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Jeff Stein
Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend
Writing Credits:

In what would be one of the last live performances for drummer Keith Moon, this bombastic concert was filmed in 1977 at the Gaumont State Theatre in Kilburn, North London. Songs include "Baba O'Reilly," "Pinball Wizard," "My Generation," "Won't Get Fooled Again," and more.

Rated NR

Widescreen 1.78:1/16X9
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Not Closed-captioned
Supplements Subtitles:

Runtime: 66 min.
Price: $24.98
Release Date: 11/18/08

• “The Who: London Coliseum 1969” Concert Performance
• “The Who at the Coliseum” Complete Performances of “A Quick One (While He’s Away)” and “Tommy”
• Trailer
• Booklet


Panasonic 50" TH-50PZ77U 1080p Plasma Monitor; Harman/Kardon DPR 2005 7.1 Channel Receiver; Toshiba A-30 HD-DVD/1080p Upconverting DVD Player using HDMI outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Kenwood 1050SW 150-watt Subwoofer.


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The Who: Live At Kilburn (1977)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (November 12, 2008)

Some concerts become legendary for negative reasons. Into that category falls the Who’s sole 1977 show. Filmmaker Jeff Stein wanted to wrap up his Who documentary The Kids Are Alright with a new performance from the band. While he found plenty of Who footage through 1970 or so, not much from the subsequent few years could be located, so Stein needed something else to balance the film.

The Who agreed and in December 1977, they put on a concert for a small audience at the Gaumont State Theatre in Kilburn, England. Stein covered his bases with plenty of cameras and audio equipment, but the band didn’t come prepared. They’d not played together on stage for more than a year, and according to most reports, the show stunk. Most blamed drummer Keith Moon for the poor performance. Out of shape and declining rapidly due to substance abuse, Moon seemed to be a shadow of his former self, and the rest of the band appeared to suffer accordingly.

The Kilburn concert fared so poorly that Stein brought back the band to do it again a few months later. This May 1978 performance didn’t go flawlessly, but apparently it was good enough to give Stein the footage he needed. When you see exclusive material in Alright, the songs came from the 1978 show.

Since that time, the Kilburn footage remained in the can. For 30 years, Who fans have been told how lousy the Kilburn show was. Heck, in the middle of the concert, a dispirited Pete Townshend even declared that the show “wasn’t fucking worth filming”. Finally we can decide for ourselves via The Who at Kilburn: 1977, a DVD presentation of the entire short show.

The set spans the band’s career to that point. From the early days, we get the singles “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute”, and 1965’s My Generation provides its title track. When we go to 1969’s seminal Tommy, we locate “Pinball Wizard”, “I’m Free”, and “Tommy’s Holiday Camp”. 1971’s Who’s Next provides four tunes: “Baba O’Riley”, “My Wife”, “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again” Off of 1975’s The Who By Numbers, we find “Dreaming From the Waist”, while we also hear the title track from 1978’s then-unreleased Who Are You. The 1972 single “Join Together” shows up as a snippet during an extended “My Generation”, and the concert also includes covers of “Summertime Blues” and “Shakin’ All Over”.

So does the Kilburn show really stink as bad as its reputation claims? No, but it doesn’t sizzle like some of its defenders may claim, either. Though most fault Moon, he doesn’t deserve all the blame for the problems. While clearly not at his best, Moon usually acquits himself reasonably well. He seems shaky during the first few songs, and his talent comes and goes, but he usually holds up his end in a respectable manner.

All three musicians make multiple mistakes through the show, so Moon clearly doesn’t deserve to shoulder responsibility for the concert’s weaknesses. Even Roger Daltrey – apparently the only sober member of the band on this evening – runs into problems. His vocals sound good, but he goofs, particularly when he forgets a verse to “Dreaming From the Waist”.

While Kilburn doesn’t represent the band at their peak, it sure works better than many fear. Perhaps some of this comes from rose-colored glasses – and the simple fact that the show depicts the second to last performance ever of the original Who. Moon died a few months after the May 1978 concert, so we’ve not seen the classic Who for more than three decades.

Coincidentally, I went to a performance by the current incarnation of the Who about a week before I watched this DVD. Wags refer to the band as “The Two” now because only Daltrey and Townshend remain from the original lineup; John Entwistle died back in 2002. Others can argue whether or not this group deserves to call itself “The Who”, but no one can debate that the modern version pales in comparison to the 1970s edition. Although Daltrey can’t sing very well anymore, the 2008 Who still put on a respectable show. They simply don’t pack the dynamic volatility of the original Who.

