Just when you thought everything you ever needed from the Who is available on the marketplace, along comes the double DVD At Kilburn 1977, maxed out with a pair of momentous shows from the band’s peak years. Thirty years have passed since Keith Moon roamed the earth, so any updated visuals of the maniacal madman pounding away at the skins typically gets the Wholigans excited.
Digitally restored and brought up to 5.1 specs, At Kilburn 1977 leaps off the screen and puts you right in the middle of a rock and roll roundhouse to the nervous system.
The December 15, 1977 Kilburn show at the Gaumont State Theater in North London was presented before a select audience and filmed especially for Jeff Stein’s movie about the Who, The Kids Are Alright. Only a couple of numbers from the concert made the final cut, while the rest of what ended up being drummer Keith Moon’s last performance with the Who remained stowed away and unreleased.
Fortunately, the entire show was filmed in 35mm with six cameras and a 16-track audio recorder, making it a prime candidate for digital release. Stretched into a fine, wide high definition picture and punched up to surround, the ‘orible Who never looked or sounded better.
Pete Townshend does his best to shake the rust off by wind-milling and stumbling around more than usual. Moon isn’t quite the dynamo of ten years earlier, which slows the pace somewhat but hardly softens the edge. As long as John Entwistle’s thunder fingers can whip the verses into gear, then all is right in Whodom. The set list is typical of Who set lists, then and now.
Face it: It wouldn’t be the Who without “I Can’t Explain,” “Substitute” “Baba O’Riley,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “My Generation” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again.” But there are some out-of-the-ordinary tracks like “Dreaming From The Waist” from The Who By Numbers, followed by a lumpy patch of Tommy, and plenty of loose jams. Despite its brevity, the Kilburn show is a fabulous slice of Whoness.
The second disc is buried in the auspices of the DVD’s title, but it stands on its own as the London Coliseum show from December 14, 1969. At this point, the Who were in full stride, playing behind Tommy and making waves where ever they went. This performance, as rough and raw as it seems, is the Who at their all-time nastiest. Opening with the powerful “Heaven And Hell,” the group slays each number — “I Can’t Explain,” “Fortune Teller,” “Tattoo” — before ascending the mountain of conceptual copiousness.
The main feature includes only bits and pieces, while more complete versions of “A Quick One While He’s Away” and Tommy are tucked away in the Extras section. Could it be the original film makers were reluctant to include the extended pieces in their final, yet unreleased form? For our purposes, it simply adds another dimension to the At Kilburn 1977 package. You gotta love DVDs for that.
The press materials for The Who at Kilburn 1977 describe this DVD as “a holy grail for fans after decades of anticipation,” and that’s no piece of bull dreamed up by somebody in marketing. Die-hard Who fans (a group of which I proudly include myself as a member) have long since obsessed over obtaining audio and/or video from a handful of legendary shows, including, but not limited to:
London, 5/2/69: the premiere of Tommy to the press at Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Club;
Newcastle, 11/5/73: the sixth night of the Quadrophenia tour, when the band’s backing tapes failed, resulting in Townshend pulling longtime soundman Bobby Pridden across the soundboard, ripping out backing tapes and smashing equipment, all to the disbelief of the rest of the band … and the entire crowd;
Kilburn, 12/15/77: aka the second-to-last Who concert to feature Keith Moon, filmed for inclusion in Jeff Stein’s masterpiece rockumentary The Kids Are Alright but shelved because of a subpar performance by an out-of-practice band (save for the inclusion of “My Wife” on the TKAA soundtrack and a few 15-30 second clips over the years).
Audio from the Kilburn show surfaced on a bootleg in the early part of this decade (oddly enough, most likely from one of my cassette tapes, but that’s another story) and last week, the full concert, warts and all, was finally released in all its six-camera, 35mm glory, along with a second disc featuring footage from a Tommy show at the London Coliseum.
So now, the questions can be answered: were the ‘oo truly ‘orrible? Is the Kilburn show nothing but a display of mediocrity? Were the Who justified in shelving it for all these years?
A bit of historical (Whostorical?) context for you: 1977 was, by and large, a Who-less year. The band had played their last full concert in front of a paying audience in October of 1976. No Who records were released in ’77 and until Kilburn, no concerts were played. It was pretty much the longest period of “dead time” the Who had experienced in 14 years. Pete Townshend released his collaboration with Ronnie Lane, Rough Mix. Roger Daltrey released yet another mediocre solo record, One of the Boys. John Entwistle laid low and Keith Moon got high, living the only way he knew how, in excess in Los Angeles.
As Jeff Stein was gathering material for his documentary, he realized there was very little footage of the band playing their ’70s classics live (the band had banned video recordings after 1970). He asked the band to reconvene for a special filmed concert at Gaumont State Cinema in Kilburn. They agreed.
