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Listening to You: The Who at the Isle of Wight (1970).

January 30, 2009

The Scoop:
A critic once said that watching Pete Townshend play the opening notes of “Pinball Wizard” was like watching John Hancock sign his name. But forget a simple autograph — with this performance, Townshend and his bandmates wrote their manifesto.

The Who made the rounds of all the big rock festivals of the late ’60s and early ’70s, even turning up elsewhere on film with memorable performances in “Woodstock” and “Monterey Pop.” But it’s at the Isle of Wight where Townshend, Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle and Keith Moon hit their collective peak. Caught between the epic reach of 1969’s “Tommy” and the power of 1971’s “Who’s Next,” the band rips through a muscular set of early material, covers of ’50s rockers and a mostly-full rendition of “Tommy.”

It is brilliant, powerful, melodic stuff that could be used as a how-to guide on being a rock band.

What’s more, producer/director Murray Lerner and his crew do the music justice by capturing the spirit of the performance without imposing themselves on the material. You just get The Who, unfiltered, which is what a good concert film should be.

Best Bit:
“Shakin’ All Over” (originally by Johnny Kidd and the Pirates) is a barnburner to begin with, and it gets a fierce treatment here.

Side Note:
Lerner’s filmography is kind of thin outside of various Isle of Wight Festival movies, but he did win an Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for “From Mao to Mozart: Isaac Stern in China” (1981).

Companion Viewing:
“Woodstock:” (1969) and “Jimi Hendrix at the Isle of Wight” (1991).

Isle of Wight Festival.

Take a Look:
“Young Man Blues”:


The finale of “Tommy”:

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