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.