The concert came at a terrible time for the Who. Townshend, citing problems with both his ears and his role as a husband and father, had recently mentioned he no longer wanted to tour. Moon was in terrible shape, overweight and slow (although, to be fair, he wasn’t exactly in fighting form in ’76 either). The band had lost some of its internal communication, that sixth sense that kept them in sync with each other on the stage. Relying on a typical 1976 setlist, they actually forgot how to play a few of their songs, like “I’m Free” and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp.” (Pete sings “How can we follow?” and Roger responds “Where the fuck are we?”) At Kilburn, after only a couple of rehearsals at most over the year, The Who were sloppy, and Pete Townshend was angry.
Did you read that? Pete Townshend was angry. And Lesson Numero Uno of the Who: an angry Townshend is an exciting Townshend. When shit goes wrong at a Who show — even now — keep your eye on Pete. You’re going to see some amazing stuff. And Kilburn is no different. Watch in awe during “My Wife,” as Pete hits himself in the head with his guitar (twice!), leaps all over the stage, and, near the end, throws a tantrum by his amplifier and causes a roadie to most likely piss his pants in the process. (Addendum to my previous statement: an angry Townshend is an exciting Townshend … so long as it’s not directed at you.)
But forget anger for a moment. Here’s the thing about Kilburn: the Who still were, for my money, the greatest live rock n’ roll band in the world in the ’70s. The Who on an off-night is still The Who. Which means that despite any flubs, the band still sounded pretty fucking amazing, and gave every second of their performance 100% devotion and sweat. When the band line-up consisted of Daltrey, Townshend, Entwistle and Moon, they simply didn’t know how to do anything less. Watching this DVD, you’re not only viewing a great concert. You’ve got a front-row seat to some kind of perverted rock science experiment, observing a band fighting tooth-and-nail to retain their identity. You’re also basically witnessing the end of an era; Keith Moon would be dead less than a year later.
Because this concert was professionally shot with six cameras, it offers a rare look at each member of the band and how each of them contributed so much greater as a cohesive unit. You’ve got the time to marvel at Entwistle’s blurred fingers, Daltrey’s lasso of a microphone, and Townshend’s gymnast-worth leaps on, well, just about every song. And even though Moon can’t match his work from the ’60s and early-to-mid-’70s, he’s still playing the shit out of his kit. There’s a fantastic shot during the “My Generation” jam of his little feet and jangly legs, dutifully kicking away at two bass drums. It’s been said that Moon was ashamed of his physical condition (and perhaps wore the god-awful purple jumpsuit to hide it), which makes it all the more fascinating to observe how he, always the clown, forgets about his problems and does his very best to keep a frustrated Townshend in good spirits.
As if all of this wasn’t enough, a second disc features the Who at the London Coliseum on December 14, 1969, a number of months into Tommy mania. Though the visual quality of the concert can’t hold a candle to Kilburn — much of it is a blurry mess — it’s a performance like this one that begat the genius of Live at Leeds and is fascinating from both a musical and historical perspective. Now this is the Who at pretty much their peak power: young and hungry with something to prove. Round these two discs out with fantastic liner notes from four Who historians (and genuine fans), and you’ve got a collection not to be missed.
I first discovered the Who at 17 years old. Shortly after, I went to my local library and rented The Kids Are Alright. I sat mesmerized as I watched the band rip through a version of “Baba O’Riley” so electrifying from both aural and visual standpoints that I had to actually pause the video and calm myself down. My heart was beating a mile a minute after watching such well-filmed performances from four musicians with fire in their guts. The Who at Kilburn is an hour of this stuff. 14 years later, I still can’t watch these guys without stopping to catch my breath.
This is a pretty amazing DVD of a show that’s been waiting for video release for over 30 years. In late 1977, as part of their bid to assist Jeff Stein in the production of the authorized band video biography The Kids Are Alright, the Who got back together at Kilburn in North London, before an invited audience, to play their first live show in a year.
They got off to a rough start in terms of timing and cues — “I Can’t Explain” is a little looser than it comes off in earlier live performances, but once they leap into “Substitute” it seems like everything locks in, in terms of the playing at least.
Roger Daltrey’s singing also catches up to its previously high standards about midway through the latter number, so that only four minutes into the set this becomes a perfectly good — if not quite great — Who performance. Of course, this is the latter-day Who, with a little more finesse and less sheer energy than one got from them a decade earlier, but they make up for it with precision in the small details in performances of their post-Tommy material.
Nothing will ever completely replace the power with which they attacked numbers like “Substitute” or “Summertime Blues” in the 1960s, or even up through their 1971 tour, but when Pete Townshend does his little slide pyrotechnics down the fretboard on “Baba O’Reilly” or they stretch out on the break during John Entwistle’s “My Wife,” it does compensate for the ravages of age that were overtaking performances of their earlier repertory. And they also do full justice to their 1970s-era songs which, if they mostly haven’t endured the way the classic stuff has, are still great fun.
As to the video, it’s all state of the art, now as well as then — after all, Stein was capturing this show for his movie, and he doesn’t miss a camera angle or an edit anywhere — the letterboxed image (1.66-to-1) is crystal clear. Ditto the sound, which is about as good as any Who performance that was ever captured officially, from Monterey Pop onward. And this was Keith Moon’s next to last live performance with the band, and he does get his moments and more before the cameras.
