Classic Rock Review

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The Who Join Together (1990)


Ooh! Contrary to rumours and biases, this is much better. After about seven or eight years the remaining members of the band thought it might be nice to make some easy money and offered the faithful this reunion tour. Its purely financial aim was obvious to everybody, and good old Pete even had the courage to openly declare it on stage at one time. By that time Pete himself was already half deaf, played mostly acoustic guitar and relegated electric playing to one Steve Boltz who was a cool guy looking like a punk and playing like a heavy metal musician (he could have fitted well in Europe, don’t you think? The band, not the continent, I mean). The result is painfully predictable: lots of old Who classics are transformed into heavy metal fiestas, while Pete’s guitar is hardly heard at all – which is a shame, since when he does get a chance to play some chords in silence, his skill with the acoustic, nurtured for years, becomes obvious.

Besides that, the band is augmented by miriads of supporting musicians, like an enormous brass section giving the music a mainstream pop effect, three backing vocalists to relieve Pete and John of the necessity to make more efforts, piano wiz “Rabbit” Bundrick to take the place of the tape recorder, and two drummers as a tribute to Keith’s abilities, one of them Simon Philips of once Judas Priest fame. This should have been as horrible as one can ever imagine.

But it isn’t, strange enough, and I still don’t know why. For a certain bunch of reasons I still prefer it over Who’s Last. First of all, it has a nice package, and that’s something: this time each of the two CDs is over sixty minutes long, so it’s at least worth the money. Next: this isn’t a “Greatest Hits Live” any more. The first disc is a complete performance of Tommy which you might laugh at, but you’d keep it in mind that it was still six years before the Isle Of Wight release and no live Tommy was available, so it should have been quite a reasonable move. And shaking off all our biases about how Tommy is supposed to sound live on stage, we can actually enjoy it – especially since they make the good move of not inviting in any particular ‘guest stars’ like Billy Idol, unlike the video version of the tour. One can question the performance’s necessity, but one cannot question the professionalism or even the sincerity displayed therein; or the certain wisened, moving aura that now surrounds Daltrey’s vocal deliveries.

The second CD digs heavily in the backlog, but you only get two or three evergreens, which are the closing ‘Behind Blue Eyes’ and ‘Fooled Again’ – obligatory crowd-pleasers are thus kept to a minimum. Plus, speaking of overlaps, we have ‘Love Reign O’er Me’ once again, but this time it’s certainly intended to correct the mistake made on the previous live album – here Daltrey soars high like he’s supposed to be doing, and even the banal brass section does not sound out of place. In fact, I sometimes prefer this performance to the original: it may have a somewhat more primitive arrangement on here, but there’s no denying the huge, grandiose cathartic effect. (If you doubt it, just watch the spectators all rising from their seats in awe as the band brings the song down with a crash-boom-bang).

And the others? ‘5:15’, ‘I Can See For Miles’, ‘Join Together’, ‘You Better You Bet’; all performed with a flair and none of them featured on any previous live albums (‘I Can See For Miles’, in fact, was performed live for the first time since a couple tentative performances in 1967 – the song always needed two guitars, so Townshend couldn’t bring it in until Steve Boltz joined). And Entwistle gets to sing ‘Trick Of The Light’ instead of the everpresent ‘Boris The Spider’.

Plus, we have some Townshend solo stuff – starting with ‘Eminence Front’ (well, I know it is a Who song, but it sounds solo to me and everybody else), and continuing with some of his big hits like ‘Face The Face’, ‘Rough Boys’, and ‘A Little Is Enough’.

In a technical sense, the performances are flawless (and I do make an emphasis on technically – like I said, lots of them sound nothing like The Who, and some sound rather like, well, Judas Priest). Too flawless, in fact – sounding like a machine going on, but blame it on the backing musicians. Entwistle plays his fluent lines better than ever (check out the bass work on ‘Sparks’ and ‘Trick Of The Light’), Pete even conjures a couple old tricks on ‘Fooled Again’ where he agrees to pick up the electric, and this time Daltrey made sure not to have any more problems with his voice: Tommy goes off splendidly, and the rest is even better.

This is an enjoyable album, believe it or not. It’s just that there is absolutely no reason to buy it if you haven’t heard everything else. But it’s really entertaining to hear these versions – for a change. Don’t blame the Who too harshly; they didn’t tear themselves to shreds onstage every night for at least ten years for nothing. They had suffered, and at least they really deserved all that money. Whatever. As for the real pragmatic significance of the album, no Who fan should deprive himself of the pleasure of hearing these particular versions of ‘Love Reign O’er Me’, ‘Trick Of The Light’, ‘Sparks’, and ‘Eminence Front’; not to mention that unless you really wanna pick up the laughable Townshend solo Iron Man LP (which I unfortunately did, so pity me), this is the only place where you’ll find the last true Who classic, ‘Dig’ – a great, wonderfully involving and optimistic pop rocker that ranks with the best songs Pete ever wrote in the Seventies.

March 23, 2013 Posted by | The Who Join Together | | Leave a comment