RIYL: Cream, Led Zeppelin, the Jimi Hendrix Experience
“On August 29, 1970, The Who stepped onto the stage before an audience estimated at 600,000 at the Isle of Wight Festival at a time that, arguably, they were at the top of their game,” writes Mike Brown (a school mate of the band) in the liner notes for this two-disc release of the band’s killer show of 40 years ago. It’s hard to imagine how anyone could listen to this stellar show and argue the point about the Who being at the top of their game.
The band certainly went on to deliver some more classic albums and big tours in the ’70s, but here, touring behind guitarist Pete Townshend’s brilliant rock opera Tommy, the band is en fuego. The brilliant talent of drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle is evident in a vital way that doesn’t come across the same on the band’s studio recordings. And Townshend, long hailed as a brilliant songwriter and arranger but rarely if ever mentioned as a great lead guitarist, shows chops to burn on one wailing solo after another.
The band comes out blazing on “Heaven and Hell” and never lets up, with Townshend serving early notice that he came to play, ripping off a hot bluesy solo while Entwistle and Moon rock out. “Young Man Blues” is another early highlight, with the rhythm section just killing it and Townshend delivering another searing lead. Entwistle’s inventive bass playing is particularly impressive throughout the show, easily placing him on par with peers like Jack Casady, Jack Bruce and Phil Lesh.
From there the band moves into a complete and epic rendition of Tommy that takes up the rest of disc one and most of disc two. The rock opera really picks up steam down the stretch with the classic chords of “Go to the Mirror” and singer Roger Daltrey starring on a revelatory version of “I’m Free.” The epic conclusion of “We’re Not Gonna Take It,” the band’s timeless anthem of rebellion, is pure money, clocking in at almost 10 minutes. Then the band rocks out on charged versions of “Summertime Blues,” a cover medley that includes a grungy version of “Twist and Shout,” “Substitute” and a killer jam on “My Generation” that sounds almost like the Jimi Hendrix Experience (who shared the bill.) The heavy bluesy jamming continues on “Naked Eye” before the show wraps with “Magic Bus.” This show is classic rock history 101 at its finest. (Eagle Records 2009)