical release and special edition DVD version in 2004. The quick segment of Hyde Park in 1994 (or 1996?) was interesting, although no site of David Gilmour. I’m glad they talked to Kenney Jones, who is pretty much bitter-free, at least in the interviews. He really carries the weight of Daltrey’s fueding back then, the world’s criticisms of him not being Keith Moon, and the 1979 Cincinatti trajedy where 11 Who fans were trampled to death in a stampede for festival (general admsision) seats.
Maybe they will eventually put out all of these shows in full, someday soon on DVD. Take a note from Deep Purple and Kiss, please, Roger and Pete, and dump all the archive stuff on us. We are waiting.
P.S. The talking heads segments aren’t that bad. They’re limited (only Noel Gallagher gets on my nerves, acting as if he’s bothered to play with The Who at the Royal Albert Hall in 2000 – what the heck? I’ll play fourth banana to The Who anyday!), as if the filmmakers started to include them in the beginning, and then kind of abandoned the idea in favor of interviews with Pete, Roger and file interviews of Entwislte, as well as their siblings and parents. First time I think I’ve heard Simon Townshend speak (not counting his background vocals live – and lead vocals on the 1996 Quadrophenia DVD)