Like most long-lived bands, The Who’s history has left us with many memorable moments, be them on stage, outside it, on record, preserved in audio or video form. Moments that fans will forever make references to or moments that simply had a crucial impact on the band at the time of their happening. The latter may be a bit hard to truly compile, but instead this is a list of my favourite Who moments caught on video, the ones that I return to the most often. For the fans, I’m sure watching them will be a delight and also something that they’ve done hundreds of times before, whereas for those not into the band yet, it might just be the perfect introduction. All of these five moments can be found in the excellent 1979 ‘The Kids Are Alright’ documentary (with one little note, that the interview is split throughout the documentary). Without further ado, here they are:
5. A Quick One While He’s Away (live at the The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus 1968)
Fans have suspected over the years that the main reason this concert-film has been kept from release for a whole 28 years is the fact that The Who was a part of it. Or to be more specific, the fact that the Who’s performance kicked so much ass that it overshadowed the rest of the artists featured. I can certainly see that being possible – this is perhaps the first true example of a song of theirs becoming a whole new thing when performed live. The studio version of ‘A Quick One While He’s Away’ is ambitious alright, but seems somewhat insecure and reserved when compared to this firey, lively take that rocks the house, without losing any of the subtlety and humor of the original.
(YouTube videos of this performance keep getting deleted shortly after the upload, so there’s no sense in posting one.)
4. The Who Interviewed on Russell Harty Plus (1973)
Where does one begin to describe an interview in which the actual reporter (more or less joking) admits at one point of being “transfixed by all this”? At times The Who off record were as interesting as The Who on record because of their personalities, mainly the one of Keith Moon. Here he is on fire, cracking hilarious joke after hilarious joke, not to mention stripping at one point – he is as exuberant as his drumming. Pete Townshend seems to always be midway between giving a serious answer and joining Keith on the ‘comedy carousel’, whereas John and Roger are more reserved. All in all, there are few interviews from other bands that I know of which are so entertaining to watch.
3. See Me, Feel Me/Listening To You (live at Woodstock 1969)
I initially said that all of these moments can be found in the Kids Are Alright documentary, however, this performance can also be found in the 1970 ‘Woodstock’ film documenting the legendary festival. And if you ask me, that’s where it can be enjoyed the most – a rare moment in rock film where the filming, the timing and the performance itself are just perfect. The two-angle (sometimes three) cameras brilliantly capture Townshend’s passionate windmills and little solos between the ‘Listening to You’ choruses and also Daltrey’s heartfelt ‘See Me, Feel Me’ segments. The latter is particularly impressive when compared to the studio version, and it may just represent the vocalist finding his own stage persona (especially pay attention to the last “see me, feel me” where he almost sounds violent).
2. My Generation (live at Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour 1967)
You know that expression that goes “went out with a bang”, used when somebody does something really memorable before leaving a situation? That’s what happened when The Who performed live during the ‘Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour’ show in 1967. It’s just that in our case, the expression works both in a literal and figurative way. The video begins with the host joking with the band, after which they launch into ‘My Generation’, but without too much fuss and without trying to re-invent the already-established classic. Even the instrument smashing was pretty much routine by then. But the “ordinariness” of the performance is what exactly makes the ending so unexpected – suddenly we hear a big “BANG!” and the stage is filled with smoke. None of the three members still visible seem to have any idea what happened and it turned out that indeed only Keith was behind this stunt all along, filling his bass drum with explosives and then kicking it as the song ended. With this memorable event, The Who established themselves as the world’s most loud and spontaneous band (in the middle of the ‘summer of love’, no less!), a reputation that would stick with them for many years to come.
1. Won’t Get Fooled Again (live at London’s Shepperton Studios 1978)
I originally wanted to place this performance at number two, but fuck it, there’s no way I could be objective when I’m writing about the very moment that made me a Who fan. I had enjoyed seeing many bands such as Beatles or Pink Floyd perform live, but none of them truly owned the stage when they walked on it like The Who did. There’s so much stage presence in this video, such a high level of confidence, energy and angriness that it’s truly overwhelming. And what an ending – Daltrey shouts the mighty, roar-like “YEAAAH!”, while Townshend jumps into the air and slides on his knees at the same time. Imagine my surprise when I found out that this would turn out to be their last ever performance with Keith Moon, who passed away 4 months later. But man, what an incredible goodbye, captured and meant to remind us once and for all that The Who truly were the quintessential rock ‘n’ roll band.