Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend
The Who have seen their share of tragedy in a monumental career that began 40 years ago, in 1964. Captured on their 2002 tour, Live In Boston showcases the band on their first outing after the unexpected death of bassist John Entwistle. What may have started as an ordinary tour became a moving tribute to Entwistle and his legacy.
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English PCM Stereo
Runtime: 121 min.
Release Date: 9/14/2004
• John Entwistle Art Gallery
• Pete Townshend Interview
• Roger Daltrey Interview
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The Who: Live In Boston (2002)
Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (August 24, 2004)
On the cusp of a new North American tour in June 2002, Who bassist John Entwistle died of a heart attack connected to drug usage. Surprisingly, surviving band members guitarist Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey decided to go ahead with the tour anyway, and to do so virtually immediately. They recruited bassist Pino Paladino - who’d played with Townshend in the past - and took the stage as the Who only days after Entwistle’s demise.
That’s the generation of Who found on this new DVD. Simply entitled The Who: Live in Boston, this program comes from a September sadhsakd, 2002 show at the Tweeter Center in Mansfield, Massachusetts, a burg about 30 miles southwest of Beantown. This show found “the Two” - as the pair of Daltrey and Townshend were quickly dubbed - at almost the end of the tour; one show remained following this one.
For the setlist, the usual Who suspects appear. The band finally released some new songs in 2004 as part of a compilation, but this show predates those, so we get the standard compilation of oldies. The concert opens with a triple blast of early hits via “I Can’t Explain”, “Substitute”, and “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere”, all of which come from 1965-66. From there we get 1978’s iconic “Who Are You” and a moderate surprise, “Another Tricky Day” from 1981’s little-remembered Face Dances. We then find a trio from the Lifehouse/Who’s Next era of 1970-71 with “Relay”, “Bargain” and “Baba O’Riley”.
Back in 1996, the Who did a tour that included entire performances of 1973’s Quadrophenia, and Boston tosses out three of its songs in a row: “Sea and Sand”, “5.15”, and “Love Reign O’er Me”. The next five tunes cover a range of Who classics: “Eminence Front” (1982), “Behind Blue Eyes” (1971), “You Better You Bet” (1981), “The Kids Are Alright” (1965), “My Generation” (1965) and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” (1971 again). The concert then ends with a mini-set from 1969’s Tommy: “Pinball Wizard”, “Amazing Journey”, “Sparks”, “See Me Feel Me” and “Listening to You”.
When Daltrey and Townshend elected to proceed with the 2002 tour, I felt shocked. Their decision occurred so rapidly that it seemed to border on disrespectful. People deal with grief in different ways, I suppose, but to so quickly replace a longtime partner and friend remains startling.
Because of this, I considered not seeing the Who that summer. I’d not gone to one of their shows since the Quadrophenia tour of 1996 and wanted to head out that year, but the whole Entwistle thing left a bad taste in my mouth. However, when I read good notices for the shows and also got a feel for the motivations of Daltrey and Townshend behind their decision, I chose to give them a shot and took in one of their four Madison Square Garden shows.
Frankly, I left underwhelmed, and the same sense generally affected me as I watched the performance on Boston. The reviews I saw led me to believe this would be a fiery Who, with a passion and energy that rivaled their glory days in the Sixties and Seventies. However, I didn’t really see that, though one can’t blame Townshend for that.
The guitarist seemed to channel whatever pain he experienced that summer into his performances, and he attacked the guitar with a fury unseen in quite some time. As evident in Boston, Townshend played more lead than normal, as he added guitar solos and bits to songs that didn’t originally have them. Some of this could be sloppy, but he played with a real passion, so much I thought he might smash his guitar because he felt it, not due to expectations or shtick.
As for Daltrey, despite his solid physical conditioning, he seemed tired and out of it. Daltrey never had great range, but his voice has declined a lot over the years and lacked much expressiveness. I think he has about two and a half notes at this point, all of which are raspy and indistinct. He showed his age in his demeanor if not his body. Daltrey generally seems tired and detached during much of the show, which makes for a pointed contrast - and not a positive one - with the more involved Townshend.
Where I think the modern Who largely loses points comes from the absence of feeling that they’re a real band. That sentiment has plagued the Who ever since they went out with Kenney Jones after the death of Keith Moon, and it remains true. At their peak, the Who meshed in a way that very few bands achieve, so that the different elements coalesced perfectly. As I watch the modern Who, I hear better than competent musicianship, but I don’t get a sense of a true unit. With the talented Zak Starkey - Ringo Starr’s son - on drums, this Who is a good sight better than the lackluster version of the late Eighties, and even without Entwistle, it probably tops the late Seventies/early Eighties edition with Jones, who always made a poor match with the others.
