One of the best-known rock concerts recorded on film remains the third and final Isle of Wight Festival in August of 1970. As filmed by Academy Award-winning director Murray Lerner, the show preserves several eternally popular rock artists in top form, including Jimi Hendrix, The Doors, and The Who. The concert has been packaged in various forms. The Who Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 focuses on the fantastic three-hour show by everyone's favorite Mods. Lerner's film cuts around eight songs and half the total run time from the sprawling set, performed under anarchic conditions; the remaining eighty-five minutes represent an electrifying performance that set a high standard plugged-in rockers continue to pursue.
The film includes, in something approaching the original chronological order, "Heaven And Hell," "I Can't Explain," "Young Man Blues," "I Don't Even Know Myself," "Water," "Shaking All Over/Spoonful/Twist And Shout," "Summertime Blues," "My Generation," "Magic Bus," and, from Tommy, "Overture," "It's a Boy," "Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)," "Christmas," "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," "See Me Feel Me/Listening to You," and "Tommy Can You Hear Me?", while the commercially released Blu-ray and DVD include "Substitute" and "Naked Eye" as bonus tracks.
Fans continue to grouse about choppy editing, missing songs and the shifting of the set list order, but Lerner's film is still a treasure trove capturing The Who in a performance high-point. The lunacy of the concert at large adds to the charge of the Who's set. The band took the stage at 2am before a crowd of riled-up fans still jeering the disorganized concert promoters. A man who doesn't suffer fools gladly, Pete Townsend nevertheless is in a mood to please—loose, limber and wisecracking as the band tears through early hits, offers a taste of the fresh "Water," and gives Tommy the ride of its life. Townsend gamely solos as Moon's drums are repaired during the epic breakdown of "My Generation."
In this relatively tight set, the band feels together, and their theatricality obviously predates the nostalgic bag of tricks it has become in recent years. Guitar god Townsend, with his powerful windmill strumming, and Daltrey—kicking back his head and swinging his mic—are here still in the process of cementing their iconography. John Entwistle is, as usual, unassumingly flawless on the bass, and Keith Moon is a force of nature behind the drum kit. Townsend tunes right in on Moon, who's having a lucid night; being able to track their communication is one of the concert's small pleasures. Moon infamously cracks, "Rock opera, rock opera...very serious" as a mock-admonishing introduction to Tommy.
Musically and verbally, the dominant voice of the concert is Townsend's, though Daltrey claims lead vocals: Townsend's wry banter with the crowd never fails to raise a smile. "Smile, you buggers!" he taunts them. "Pretend it's Christmas!" There are also the telling fashion choices to read the personalities of the front men. Chest bared between tassled sleeves, Roger Daltrey is every inch the rock-star vocalist, while Townsend is all quiet cool in a functional and vaguely severe white jumpsuit. Lerner shoots it all with a "you are there" immediacy as an audience bathed in floodlight takes in rock history in the making.
The Who Live at the Isle of Wight Festival, from Eagle Rock Entertainment, is a revelation on Blu-ray. Freshly scrubbed, the picture reveals as much detail as the source can provide, which is more than most fans will have thought possible. The image still looks like a film of its era, but that's a good thing, with grain appearing natural. While the lighting limitations of the filming are apparent, black level is good and colors are true. More importantly, the sound delivers. Pete Townsend himself supervised the audio restoration, which comes in three flavors: LPMC stereo, 5.1 Dolby Digital, or a DTS-HD Master Audio. All are impressive, but modern ears will most likely prefer the souped-up DTS-HD Master Audio mix, which has the best sonic dynamics.
Aside from the aforementioned bonus tracks, the disc includes one bonus feature, and it's a significant one: "Murray Lerner Interviews Pete Townsend" (38:58, SD). The mercurial Townsend remains fascinating, and he's in particularly good form here, his restless intelligence often turning to the philosophical. There's also a special rapport with Lerner, the man who was there to preserve one of The Who's best shows.
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