Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970

The Who

The Isle Of Wight Festival of 1970 will always be of note for a variety of reasons. For one, these were some of the last performances from Jimi Hendrix, Jim Morrison with the Doors, and Taste with Rory Gallagher. The world was introduced to Emerson, Lake and Palmer and Free, and the eclectic lineup was topped off by Bob Dylan and Miles Davis. Even though Joni Mitchell masterfully whimpered her way through a few numbers, and Tiny Tim and Leonard Cohen attempted to amuse and outwit the mutating crowd — it was the Who that made the biggest splash. The 1996 two-CD set, which included a performance of Tommy, followed by a video two years later, has built the Who’s performance at the festival into a legendary and coveted trinket. Now re-released as an expanded DVD, Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970 loudly and conveniently reminds anyone familiar with the band’s history that the Who were simply untouchable as a live act in those days.

Their set a year earlier at Woodstock was only a polite little glimpse of what they had up their collective Union Jack sleeve. At the Isle of Wight, their place in rock and roll history was assured. Bassist John Entwistle, donning his infamous skeleton suit, locked in with drummer Keith Moon like a tornado ravaging the countryside. Pete Townshend cut through the tension with wind-milling chords and ear-piercing leads. Somehow threading the raging cacophony into a semblance of progression, Roger Daltrey didn’t so much sing the songs as become them — especially during Tommy when he effectively became the deaf, dumb and blind boy without all the wincing and awkwardness. Up against a volatile throng of 600,000, the Who snapped the Isle of Wight festival out of its dreariness. Three years after upstaging the Who at Monterey, even Hendrix, who experienced various technical difficulties, couldn’t out-do the Mod Rockers from London.

Entwistle’s “Heaven and Hell” provides an appropriate opening before the group dives headlong into a communal barrage of short and shifty standards — “I Can't Explain,” “Young Man Blues.” “Summertime Blues” “My Generation” and “Magic Bus.” Many of these, it should be noted, can be found in their most pristine state on Live At Leeds. Where the DVD shortchanges the viewer is during Tommy, broken into a cut-and-paste job that sorely misses key plot spoilers like “1921” and “Amazing Journey” (never mind that they supposedly didn’t play “Sally Simpson,” “Sensation” or "Welcome”). Plenty of Who fanatics may gripe about stuff like this, but the power behind the performances is undeniable. The DVD attempts to correct any wrongdoing with two bonus songs omitted from the original film — “Substitute” and “Naked Eye” — along with a relatively recent 40-minute interview with Pete Townshend, who mostly complains about a number of things with little regard to the actual festival itself. Still, issues like these, along with the flimsy camera work and other time-related bloopers, cannot take away from the improved 5.1 remaster. Or the fact that footage of this nature, in whatever form, is something we should relish in spite of its flaws.

~ Shawn Perry

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