But the Who 2002 doesn’t compete against the Who 1979 or the Who 1989 - they compete with the Who 1969 and thereabouts, and they can’t compare. To be sure, they can have their moments; they provided the strongest work during the Concert for New York in 2001, so they clearly can bring it when they desire. They also exhibit some fire onstage in non-musical moments. Pete occasionally curses out the audience, and though much of this feels like shtick, some real nastiness emerges at times. Actually, Daltrey seems to get angriest when the audience won’t shut up during Townshend’s introduction to “The Kids Are Alright”; when he yells at the crowd, he doesn’t look like he’s kidding.
The Who: Live in Boston presents a perfectly acceptable edition of the band but no more than that. Despite Townshend’s best efforts to bring life to the beast, the whole thing rarely coalesces and becomes memorable. Even down to only half the original band, there’s still a place in this world, but Boston doesn’t showcase the act at their best.
The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus C
The Who: Live In Boston appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to those dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. The program looked decent but rarely any better than that.
A videotaped affair, sharpness generally appeared acceptable. Most of the show came across as reasonably accurate and distinct, though it rarely seemed terribly detailed. Medium to wide shots tended to display softness of varying degrees; these never became horribly ill-defined, but they demonstrated some blandness. The picture could appear a bit blocky at times. Jagged edges and moiré effects remained minor, but I noticed some issues with edge enhancement. In addition, the video source material seemed clean and fresh, as I detected no signs of any interference or artifacts.
Colors played a small role in the proceedings, as all onstage wore dark tones. This left the hues to appear mostly via lighting, which looked a bit dense at times but usually was acceptably clean. The colors were neither bright and vivid nor flawed, as they seemed generally fine. Black levels came across as pretty deep and dense, and shadow detail worked fairly well for the most part. At times some low-light situations became moderately thick, but they usually seemed reasonably easy to discern. Boston would have benefited from native 16X9 recording, as this 4X3 affair looked decent but that was it.
My sentiments toward the Dolby Digital 5.1 audio of Boston fell upon the same lines. On the positive side, the imaging seemed pretty good. Instruments appeared in reasonably appropriate locations and spread across the spectrum fairly well. The entire package came together in a neat and cohesive manner and it appeared to be a fairly solid stereo presentation. Surround usage mainly offered crowd noise and some reinforcement of the music; the image remained largely oriented toward the front speakers.
Though not bad, the track lost some points for the less than stellar quality of the audio. Daltrey’s vocals suffered from a little too much added “stadium reverb”. They remained fairly smooth and distinct, but they weren’t quite as natural as I’d like. The instruments tended to blend together too flatly. Midrange dominated this track and it didn’t include many highs and lows. Actually, cymbals played the strongest role, and it occasionally was somewhat tough to hear the rest of the music over their shimmering. Highs lacked great definition or clarity, and bass seemed muted and somewhat dull. The entire thing presented restricted range that made it sound punchless and a bit bland. It wasn’t a terrible representation of the music, but it did render the songs somewhat toothless and less powerful than anticipated.
As we move to the supplements, we start with two video features. First we get an interview with Pete Townshend. It lasts 13 minutes, 51 seconds as Townshend chats about Entwistle’s death, his relationship with fans, the Boston show itself, comparisons with the classic Who, and his interactions with Daltrey. Townshend has always been an honest, bright and interesting interview subject who seems unable to skirt the truth and how he feels, a tone that comes through with this useful discussion.
Next we find an interview with Roger Daltrey that goes for eight minutes, 20 seconds. The singer talks about Entwistle’s death, dealing with his absence, Townshend’s talents and the continuation of the Who, its replacement members, and the band’s current state. It’s not as compelling as Townshend’s chat, but it’s still interesting to get Daltrey’s perspective on things.
Lastly, the DVD presents a John Entwistle Art Gallery. It shows 25 examples of the bassist’s drawings, most of which depict himself, the Who, and other musical peers. These end up on the positive side of amateurish, but they’re interesting to see.
More than two decades after their “Farewell Tour”, the Who soldier on, occasionally with winning results. The 2002 performance found on Live in Boston sporadically and fitfully comes to life, largely due to the passion of ever-feisty guitarist Pete Townshend. Nonetheless, it lacks much strength as a whole and doesn’t give us a great feel for their potential. The DVD offers decent picture and audio plus some minor extras highlighted by a typically interesting interview with Pete Townshend. I definitely can’t recommend Boston to those without great passion for the Who, as it seems best suited for their die-hard fans.
Viewer Film Ratings: 4.125 Stars
| Number of Votes: 16