Here’s a spooky thought: more time has elapsed since the Who semi-officially disbanded than the period in which the band existed. They started as the Who in 1964 but went on their “farewell tour” in 1982. I don’t think the band ever formally broke up, but this event seemed to be the last nail in the coffin that had started to close in 1978, when drummer Keith Moon died.
However, the Who have made a mockery of the “farewell tour” concept as they’ve regrouped many times since 1982. At first, the excursions occurred to commemorate special occasions. In 1989, they came back to celebrate the 20th anniversary of Tommy, their breakthrough album.
Once that outing ended, they went back to their solo work and didn’t get back as a band until 1996 when they toured to reignite attention for their Quadrophenia album. This seemed like an odd choice, since it wasn’t a significant anniversary for the record - it had been 23 years since the 1973 release of that piece - but they did it anyway. Although they originally intended to play a very limited number of shows, the trek proceeded sporadically and continued through 1997.
Since then, a few scattered shows occurred during 1999, and the Who went out on a more extended tour in 2000. Why? No apparent reason, as far as I can tell; they played just for the sake of playing.
Not that I regard this to be a bad thing. I didn’t see the band in 2000 simply because I didn’t think it was worth the money. They played a local amphitheater, and the best tickets cost around $130. I didn’t want to go if I couldn’t sit close to the stage, and I was unwilling to pay such high prices.
Nonetheless, I would have liked to have gone to the show and felt somewhat dissatisfied that I didn’t attend. As such, I’m happy to see this DVD release of Live at the Royal Albert Hall as it offers a nice representation of their 2000 program.
This show came from the very end of the tour and existed mainly to raise money for the Teenage Cancer Trust. Because of the special occasion, the band recruited a slew of special guests to perform with them. None of them merit true superstar status, but most are very solid performers who integrated well into the material. It feels as though they were brought to the show more due to their connection to the music than because of marquee value, and that’s a good thing, as it helps suit the show better.
The first half of the concert proceeds largely along the lines of a normal Who show; the special guests don’t appear until roughly the middle of the concert, and they crop up throughout most of the rest of it. I felt the show took a few numbers to really get started. Although some good songs appear during the first half hour or so, the band seemed a little lackluster, and they relied far too much on extended versions of the tunes; lots of them went on forever via fairly pointless jams and could become tedious. Tracks like “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere”, “The Kids Are Alright” and “The Relay” just continued way too long, and the instrumental embellishments made the songs a bit boring; they originally existed as punchy pop tunes, and they didn’t need the extensions.
However, once we got to “Who Are You” - from the 1978 album of the same name - the show really started to kick into gear. After that one, a solid version of “Baba O’Riley” from 1971’s Who’s Next slammed home nicely, and we met our first guest star of the night: violinist Nigel Kennedy, who apparently goes by only his last name most of the time. Unfortunately, this may cause some confusion; when I read that “Kennedy” would appear at the show, I wondered why in the world they’d bring out a former MTV veejay.
Many times when guests are introduced into concerts, they’re there just for marquee value. However, I didn’t find this to be true during the Who show. Virtually all of the performers - with the possible exception of Kennedy - are the spiritual children of the Who, and they made sense. As a Pearl Jam fan, I was most eager to see Eddie Vedder, and he brought his usual passion to good versions of “I’m One” and “Let’s See Action”. Kelly Jones from Stereophonics contributed a nice arrogance and attitude for “Substitute”, and Noel Gallagher’s guitar work helped create a solid version of “Won’t Get Fooled Again”. I could have lived without Bryan Adams’ turn on “Behind Blue Eyes”, but I didn’t mind too much.
Really, from “Who Are You” through the rest of the show, the concert remained very good for the most part. A few later songs suffered from the Extended Version Blues; Quadrophenia’s “The Real Me” and “5.15” were the worst offenders. Otherwise, most of the tracks remained reasonably concise.
Musically, the show seemed good but unspectacular. It’s clear that all three members of the Who have lost a lot of their vocal capabilities. Townshend’s upper register appeared shot, and Entwistle feebly wheezed his way through “My Wife”; a subsequent relisten to the solid version from The Kids Are Alright made the 2000 edition sound even worse. Daltrey had his own vocal problems also - particularly during a shaky rendition of “See Me, Feel Me” - but he managed to storm his way through most of the show reasonably well. In their defense, this concert did come at the end of a fairly long road trek, so the vocal deficiencies may have resulted more from that than from age and abuse.
