The Who at Kilburn: 1977

[30 November 2008]

By Justin Cober-Lake

In 1977, the Who staged a concert at Kilburn in north London and recorded live material for the documentary, The Kids Are Alright. Parts of the show made it into that film, but the complete set remained tucked away for 30 years, keeping longtime fans waiting for its release. The resulting document, The Who at Kilburn: 1977 benefits from the extensive technical set up (high-quality film, multiple camera angles, careful audio recording, etc) but also reveals a band a little rusty after nearly a year off from touring. Overall, it provides a fascinating look at the Who at that particular moment, despite the uneveness of the band’s performance.

During the Kilburn show, the band simply doesn’t click as it normally does. During a Who concert, missed notes, forgotten lyrics, and the like can be expected, but usually the mistakes come from performing with such absurdly high energy. While a few flubs do transpire, the band simply performs at a level far beneath its powers. At one point, guitarist Pete Townshend says, “This wasn’t fucking worth filming.” He may or may not be serious, but what is clear: The disc suffers from a subpar performance, and simply being good doesn’t prove enough for a Who release.

While not exactly on, the band sounds good early, but really comes apart late in the concert. It’s hard to tell how much fun they’re having throughout, but things really drag down during a horrible version of “Join Together”, which flows into the new “Who Are You,” a tedious affair (albeit interesting in the novel version). For some unknown reason it seems to revive Townshend just in time for “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (the musical highpoint of The Kids Are Alright), rendering a strong finish to an uneven set.

Fortunately, John Entwistle got better and better throughout his career (after starting out able to play a little), and his bass comes through appropriately high in the mix. Ever the consummate professional, he remains as devastating in a mediocre show as he is in a great one. Even a track like “Dreaming from the Waist” lets him show off, not just in the solos but also in the banged lines of the verses. While the rest of the band sounds a bit off, the Ox sounds like he never took time off.

Despite its problems, the show classifies as an important historical document, and Who fans should nevertheless treasure its release (especially considering the high quality of both the audio and the video). Besides finally unveiling the long-hidden TKAA concert, it also marks Keith Moon’s next-to-last live show. He drums as crazily as ever, and while he had some trouble with the Who Are You sessions, he hasn’t slowed much here. The half-faked rendition of “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” marks a perfect document of his general joy in playing live.

The real treat, though, is the bonus disc, a live show culled from the London Coliseum in 1969. The group had released Tommy earlier that year, and the live shows from the period merged the semi-feral stage performances with the artistic quality of the recordings. Even in taking their opera on the road, the band played recklessly, with snarls and violence. Still two months before the famous Leeds show, the band had found its groove but had not yet worn down from long time on the road (despite the best efforts of Woodstock to take something out of them). The guys are clearly having fun, and Moon playing, in particular, remains characteristically wild, frantic, and stunning. It pays off in a phenomenal set.

While in the same league as the Leeds and Isle of Wight shows from the era, this one couldn’t have made it as its own release. The film quality is terrible, and sporadic problems persist with the audio throughout. These technical difficulties relegate it to a side disc, making it an amazing bonus feature.

The format’s a little odd but workable. The main sequence is actually an edited version of the concert, selected from the video and audio that held up. The bonus features on the bonus disc are the complete performances (long but still interesting and funny thanks to Townshend’s introductions) of “A Quick One While He’s Away” and Tommy. When the video fails, inserted “stylized footage” accompanies the music. The slowed-down footage can be distracting; here, it represents an acceptable way to fill up black screen, and it should be the last thing to worry about, given the quality of the performance.

The cynic might wonder how many live versions of ‘69-‘70 Who sets one needs (the obsessive answers, “All of them.”), and that’s why the disc likely would attract only hardcore fans. Coupling it with a historically significant performance means the set should lock up more fans than just the completists and getting two different eras of the Who makes for a compelling couple nights of viewing.

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