The Who: Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970
The Who’s performance at the 1970 Isle of Wight Festival is widely recognized as one of the greatest live rock performances of all time. Murray Lerner’s film of the show has already been immortalized on a two-disc CD set and two DVD releases, and this is the second The Who show to be released on Blu-ray [the first was The Who at Kilburn: 1977
The disc’s contents and artwork are identical to the eponymous DVD release from 2006, though these releases differ slightly from previous versions of the film, which was first released on DVD and VHS in 1998. Packing 85 minutes of live footage, including renditions of “Substitute” and “Naked Eye” omitted from the original version, and a 40-minute interview with Pete Townshend, the Blu-ray has a lot to offer Who fans.
If you haven’t seen the performance, it’s exciting, vibrant and refreshing. In 1970, all four members of the band were in their midtwenties, fit and full of energy. Townshend and Daltrey banter with the record crowd of 600,000 between songs, and Moon prepares the audience for a near-complete performance of Tommy by proclaiming with mock-importance, “Rock opera, rock opera, it’s serious.”
The majority of the setlist is from Tommy, though we are treated to classics like “My Generation,” “I Can’t Explain” and the then-new “Water.” Roger Daltrey’s vocals are top-notch throughout the show, but are particularly striking on “I Can’t Explain,” and Townshend really wails on “Young Man Blues.” Throughout the performance, Moon oozes exuberance, but never more so than with his goofy smiles during “I Don’t Even Know Myself.” Meanwhile, the skeleton-jumpsuitclad John Entwistle plucks his bass stoically beside the fringed-and-flailing Daltrey.
In total, the performance is bursting with raw energy, yet every part is spot on, creating an experience that is rarely achieved. Shots of the dirty, scruffy crowd cheering around a bonfire remind you of a long-lost time before venues were named after corporate entities, and leave you astounded at the scale of the show.
Previous releases of the show have drawn criticism for lackluster video, poorly-synched audio and, most of all, for drastically rearranging the original setlist. The Blu-ray release resoundingly addresses the first two issues: the video features vibrant colors and enhanced clarity, but without losing the grain that keeps us squarely in the early seventies. However, Who purists will still find fault with the ordering of the songs.
While the track listing is vastly different from the original setlist, the only glaring incongruity when watching is the placement of “Magic Bus.” The sixth song on the disc, “Magic Bus” was actually the closing song for the live show, and there’s an overall sense of finality and urgency present with the crowd and the band that makes this apparent. It’s a great performance, ending with a sweat-soaked Moon going crazy on the drums and Townshend flipping his SG in the air, but the subsequent transition into “Overture” and the rest of Tommy feels slightly off.
One other potential disappointment is that the final track listed on the Blu-ray, “Tommy Can You Hear Me,” isn’t actually a performance, but outro music backing a video of Moon goofing around outside the stage. It’s charming, but a little misrepresented.
The additional interview with Pete Townshend is interesting, but not a reason to buy the disc. He’s the consummate intellectual, bouncing from the meaning behind The Who’s style of playing to the music’s link to World Wars I and II. He also shares his personal aversion to being in The Who, insight into his bandmates, the evolution of Tommy and the crazy environment surrounding the Isle of Wight festival.
Available for less than $20, this Blu-ray is an easy choice for anyone looking to relive this classic performance—as long as they’re okay with some editing liberties.—RD
Jeff Beck: Performing This Week... Live at Ronnie Scott’s
The only bootlegs that I own, from LPs to DVDs, are of Jeff Beck. My rationalization has been: a) he is the best guitarist in the world; b) I also bought everything he has ever produced; and c) for years his officially released output and American tours were as rare as comet sightings. Lately, his records and appearances have become more frequent, culminating with this live performance DVD.
Shot over the course of a week at the famous Ronnie Scott’s jazz club in London, this DVD presents El Becko and his simpatico band—keyboardist Jason Rebello, drum legend Vinnie Colaiuta, and bassist Tal Wilkenfeld—in an unusually intimate setting. Shot in a guitar-centric fashion that often focuses on the master’s hands, one can only marvel at how they managed such spectacular camera work in such close quarters.
Despite these close-ups, you are less likely to go away saying, So that’s how he does it, than, Those notes aren’t on my guitar. Wielding a single Strat into Marshall heads, Beck ekes an amazing array of sounds out of amp and axe, with only the occasional Leslie effect or wah for color.