Otherwise, the band sounded pretty good. Unlike shows such as the 1989 Tommy gigs, the 2000 tour featured a reasonably stripped-down band. In addition to the core three, we got Zak “Ringo’s Boy” Starkey on drums and John “Rabbit” Bundrick on keyboards. Zak won’t make anyone forget Keith Moon, but he ably manned the skins and did well enough for himself.
It was also terrific to see Pete on electric guitar again. He’d abandoned it on stage after the 1982 tour, apparently because it aggravated his hearing problem. I don’t know what allowed him to pick it up again, but it felt like he came home. Some of his solos meandered, but he remained punchy as ever for the most part, and frankly, just the sight of him with it warmed my heart.
Amusingly, Pete showed a lack of chronological awareness. He stated that 1972’s “The Relay” was written in 1974, and he plopped 1981’s “You Better, You Bet” in 1979. Rock stars often have an awful lot of trouble keeping track of their own careers; it’s good there are obsessive geeks like myself to keep them honest!
The video production seemed acceptably good. Happily, it lacked any of the excessive flash and quick-cutting that so often mars this kind of show. I wasn’t wild about some of the directorial choices, though. For example, during “My Wife”, the image left classic Townshend antics to show the typically impassive Entwistle as he stood stock-still. Nonetheless, most of the show appeared to balance variety and coverage well.
One other disappointment: the DVD doesn’t include the entire concert. Absent are Who’s Next’s “Gettin’ In Tune” - another Vedder collaboration - and “Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand”, a fine tune from 1967’s classic The Who Sell Out. I have no idea why these omissions were made.
Despite that alteration, The Who and Special Guests Live at the Royal Albert Hall provides a pretty solid concert experience. The show itself is studded with Who hits and some good lesser-known tracks, and the performances are usually very good. Some tunes go on too long, but they generally stay within acceptable limits, and the guest stars actually add something to the concert. I’d rather check out The Kids Are Alright, but in the meantime, Hall is a nice representation of the band.
The Who and Special Guests Live at the Royal Albert Hall appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 1.78:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although not flawless, the picture generally looked quite good for a concert presentation.
Live performances can be very tough to resolve on video, but Hall came across pretty well. Sharpness usually looked nicely precise and crisp. Some wider shots displayed a little softness, but most of the show appeared to be accurate and distinct. Guitar strings caused some jagged edges to appear, while the Hall itself brought some minor moiré effects into play. As for edge enhancement, I didn’t detect any, at least not with certainty. Townshend wore a yellow shirt that positively glowed at times, but I think this was more of a videotape artifact combining with lighting rather than edge enhancement. No source flaws appeared to mar the presentation.
Colors usually cause the biggest problems with concerts, and that was the case here. For the most part, I found the hues to appear nicely vivid and accurate, but at times they came across as moderately heavy. They remained reasonably clear for much of the show, but they seemed a little too dense at times. Black levels appeared to be deep and solid, while shadow detail looked appropriately dark without much excessive thickness. Ultimately, this wasn’t a perfect visual presentation, but it offered a generally satisfying experience.
The DVD release of Hall offers both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. One early warning: This sucker is loud. In the notes I took as I watched the DVD, I actually scrawled “LOUD!” so that proves it, doesn’t it? Anyway, take precautions before you watch the show; keep the volume low until you’re sure it won’t destroy your abode.
Overall, Hall provided a positive presentation, though it fell short of greatness. The soundfield was fairly typical for a live performance. The forward spectrum dominated the proceedings, as the music showed generally fine stereo separation. For the most part, the instruments appeared in logical and natural locations, though I found the drums to fly from channel to channel in a fairly gimmicky manner; I guess this was supposed to connote the wild intensity of the songs, but instead it just seemed distracting.
Otherwise, localization remained fine, and surround usage ably supported the mix. Mainly the rears offered crowd noise, though this was some of the best-defined audience sound I’ve heard; the track provided some really involving split-surround work at times. Otherwise, the music received general reinforcement from the rears.