Back when they shot Kilburn, we could only compare the Who of 1977 to the Who of 1965-1976. Obviously most people thought the concert of December 15, 1977 stunk in comparison to those that preceded it, and maybe it did; I never saw the Who live until 1982, so I can’t make personal observations.

I can that after all of these years with a Moon-less Who, the original lineup sounds pretty good, even if Kilburn doesn’t represent one of their better nights. I think most of the problems will seem apparent mainly to the band’s more die-hard fans. Sure, we can pick out the goofs, and I can recognize that something was simply off that evening; the Who never manages to really come together during the show. The concert even threatens to collapse completely during the Tommy medley, as the musicians apparently forget what to play.

However, that unmistakable Who energy shows up in spades. I think the Who played best when they were on the verge of anarchy and collapse, and we can see that edge at this concert. Some open taunting from the audience makes matters even more tense, so despite the flubs and goofs, the performance boasts a vivacity absent from most concerts. While the show may often be a mess, it’s a fascinating mess.

In visual terms, I think Kilburn presents the concert well. Although shot in 1977, I don’t think the footage was edited until the creation of this DVD, so it could’ve suffered from modern quick-cutting techniques and other annoying gimmicks. To my relief, it doesn’t. The show offers generally logical cuts and shot selection; occasionally I thought it went the wrong way, but I didn’t quibble with most of the choices. The program gives us a good look at the performance.

No one will ever mistake Kilburn for great Who, but decent to good Who still packs a serious wallop. While we find plenty of ups and downs during this concert, I think it has enough quality material to succeed. Serious fans would want it just for historical value, but I think it holds up as something worthwhile for those with a less intense interest in the band.

The DVD Grades: Picture B-/ Audio B+/ Bonus B+

The Who at Kilburn: 1977 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. Given the age of origins of the material, I felt generally pleased with the visuals.

For the most part, sharpness seemed solid. Wider shots tended to be a bit soft, but those examples failed to create big distractions. While not a particularly crisp presentation, the film usually displayed good definition. While no shimmering or edge enhancement interfered, I noticed some pixelization and jaggies at times; those caused occasional minor issues. Other than some appropriate grain, source flaws remained modest. A few specks appeared but that was about it, as the show usually looked clean.

Colors were decent. Stage lighting dominated and mostly featured reds and yellows. Those hues could be runny at times – especially the reds – but they remained acceptable and didn’t cause real problems. Blacks were fine, while shadows weren’t much of a factor given the setting. Overall, Kilburn didn’t look great, but it seemed worthy of a “B-“

Kilburn came with both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. I discerned very few differences between the two, as I thought they sounded very similar. I felt the DD mix might’ve been a little crisper, but that was a minor variation; overall, they were an awful lot alike.

As one might expect from a concert presentation, the soundfield mostly focused on the forward spectrum. The music showed good stereo delineation for the most part. Vocals remained centered, while Townshend’s guitar usually came from the front right and Entwistle’s bass veered toward the front left. Moon’s drums were spread across the front, a choice that didn’t work particularly well. I got the impression this was done to give Moon’s manic percussion a sense of broadness, but instead it created a minor distraction. More centered drums probably would’ve seemed more natural.

As for the surrounds, they mostly focused on crowd noise and musical reinforcement. Not much in the way of unique material cropped up back there, and that was fine with me. I prefer concert presentations to stick with a natural impression of an auditorium, and Kilburn did that. I noticed some “Baba O’Riley” synth bleed-through to the rears, but otherwise they acted as support.

Audio quality seemed positive. Vocals were consistently natural and concise, and all the instruments boasted positive reproduction. Guitars showed good bite and sizzle, while drums offered the expected punch and power. Bass response was pretty deep and warm, and highs sounded clear and crisp. I felt pleased with this pair of soundtracks.

In terms of extras, we get a second DVD with bonus live performances. The prime attraction comes from The Who: London Coliseum 1969, a one-hour, 12-minute and 48-second piece shows much of a December 14, 1969 performance. Part of the band’s tour of opera houses to support Tommy, the program mixes tunes from that album with earlier songs. Both My Generation and 1966’s A Quick One supply their title songs, while 1967’s excellent The Who Sells Out contributes “Tattoo”. Early singles “I Can’t Explain” and “I’m a Boy” appear, and we find Entwistle’s “Heaven and Hell”, a tune that wouldn’t see a formal release until he put out his solo album Smash Your Head Against the Wall in 1971.

