Rule Britannia! New DVDs from The Who and Sex Pistols

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The Who at Killburn: 1977 (Image Entertainment)
I think it could be reasonably argued that The Who peaked with 1971’s Who’s Next, though certainly there was a smattering of good songs on the last three studio albums they made when Keith Moon was alive: Quadrophenia (’73), The Who By Numbers (’75) and Who Are You (’78). This concert video, parts of which appeared in the fine 1979 documentary The Kids Are Alright, captures a fantastic night in North London at the end of the Keith Moon era, in 1977. If the band was perhaps past its prime, you’d never know it from watching this very well-played and high energy performance. Pete Townshend is a constant blur—leaping, dancing, running, unleashing one “windmill” after another. Roger Daltrey is in excellent voice throughout, twirling the mic with characteristic verve. Bassist John Entwistle continually demonstrates why he was regarded as one of the most creative souls to ever pick up the instrument—he definitely played lead bass. And Keith Moon… well, what can you say about Keith? That he was a madman? True! That he played the drums like no one before him or after him? True! That he looks completely ridiculous in the bejeweled lilac satin outfit he wears at this show? True!

The repertoire for the 65-minute set is unassailable: heavy on Who’s Next material (including the relatively obscure Entwistle vehicle, “My Wife”) and including a nice selection of “greatest hits,” such as “Can’t Explain,” “Substitute,” “My Generation,” “Summertime Blues” and, of course, a few from Tommy (Keith hams it up on “Tommy’s Holiday Camp,” evidently a spur of the moment request he wanted to sing.) Every song on here is power-packed, and it all looks and sounds wonderful.

Disc Two of the set doesn’t look or sound wonderful. The footage is rougher, not very well-lit, the editing is less creative, and the sound, frankly, is not particularly good. But the music is fantastic. It was shot at the London Coliseum in 1969, when Tommy was new, so it captures the band at one their true peaks. Besides including much of Tommy (the first-ever recorded live performance of it), it also features a number of other rarities, such as “Heaven and Hell,” “Fortune Teller,” “Happy Jack” (the one Who single I ever bought in the early days) and others. True Who fans should go nuts for this stuff; casual fans might want to stick with the safer (but no less amazing) Disc One.

The “newest” song on the ’77 Who show is “Who Are You,” which, if memory serves, Pete Townshend says he wrote partially in response to the punk rock wave that was washing over England at the time, energizing the nation’s youth and trying (in vain) to sweep away the British music establishment—folks like Pink Floyd, Genesis and, yes, The Who. The chief provocateurs of the era were, of course, the Sex Pistols, the anti-everything band who burst like a black supernova over England in 1976 and had flamed out by the first weeks of 1978. I was fortunate enough to see the Pistols’ final show at Winterland in San Francisco on January 14, 1978, and I vividly remember feeling alternately exhilarated and horrified by what I was seeing. They were bad, cynical and hostile, but it was incredible to see how deftly they whipped up the crowd of punks and poseurs. Definitely an unforgettable night of something.

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Click here to read Blair's review of the new Sex Pistols concert DVD, There’ll Always Be An England.