Audio quality seemed fairly solid, though I found a few concerns, mainly related to the mix. Spare songs like “Magic Bus” or “So Sad About Us” fared best, as they didn’t try to combine many elements; they came across as clear, bright, and well-defined. Louder tunes ran into some problems, however, mainly because I felt the track could be mildly boomy. Bass response seemed to be very good, and overall clarity was fine, but some of the more intense tunes displayed a moderately thick quality, and the drums tended to get lost along the way. A key component of Who songs, the drums sounded surprisingly wan and dinky at times; they were buried beneath other elements. Vocals also came across as too prominent for many tunes.
Nonetheless, these were minor quibbles. As a whole, I found the audio to provide a good experience. I couldn’t discern any significant differences between the Dolby Digital and DTS mixes. I suppose the latter provided slightly tighter bass, but even that wasn’t totally clear. Ultimately, either track will work well.
Surprisingly, this DVD offers a two-disc affair that includes only supplements on the second platter. I applaud that decision because it meant that the program itself would be able to utilize the most space possible. However, don’t let the existence of this extra disc cause you to believe that Albert is a packed special edition; while some good pieces appear on Disc Two, the set remains pretty light.
Probably the biggest disappointment of the bunch is the Documentary With Roger Daltrey Interview. This seven-minute and 40-second program offers a short chat with Daltrey about the Teenage Cancer Trust, and we then see clips from the concert during which Daltrey talks about the cause and presents a check to the group’s head, Dr. Adrian Whiteson. After that, Whiteson discusses the trust as well. I fully support this extra publicity for what sounds like a worthwhile charity, but the fact it’s called a “documentary” borders on deceptive advertising.
The other extras are much more interesting. The one that’ll likely attract the most attention is the multiangle version of Pinball Wizard. Back when DVD first emerged, we were promised lots of concerts that would use this feature, but that never materialized to a great degree. I don’t think there’s ever been a full-length show that used extra angles throughout its whole running time, and I think this relates to space limitations; even the addition of only two extra angles triples the space required. That would make a 90-minute performance need four and a half hours of room, and I guess no one’s been willing to do that yet.
As such, we find the occasional multiangle song as sop to the concept. “Pinball Wizard” goes nuts with options, as it offers a whopping seven different angles from which to choose during the two-minute and 52-second song. The presentation seems both user-friendly and problematic at the same time. While the selected angle fills a box on the screen, the other ones appear in smaller spaces around the main image’s border. This idea seems good because it lets us preview what we want to see in the larger spot; with seven angles, this eliminates the guesswork that otherwise would occur. However, the system renders the main image smaller than I’d like; between the preview boxes and a border around the whole thing, I’d estimate that the main screen fills no more than maybe half of the TV real estate. It’s still a reasonably large picture, but it’s too bad it wasn’t full frame. Still, I enjoyed this chance to play video director and would like to see more multiangle options.
For the record, the multiangle “Wizard” got the same treatment as the rest of the DVD. The presentation offered 16X9 enhancement, and the song also provided Dolby Digital 5.1, DTS 5.1, and Dolby Stereo 2.0 mixes. Sweet!
I thought the Backstage Footage seemed a little dull. This mainly provided shots of the crew as they set up the stage, and we then saw snippets of rehearsal material as well. All of this occurred beneath the sound of a practice version of “Let’s See Action”. I liked the opportunity to hear a rough run-through of the song, but the video montage was bland and uninteresting.
Finally, the DVD included seven different clips of Rehearsal Footage. Two of these featured the Who on their own, while the other five showed guests with the band; during individual segments, we saw Eddie Vedder, Kennedy, Bryan Adams, Paul Weller, and Noel Gallagher. The pieces ran between 37 seconds and three minutes, 32 seconds for a total of 13 minutes and 36 seconds of material. Despite their brevity, I thought these bits offered some nice glimpses behind the scenes. Nothing terribly eventful happened, but it was fun to see a little of the collaborative process. The Weller clip was best, if just because some tension arose; Weller and Townshend found it tough to agree on a song to perform. Overall, these were fairly interesting segments that I enjoyed.
For a band that broke up 19 years ago, the Who remain surprisingly active. Well, I suppose if Tupac can continue to release new albums five years following his demise, nothing should stop the Who. In any case, The Who and Special Guests Live at the Royal Albert Hall offered a reasonably solid concert experience. It may not compare with the band’s prime years, but it showed them in a better light than most of their recent appearances. The DVD offered good picture and sound plus a minor smattering of extras. Overall, I enjoyed Albert Hall and think it’ll make a good addition to the collection of the Who’s fans.