We also get a few covers via “Fortune Teller”, “Young Man Blues”, “Summertime Blues” and “Shakin’ All Over”. The remaining tracks all come from Tommy: “There’s a Doctor”, “Go to the Mirror”, “I’m Free”, “Tommy’s Holiday Camp” and “See Me, Feel Me”.

In terms of performance, Coliseum easily tops the Kilburn show. Yes, I defended that 1977 concert, but I never claimed it was great Who. “Coliseum” probably isn’t one of their all-time best performances either, but it’s very good, and it sure depicts a more sober, more relaxed, more unified Who. That doesn’t mean they’re subdued, of course, but they simply feel more like a cohesive unit and less like a warring faction. The best Who combines their strengths but maintains that inner tension; Kilburn just favors the latter too much, while Coliseum better balances the two sides.

Technically, Kilburn blows away Coliseum. Visually, the Coliseum show is a mess. Shot on 16mm cameras – opposed to the fancy-pants 35mm of Kilburn – heavy grain dominates, and color reproduction stays in the range of bland yellow to yucky yellow much of the time. Sharpness looks poor in wide shots and only mediocre in closer elements. Some source specks and lines interfere, and lighting looks too thick; it’s often tough to discern the action. It’s a rather ugly presentation.

The audio fares better but still disappoints. Like the main feature, the Coliseum show offers Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1, but the quality of the material doesn’t fly nearly as high. The presentation sounds like broad mono, to be honest; there’s some vague stereo imaging but the instrumental and vocal delineation never becomes particularly clear. The tunes don’t sound bad, as they’re reasonably clear, but they lack substantial dynamic range.

All of this lands the Coliseum show firmly in the “historical curiosity” camp. Actually, that’s unfair, as it’s too good to be brushed off in that manner. Nonetheless, the poor quality of the footage will mean that it lacks great appeal for casual fans. The diehards will love it but others may be too turned off by the presentation to embrace. Nonetheless, I’m very happy it appears here, as it offers a fine snapshot of the Who at this crucial point in their existence.

In addition to a trailer for Kilburn - which incorrectly claims that the 1977 show represents Moon’s last concert - we get Complete Performances of “A Quick One While He’s Away” and Tommy. This segment runs 70 minutes, 33 seconds. During the prior Coliseum presentation, “A Quick One” ends after its “Ivor the Engine Driver” section. As for Tommy, the main show omits a slew of songs. The band played the entire Tommy album, so the other Coliseum program drops “Overture”, “It’s A Boy”, “1921”, “Amazing Journey”, “Eyesight to the Blind”, “Christmas”, “Acid Queen”, “Pinball Wizard”, “Do You Think It’s Alright?”, “Fiddle About”, “Tommy, Can You Hear Me?”, “Smash the Mirror”, “Miracle Cure”, “Sally Simpson” and “We’re Not Gonna Take It”.

While the DVD discusses the quality of the footage, it doesn’t make it particularly clear why it eliminates these segments from the full Coliseum presentation. It seems to be for technical reasons. For instance, during the portions of “A Quick One” absent from the main Coliseum piece, we hear the tune but see alternate shots of the band, and during Tommy, the audio goes downhill for a while during “Christmas”.

The inclusion of these corrupted elements in the main program might’ve seemed awkward, but I’d prefer that to their exile to a different part of the DVD. After all, much of the Coliseum presentation suffers from its own problems, so I don’t think it would’ve been a serious negative to include these pieces. Oh well – at least the DVD provides the complete “Tommy” and “A Quick One”, so even if they’re not in the correct spots, I’m happy they’re here.

Finally, the package provides a 16-page booklet. It presents Who biographer/longtime friend Richard Barnes, Who art director/designer Richard Evans, rock journalist Alan Light, and DVD producer Nigel Sinclair. These give us some good info about the band and the two concerts presented in this set.

While I don’t count myself as a rabid Who fan, I’ve liked them for most of my life, and I value the previously unseen footage found on this disc. The Kilburn show has many ragged moments but still proves worthwhile. The DVD provides decent picture, good audio, and an abundance of ugly but nonetheless valuable 1969 concert material. All Who fans should grab this package ASAP.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.8775 Stars Number of Votes: 49
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