The Kilburn show by itself would be worth the price of this double-disc package, but even better is the second disc, The Who at the Colosseum, filmed in 16mm at a December 14, 1969, show at London’s largest theatrical arena. The sound is crude, the video is often dark (and sometimes limited to a single camera, as those in use needed to be reloaded more than four times an hour). But here is the classic Who in action, in their prime, at their peak as a rock & roll band.
Tommy, mostly represented in excepts as a bonus feature on the disc, makes up a big chunk of the show, as tended to be the case that year, but 70-plus minutes of the Who doing almost anything from this period, even badly lit and shot from static (and not always well-placed) cameras, is worth the price of admission — and this disc doesn’t disappoint, even with a scratched and grainy image (letterboxed at 1.66-to-1). And the close-ups, when they do work — and they do much of the time — capture all of the youthful energy, and some surprising moments of subtlety and elegance, as in their transition from “Fortune Teller” to “Tattoo.”
This is the Who in all of their glory, and by itself this disc — though treated as a “bonus” — is worth the price of the package and then some. Anyone who ever wore out copies of their first half-dozen albums, or at least two of their singles, should grab it immediately.
The Who at Kilburn is actually a double DVD with two concerts. One DVD has the Who live in 1969 at the London Coliseum and the other is the advertised 1977 gig filmed on a soundstage for the movie The Kids Are Alright but scrapped by the band due to the performance quality.
Both of these concerts are amazing and are a must have for any fan of the Who. Let’s start with the 1969 show. This is actually the second DVD and is cited as ‘bonus material’ on the box. I think that highly undersells what you get with this set. Yeah, the film quality is not that great – it’s similar to the footage of Young Man Blues in The Kids Are Alright movie. It’s dark and since the concert was never intended to be released on film, there are moments of blackness on the stage and funky camera angles.
The first song looks kind of like a fan video on YouTube. Then the other cameras kick in and we have multiple angles and close ups. But who the hell cares? This DVD captures the Who on the cusp of their prime. The band had only been performing Tommy live for a few months. They are broke, young and hungry. They are not yet mega-stars and indeed it was just before this period where drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle were going to quit the band and join Jimmy Page and Robert Plant in their new supergroup.
Put simply, the 1969 show is The Who at their very best. Moon is in full tilt, twirling his sticks and generally putting on the most incredible show. I have never seen anyone play drums like that before or since. Pete is in the white boiler suit playing the Gibson SG, Daltry in the fringe jacket, etc. If you like Live At Leeds, the 1969 DVD is basically that album on film.
Note that to see the whole of Tommy and A Quick One you need to access the bonus features on this DVD. There are a lot of camera and audio gaps, so it looks like the directors wanted to keep Tommy as a whole out of the main DVD program. A bit confusing, but if you get annoyed that Tommy picks up near its completion in the main concert, just access the bonus features!
In general, the Tommy stuff is out of control and other high points are Young Man Blues, and a totally heavy Happy Jack. And a final note – the band’s vocal harmonies are prevalent and very tight in this period.
Then we also get the 1977 Kilburn show, which is really the focus of the DVD.
This is the same band 8 years later, but are they really the same? They are now rich and famous. Punk is in full force and the Who are seen by some in this new movement as dinosaurs of the same ilk as Yes and ELP. The band has nothing left to prove but is still trying to remain relevant.
Compounding this problem is that Keith Moon, a central power in the Who’s live show, is a shadow of his former self. The last 14 months, he has been in California, partying and not playing drums. He is overweight and is lacking the confidence on display in the 1969 show.
Sure enough, the first thing Daltry says onstage is that the band hasn’t played in more than a year so he’s not sure what is going to happen.
Having said all of this, I don’t think the band disappoints. Yeah, there are a few train wreck moments where Moon comes in at the wrong place, and one spot where Pete gets totally lost. But it’s great to see the band this raw and this human.
I actually feel like Moon is more on the ball in this show than he is at the show filmed six months later that was used in The Kids movie (Baba O’Reilly and Won’t Get Fooled Again). On this latter show, Townshend is certainly more on the ball. He is smiling and clowning during the songs in the Kids film.
In the Kilburn film, he is surly. He does not look happy to be onstage and there is a classic moment where he goes back to turn his amps up and a roadie interferes. Pete throws a tantrum and shoves his Hi-Watt amps backwards off the speakers. The hair stood up on my arms when he did that.
The song choices are great in the Kilburn concert. Some of the standouts are My Wife, Dreaming from the Waist, Shakin All Over and a really rough keyboard-less version of Who Are You, which the band was just learning.
Despite the weird energy onstage, the band is seriously on fire. Yeah it’s raw, but it’s LIVE. Daltry’s voice is still raging, and Entwistle does not disappoint either. I still found myself focusing on Moon. Even though he was not up to his prime, he is still unreal. And frankly, a pissed off Pete is a great Pete live.
These two concerts could not be more different from one another. In 1969, you have a young, hungry and broke band, still really trying to prove itself. In 1977, you have a bloated supergroup trying to prove it is still valid. It is fascinating to watch live footage from both of these periods.
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!