The set covers the highlights of his solo career, from “Beck’s Bolero,” from the first Jeff Beck Group outing, Truth, to “Nadia,” from the more recent You Had It Coming. The latter exhibits many of the elements that set Beck apart from his contemporaries—and frankly from everyone else who ever picked up the instrument.
For starters, there is the frighteningly precise pitch—whether bending strings, playing slide over the pickups, or manipulating the Strat’s whammy bar. Then there is the relentless, seeking nature that leads him to learn a microtonal Indian melody by Nitin Sawhney, when at this point he could make a comfortable living grinding out the proto-metal riffs that he invented. Instead, Beck chooses to continue to explore new music, whether it is the Bulgarian voices-inspired, vibrato-arm manipulated harmonics of “Where Were You,” or the technoinfluenced “Blast From The East.”
As important as the unending inventiveness of the guitar work is that throughout the performances and revealing interviews on Live at Ronnie Scott’s, it is palpably obvious that this man, in his seventh decade, still has fun making music. And that, as much as any guitarlick, is a lesson we can all learn.—MR
Rock Gods: Forty Years of Rock Photography
These days, with iPhones, Blackberrys and discrete, high-quality digital cameras, anyone can be a Rock God photographer… to some degree. But before technology provided the general public the ability to capture thrilling live shots, only a select few were able to infiltrate the mystique of rock ‘n’ roll photography. In large part, bands often approached and sought out their own photographers based on previous, successful endeavors and friendships developed. One of these photographers is Robert Knight.
In his coffee table book Rock Gods: Forty Years of Rock Photography, Knight showcases over 200 historic rock photos. The book is literally a checklist of rock legends and famous shots. Jimi Hendrix performing in 1968 in San Francisco? Check. Led Zeppelin arriving in Hawaii carrying master tapes of Led Zeppelin II? Check. Stevie Ray Vaughan’s last performance with Eric Clapton and Robert Cray at Alpine Valley on August 26th, 1990? Check. In addition to these classic photos, the book boasts photos of Jeff Beck, the Stones, Slash, and Van Halen, as well as contemporary artists like John Mayer and Tom Morello. As you browse through the vivid live shots and uniquely intimate pictures, you begin to have déjà vu—several of these shots have been plastered over Guitar Center walls for years. On top of his tight connection with Guitar Center, Knight is also a co-director of Hollywood’s RockWalk and has captured every induction.
Needless to say, the imagery in this largerthan- life book stands on its own. However, where this book ups the ante is in the scattered text. Knight weaves personal tales about his early career, back-stories behind several sets of photographs and the eventual friendships that evolved from such tight-knit, long-standing collaborations. Rock Gods tears down the wall of aura and lets rock fans into a world often seen, but not revealed.—CK
Tony McManus: The Maker’s Mark (the Dream Guitar Sessions)
PG doesn’t review CDs. It’s not our mission; besides, there are plenty of publications out there with staff dedicated to reviews, so we don’t feel compelled to add our $.02. And don’t think that because I’m new, I’m a pushover—I’m not. We don’t do CD reviews. Unless it’s a project so guitar intensive and in such perfect alignment with our mission that we can’t help ourselves. Tony McManus’ new offering, The Maker’s Mark is subtitled the Dream Guitar Sessions. Born at Dream Guitars in Asheville, North Carolina, the idea was to take some absolutely killer axes, arrange a piece of music specifically to be played on each instrument and take the whole kit ‘n caboodle into the studio. Gorgeously recorded and lovingly played, this project is designed to make us drool while we dream.
McManus’ playing is rave-worthy. Loaded with flawless ornamentations, most of which should only be attempted on a very well set-up fiddle, his playing is wild and delicate, passionate and tender. But the thing that really gets me is how un-edited his playing sounds. I mean, come on—we can tell when stuff is punched in or cut-and-pasted from elsewhere, and I can’t hear that on this recording. If he played all this stuff simply live, he’s not human. If he did cut and paste this together, he should win an award for production.
The guitars themselves are beyond incredible. We joke a lot about “guitar porn,” and the booklet packaged with this disc is all about that. McManus chose some extremely unique and beautiful instruments: baritone guitars from William Kelday and Kathy Wingert, a piccolo guitar from Charles Hoffman, and Linda Manzer’s haunting and visually stunning Sitar Guitar. Each musical offering is tuned perfectly to each guitar, and the pieces let the guitars do what they do best, whether it’s ringing or barking or singing like a whole mess of angels. A must have for acoustic guitar lovers.—GDP