[13 December 2012]
It was a transitional yea, for The Who and for rock music. On the precipice of the punk-led detonation, it was increasingly fashionable to kick sand on arena acts that dominated the early years of the decade. Certainly progressive rock bands like Yes and ELP were falling out of favor (and starting to fall apart, of their own accord), but old-school giants like The Rolling Stones and The Who were still alpha dogs in the industry.
In hindsight, it’s easy—and accurate—to suggest that The Who were entering the early stages of decline, but in truth, all was well, relatively speaking, in 1975. When they hit the road to promote their seventh studio album, The Who By Numbers, it was a Top 10 seller. If their previous tour (behind their masterpiece, Quadrophenia) was at times shaky, epitomized by Keith Moon nodding off behind his kit during one gig, the band was still fit and full of fury.
So as 2012 winds down (with surviving members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey takingQuadrophenia for a premium-priced victory lap) one might wonder: why this tour, from this year? Questions like those, however legitimate, require a reiteration of what many of us already know. We live in a time where every member of any audience is capable of capturing raw footage in real time, making it available, instantly, online. This is, for the most part, a good and welcome advancement.
It’s also a simple reminder that this combination of accessibility and ubiquity is a very recent phenomenon. When it comes to classic acts from the great old days, footage is all too frequently rare, spotty or redundant. Any tape, therefore, of any worthwhile act is precious and should be acknowledged as such. In short, to have The Who, still the reigning champs of live transmission, is a considerable blessing.
The Who Live In Texas ‘75 is footage taken from a concert in Houston, the opening night of their US tour. As incredible as it is to realize, the band had “only” been around for ten years at this point. While they established—and embellished—their reputation early on by destroying their instruments and being as flashy as possible, practically any recorded video from 1965 on confirms that no matter what they were wearing or doing, the music came first and The Who acquitted themselves admirably at all times. By the time they got to Texas, they had nothing to prove except the undeniable impact they could still make, any place, any time.
There is no fanfare, no introduction: the band comes out, plugs in and away they go. For newbies it should be a revelation while for diehards it must be a… revelation to actually see these guys in action. Yes, Daltrey with his hippie curls and bell bottoms, swinging his microphone like a bear having a seizure, is magical. Sure, Pete Townshend’s never-static stage presence, merging an ideal mixture of frenzy and control, remains the gold standard (his shoulder already had more mileage courtesy of those ceaseless windmills than most retired Cy Young winners).
But it’s seeing the glorious studies in contrast of the rhythm section that still does the trick, all these years later; naturally the fact that they are no longer with us adds considerable import. Rock’s ultimate yin-yang: Moon, the excitable sprite behind the drum set and John Entwistle—The Ox—mute and still like the Tin Man in need of oil. The eyes will smile but the ears never lie: the sounds these four men make is full, focused and a synthesis of style and substance that has never been equaled in rock.
The show commences with muscular and meaty (the beaty, big and bouncy would come later) versions of “Substitute” and “I Can’t Explain”. Then, from 1965 to 1975, they launch into a spirited take on the big hit from the new album, “Squeeze Box”. The band then alternates old and new to nice effect, mixing in obscure pieces like “Boris the Spider” with selections off The Who By Numbers such as “However Much I Booze” and “Dreaming from the Waist”.
A particular highlight is Moon heckling Entwistle during the introduction of “Boris the Spider”, illustrating what a hilarious and endearing figure he was. For a band that could not help taking themselves too seriously at times, Moon always managed to lighten everyone—and everything—up, and it was his persona as much as his musicality that the band could never compensate for or replace. And let the record be clear: Moon was not in any way diminished at this point in time; he is on point at all times, never sloppy or uncertain.
The remainder of the two-hour set list covers their catalog, including an extended suite from Tommy which features a scorching rendition of “Amazing Journey/Sparks” and tiny surprises like “Fiddle About” and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp”. During the encore (after obligatory show-stopper “Won’t Get Fooled Again”) they turn “Magic Bus” into a chugging blues romp. Throughout the proceedings they manage to be almost surprisingly supple, convincing and fresh, proving that The Who was far from a spent force in the mid-‘70s.
The band’s sprawl toward near-oblivion came fast and hard, but there is utterly no evidence of it, here. Anyone who needs additional evidence should see, feel and hear this worthy addition to an already remarkable canon.