The last time I watched The Who: Live at The Isle of Wight Festival 1970 was in the days of VHS. All I could remember from it is John Entwistle’s skeleton outfit.
Well, I’ve been on a bit of a Who kick lately, so what better time to finally crack open the Blu-ray and see it with fresh eyes?
For those who are wondering what is the Isle of Wight Festival, it was a series of annual concerts from 1968 through to 1970, on the Isle of Wight located off the southern shore of mainland England. The first two were large affairs with crowds of approximately 100,000 people each.
And then Woodstock happened.
The immense cultural event that was the antithesis of “Flower Power” and “The Summer of Love” had inspired The Wight Festival’s organizers into thinking they could do the same on their side of the pond. They first got Jimi Hendrix signed and the flood gates opened. An additional 43 acts were attached to play over the festival’s 4 days, including The Who.
The Isle’s transit authority who were in charge of bringing people to the island confirmed approximately 600,000 attended rock festival, making it the largest ever at the time.
But there was a lot of friction between the organizers and a portion of the attendees. Woodstock became “free” after many found easy ways around “security” and “fences”. Those with the same mindset in England were intent on making the Wight Festival free as well. But the event was a bit more organized than Woodstock was.
As a result, some artists had their sets interrupted with protests. An individual ran up onto the stage to give a protest speech during Joni Mitchell’s set. She was booed by the crowd for having him thrown out, causing her to break down. I can’t imagine having 600,000 people turn on you. She eventually won them back by making a plea for her musicians.
The Who were determined to not have the same happen to them.
On an average night, The Who had tremendous stage presence, making them endlessly entertaining to watch. With Roger Daltrey swinging his microphone before whipping it into the stratosphere, Pete jumping straight up while strumming his guitar with a straight arm swung at that shoulder, and Keith Moon was in constant motion behind the drum kit. Entwistle, the most reserved on the stage, would make his fingers appear to dance over the bass strings.
Now imagine it is the wee hours of the morning and this lot doesn’t want any BS from the crowd.
The moment they stepped onto the stage they took it by command. No fool was going to try to jump in front of Pete Townshend’s mic unless they wanted to risk a cracked skull.
This energy definitely showed up in their performance.
Funny thing is… the crowd ended up being a little dead. Pete and Keith even began joking around with them to try and liven them up a bit. And whenever the camera did pan into the crowd, most of what you saw was tired people wrapped up in sleeping bags. Well, it was understandable. It was 2AM by the time they started.
Regardless, no matter what the vibe from the crowd was, The Who played every tune with a heavy dose of intensity. Heavy metal might not have been much of a thing yet, but The Who were locked into hard rock mode enough that they blurred lines between the genres. Some of the covers like Shake it all Over and Young Man Blues are played incredibly heavy.
Even a couple of tunes like I Don’t Know Myself and Water that they were performed as a preview for their upcoming album (neither of them ended up making 1971’s Who’s Next, but they are on the extended edition) had a lot of energy put into them.
When I first looked at the setlist, I wasn’t too stoked to see how half of it was taken up by tunes from their rock opera, Tommy.
- “Heaven and Hell”
- “I Can’t Explain”
- “Young Man Blues”
- “I Don’t Even Know Myself”
- “Shakin’ All Over / Spoonful / Twist and Shout (Medley)”
- “Summertime Blues”
- “My Generation”
- “Magic Bus”
- “It’s a Boy”
- “Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker)”
- “The Acid Queen”
- “Pinball Wizard”
- “Do You Think It’s Alright?”
- “Fiddle About”
- “Go to the Mirror!”
- “Miracle Cure”
- “I’m Free”
- “We’re Not Gonna Take It”
- “Tommy Can You Hear Me?”
Don’t get me wrong, I like Tommy, but I feel it is a little bloated. But, I really enjoyed how they hammered those tunes out here. It felt like a trimmed down version that stuck to its essentials. I appreciated how it flowed much better.
While The Who’s performance is outstanding, I’m not overly impressed with the film itself. I understand how this is the early days of capturing a rock band on stage, but the camera angles were terrible. They were set too far on the sides of the stage which had me looking at nothing but Pete’s arm pit far too often. The shots are zoomed in too much which gave me claustrophobia.
And if there were 600,000 people attending, the film never gave you a sense of that happening. I understand how it was dark when The Who were on, but some forethought to get some shots during the day of the amount of people arriving at the show would have given me a better sense of how large the crowd was.
But I’m not ready to write this off for the CD soundtrack, because the main event is the audio. And it is truly well done. The clips of the show posted on YouTube do not do it justice. Completely remixed from the original 8-track tape, my home theatre was bouncing to the 5.1 DTS track for the entire show. Just be sure to set the disc up before you start the show because LPCM Stereo is default audio. A move most likely done for the majority of people who watch Blu-rays through their TV’s stereo speakers.
The Blu-ray also contains two bonus tracks that did not make the original 1996 film, Substitute and Naked Eye, and a 40 minute interview with Pete about the Festival. It is very much worth a watch and an own for any Who fan.