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THE WHO & SPECIAL GUESTS:
Live at the Royal Albert Hall

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  The Who, Bryan Adams, Noel Gallagher, Kelly Jones, Kennedy, Eddie Vedder, Paul Weller
Director:  Dick Carruthers
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, Dolby Stereo
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1
Studio:  Image Entertainment
Features:  See Review
Length:  144 Minutes
Release Date:  September 25, 2001

“Sorry, Pete, I f—ked up.”

“Oh…DID you, now??”

Film ****

I’ll have some of whatever The Who are drinking. 

Having been a huge fan of England’s legendary mod rock band for as long as I can remember, I’ve collected most any recording I could get my hands on from them.  I have the box sets.  I have the videos. 

I loved the band, but thought they had long passed their prime.  Listening to Tommy live from about twelve years ago was both a rewarding and painful experience.  The music was as great as ever, but I had to admit, the parade was passing Roger Daltrey, Pete Townsend and John Entwistle by.  Roger just couldn’t hit some of his old notes without pain, and Pete’s famed ear problems forced him to stick with acoustic guitar and have an audio safe-area of the stage where he would be less affected by the noise.  Age was catching up to them, as it does to all of us, and there was no point in pretending they would ever be the same.

Or would they?

The Who & Special Guests concert at the Royal Albert Hall from less than a year ago was an eye-opening, jaw-dropping experience.  More than a decade since their semi-comfortable live show of Tommy, these guys were older…yet more invigorated than I’d seen them in a long time.  From the opening chords of “I Can’t Explain”, it’s clear something had brought out the young men in these aging rockers.  Roger’s voice soared and screamed with a vitality I hadn’t heard from him since the 70s, and Pete had returned to his electric guitar, wailing on it with his patented windmill strumming and bouncing around like a kid.

Too many times over the last decade or so, The Who had tried spicing up their act with more musicians:  a horn section, backing vocalists, an extra guitar player, percussionists and so on.  All of that was stripped away for this show:  all that’s left are the three principals plus longtime touring mate John “Rabbit” Bundrick on keys, and their most explosive drummer since Keith Moon, Zak Starkey.  The result is one of the most liberating and exciting live concert spectacles ever captured on home video.

For more than two hours twenty minutes, the band rocks through favorites and rarities alike.  “Pinball Wizard”, “My Generation”, “You Better You Bet” are all there, as well as treats for the die-hard fans like “So Sad About Us”, “My Wife”, and tunes from Quadrophenia.  The band, whether they choose to admit it or not, have gotten impeccably good in almost 40 years of playing together.  Their jams are fiery, their riffs explosive, their tightness impeccable.

The first half of the show ends with the best version of “Baba O’Riley” I’ve ever heard from the group, featuring violin virtuoso Kennedy on solo.  In the second half, Pete starts off with a couple of acoustic numbers.  “Drowned” is a memorable moment, as he treats his acoustic guitar with as much disdain as his electric ones.

Then the stars really start to come out.  Paul Weller joins up with Pete for “So Sad”, and over the course of the second half of the show, you’ll hear Eddie Vedder singing “I Am One” and dueting with Roger on “Let’s See Action”, Noel Gallagher adding guitar to “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, Bryan Adams vocal prowess on “Behind Blue Eyes”, and Kelly Jones adding guitar and vocals to “Substitute”.

The band saves its best moment for last, though…the show was part of a benefit for the Teenage Cancer Trust, and during the “See Me, Feel Me” finale, a group of kids benefiting from the trust join the band on stage to a thunderous ovation.

For a long time Who fan (who once made it a point to learn all of Tommy on guitar), this DVD is as thrilling as a live performance can get.  The band is definitely not waning nor over the hill…they just saved their second wind for when they needed it most.

Video ****

By far the best looking concert I’ve seen on disc.  The anamorphic transfer comes from a film stock instead of video, which helps a lot, but the sharpness, color and contrast of the images are perfectly rendered from start to finish.  From the light show to the sweeping crowd shots, every sequence is captured and presented without grain, shimmer, or lack of detail.  This is also one of the best-filmed concerts I’ve seen, as director Dick Carruthers has, among other tools in his arsenal, a camera crane that seems to take wing over the stage and audiences for some very cool visual effects. 

Audio ****

This 5.1 soundtrack is explosive…consider the opening roar of the crowd a warning and adjust your receiver accordingly.  If you wait for the music to start first, you just might find yourself imbedded in your back wall.  The multi-channel audio perfectly renders a concert going experience, with discreet usage for reverb, crowd reactions, and more.  The dynamic range is absolutely incredible from start to finish, and your subwoofer may not have ever experienced a workout like Entwistle’s thunderous, roller coaster bass lines.  I could feel the vibrations in my feet from beginning to end.  A perfect listening experience!

Features ****

This is a double disc offering from Image with all the extras on disc two.  It starts with a short documentary/interview with Roger Daltrey, who discusses the Teenage Cancer Trust and how the band hoped to help with their performance.  There is a multi-angle presentation of “Pinball Wizard”, with 7 angles to choose from (and again, very loud).  There is a backstage footage montage to the tune of “Let’s See Action” so you can see just what goes into pulling off a major concert like this.  Finally, there is rehearsal footage with all of the special guest stars except Kelly Jones…you can pick which one you want to see by name, and see a clip of them practicing their song with the band in preparation for the show.

Summary:

Once again, this is the best concert video I’ve yet seen on DVD.  It looks great, sounds great, boasts a nice extras package, and captures a legendary rock group sounding better than ever.  For any rock music lover, this has to be considered a must-own.