By John Curley
Given The Who’s recent postponement of their scheduled Fall 2015 North American tour due to Roger Daltrey’s health issues, Fathom Events’ cinema screenings on Thursday, October 8th of The Who’s terrific new concert film, The Who Live In Hyde Park, were well timed.
Directed by Chris Rule, the film chronicles The Who’s headlining show on a beautiful day in London’s Hyde Park on June 26th of this year that was part of the “British Summer Time” series of concerts. The film opens with interviews with an array of musicians discussing what The Who means to them. Those interviewed include Iggy Pop, Robert Plant, Johnny Marr, Kelly Jones from Stereophonics, and Gaz Coombes from Supergrass. (Paul Weller is also interviewed later in the film.) In addition, The Who’s Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey discuss their 50 years together in the band before the concert portion of the film begins.
Just prior to the start of the film’s concert portion, director Rule includes a great segment that features a bunch of Mods on scooters riding past various London landmarks, the Battersea Power Station and Buckingham Palace among them, seemingly on their way to Hyde Park for the concert.
London is The Who’s hometown, and Townshend and Daltrey seemed very comfortable in the beautiful setting of Hyde Park. The stage at Hyde Park, in a nod to the outdoor setting, had fake trees on both sides of it. The crowd, 65,000 strong, was very enthusiastic and roared their approval throughout the show. And the crowd’s “We are the Mods!” chant was jokingly shut down by Townshend, who laughed that they are “too f—ing old” to be Mods.
Since 2015 marks the 50th anniversary of the release of The Who’s first single, “I Can’t Explain,” it seemed appropriate that The Who opened the Hyde Park show with that power-pop gem. The song still stands up, and contains a great deal of bluster and bite five decades after its release.
Apart from the second song performed, 1978’s “Who Are You,” the rest of the first few songs in the set were classic singles released by The Who in the 1960s. In addition to “I Can’t Explain,” the opening of their set also featured “The Kids Are Alright,” “Pictures of Lily,” “I Can See For Miles,” and “My Generation.” (“Pictures of Lily” was performed as a tip of the hat to Paul Weller, who had performed earlier that day at Hyde Park, because he had requested it.) It’s wonderful that The Who are performing those gems live, because they were the songs upon which the band built their initial reputation. In addition, they sound quite different from The Who’s later, more progressive-sounding album-oriented rock output.
The rest of the show, for the most part, featured highlights from their albums of the 1970s and early 1980s. In addition to the 1972 non-album single “Join Together,” The Who performed “Behind Blue Eyes,” “Bargain,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” from 1971’s Who’s Next, “I’m One” and “Love Reign O’er Me” from 1973’s Quadrophenia, “You Better You Bet” from 1981’s Face Dances, and “Eminence Front” from 1982’s It’s Hard. The album that broke The Who as a worldwide phenomenon, 1969’s Tommy, was well represented at the Hyde Park show with the performances of “Amazing Journey,” “Sparks,” “Pinball Wizard,” and “See Me Feel Me.”
The film’s spectacular images and sound really drive home how powerful a band The Who still are, something that is seemingly astonishing considering that Daltrey is 71 and Townshend 70. While there have been some minor concessions to age, they still put on an explosive show. And the Hyde Park show was packed with highlights. The 1960s singles at the start of the show remain a treat to the ears. “Bargain,” led by Zak Starkey’s explosive drums, absolutely bristled. It was the peak of the performance. Townshend gave “I’m One” such a personal, introspective airing, no small feat when standing on a stage in front of 65,000 people. And the performance of “Amazing Journey” was positively thrilling.
In addition to Townshend on guitar and vocals, Daltrey on lead vocals, harmonica, and occasional guitar, and Starkey on drums, the touring band also features Townshend’s brother, Simon Townshend (who sort of resembles Pitbull these days with his shaved head and sunglasses) on guitar, mandolin, and backing vocals, PIno Palladino on bass, John Corey and Loren Gold on keyboards and backing vocals, and the tour’s musical director, Frank Simes, on keyboards, backing vocals, and assorted instruments. When introducing the band to the audience, Townshend pointed out that Zak Starkey, the son of The Beatles’ Ringo Starr, was given his first drumkit when he was about 10 years old by The Who’s late drummer Keith Moon, who was a friend of his father. Starkey’s powerhouse drumming adds such a dimension to the overall sound of the band, which definitely changed following the 2002 death of bassist John Entwistle.
As the end credits roll, there’s a nice bit featuring Iggy Pop playing a brief acoustic version of “My Generation.” Here’s hoping that this fantastic concert film sees DVD, BluRay, and streaming-video releases in the near future.
The Who’s postponed Fall 2015 tour of North America has been rescheduled for Spring 2016.
The Who Live In Hyde Park features the entire June 26, 2015 show by The Who. The set list of the show was:
I Can’t Explain
Who Are You
The Kids Are Alright
Pictures of Lily
I Can See For Miles
Behind Blue Eyes
You Better You Bet
Love Reign O’er Me
See Me Feel Me
Won’t Get Fooled Again