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The Who Live at Shea Stadium 1982

Doug Collette By

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The Who
Live at Shea Stadium 1982
Eagle Vision
2015

It's equal parts courageous and foolish for The Who to release this document of their 'farewell' tour from over four decades ago as the group celebrates its fiftieth anniversary in 2015. Business enterprise aside, the band as it was constituted at Shea Stadium outside New York was not capable of the explosive dynamics of the original quartet with drummer Keith Moon who had died four years prior, while their reputation remained grounded in the success of the rock opera Tommy (MCA, 1969) from the late Sixties when the bulk of their commercial success had occurred.

Which is probably why the Clash, in the waning days of their own career, opened for the Who on this occasion and why the latter consented to corporate sponsorship from a beer company, a bitter irony given guitarist/vocalist/composer Pete Townshend's continuing battle with the bottle as this tour ensued. The confounding aspect of either (or both of) those decisions may also suggest how few shots of the Shea audience appear in this footage or how buried in the audio mix is the sound of the crowd's response (or lack of it?), even at the rousing conclusion of the set proper with "Won't Get Fooled Again," the majestic denouement of Who's Next (MCA, 1971).

Coiffed and attired for the decade in which this tour took place, vocalist Roger Daltrey and Townshend don't appear like they're going through the motions any more than they did when they peaked as performers just past the mid-Seventies of microphones. Whipping the microphone on its cord like a lasso or windmilling guitar chords convey no sense of imminent collision or, more importantly, the inherent drama arising from the natural theater of the Who at the height of their powers. Rather, bassist John Entwistle's usual stoicism aside, there's a sense of detachment bordering on disinterest.

Which is understandable as the group had no new material to inspire them accordingly. Entwistle's "Dangerous" appears early in the two hour plus set, and although it echoes the masterwork of Quadrophenia (MCA, 1973), thanks to the layers of synthesizers played by keyboardist Tim Gorman, its prosaic lyrics lack the whimsy of his best contributions to the Who repertoire of yore ("Boris the Spider," "Heaven and Hell," "My Wife"). The rendition of the title tune from It's Hard, (Warner Bros., 1982) the album released that same autumn as this tour, sounds forced until Townshend takes a solo: his frustration with the state of the band creatively fuels at least some semblance of the fury that, in prior years, fueled his and the Who's best work. The titular leader of the group also exhibits some level of engagement with "Sister Disco," but notably muffs the lyrics in a tangible display of the ennui he describes in the song.

This cull from the last studio effort with Moon, Who Are You (MCA, 1978) marks the first improvisation of sorts, but it's stillborn and, actually, fortunately so, as Townshend's tendency to solo interminably at this stage of the Who's career inevitably destroyed musical momentum instead of elevating it. And credit where credit's due to drummer Kenney Jones: this gig is a far cry from the more steadfast role he played with the (Small) Faces, so it's no real criticism to denigrate him in comparison to his predecessor: no drummer could measure up to Moon's wild unorthodox style, nor maintain the chemistry the latter had with Townshend.

Performance itself aside on The Who Live at Shea Stadium 1982, the quality of audio and video recording is more than acceptable if not especially creative in terms of camera work: the cycle of angles right, left and center becomes predictable early on, much like the material the band offers. A handful of bonus tracks on the DVD repeat selections from the main content (there were actually two shows on October 12th and 13th, with the latter the main source for the video) and, reading Chris Roberts' essay inside a booklet adorned with the band's famous bulls-eye logo (somewhat clumsily designed to look like graffiti, despite its red, white and blue stars and stripes color scheme), it occurs his careful rationalizations may be based on observations of both shows in their entirety. That or simple lack of first-hand experience with the Who in their prime.

Ultimately, The Who Live at Shea Stadium 1982 holds it greatest attraction for completists or anyone who needs a reminder of what truly great rock and roll songs Peter Townshend composed at the apex of his writing prowess: even the disinterested offering of "Baba O'Riley" can't undermine its grandeur any more than the truncated suite from the second opera ("I'm One," "The Punk and the Godfather," "Drowned" far more potent than a similar stretch from Tommy) truly belies its genius: no songwriter of his generation was more self-aware than this author—'pounding stages like a clown' indeed!.

And kudos to the group, even in the personal and artistic disarray Roberts quite accurately describes, for including (in addition with the ever so early "Tattoo," in the only display of genuine humor here)semi-obscure but nonetheless scintillating selections from Townshend's songbook in the form of "Long Live Rock" and "Naked Eye;" juxtaposed with some remove from homage to the Beatles in the form of "I Saw Her Standing There" and "Twist and Shout," their inclusion presents insight, albeit minimal at best, into the machinations of one of contemporary rock's greatest groups.
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