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Murray Lerner
The Who
Writing Credits:

In 1970, 600,000 people came to the Isle of Wight to attend a music festival at 2AM, August 30th, The Who appeared and gave one of the most memorable performances of their career.

The Who: Live At The Isle Of Wight captures the only complete live performance of The Who's legendary rock opera Tommy, ever recorded. It is also one of the last times the band played this classic album in its entirety on stage.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English DTS 5.1
English Dolby Stereo 2.0
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 85 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 8/10/2004

• Interview with Pete Townshend


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Who: Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival (2004 Edition) (1970)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (February 9, 2005)

If we look at available videos of the Who live, we generally find a mishmash of snippets and newer materials. Programs like 30 Years of Maximum R&B Live mix clips from throughout much of the band’s history - at least through 1994 - while the Albert Hall and Boston packages include more modern performances. What we rarely observe are full-length shows from the band’s heyday in the Seventies, back when Keith Moon was still alive and drumming.

However, unlike bands such as the Stones – whose peak period is represented only through the dribs and drabs of live material on the nonetheless exemplary Gimme Shelter - DVD fans can check out an extended performance from the classic incarnation of the Who. The Who Live at the Isle of Wight concentrates exclusively on a 1970 show at a major rock festival, and it does so fairly well. The program provides the entire setlist, though it doesn’t encompass a standard-length Who concert from the era. The festival setting necessitated a moderately abbreviated performance, but at 85 minutes, the DVD still catches much of the Who’s repertoire at the time.

Since I was born in 1967, I never caught the Who live when Moon was still in the band. They last toured the US when I was nine, and I didn’t even know the band existed at that point in my life. I became a fan around the time when they played the US in 1979, but by that point, Moon was dead and Kenney Jones had replaced him behind the kit. I didn’t actually see the band until their subsequent 1982 “farewell” tour; I wanted to go to the 1979 show, but my Dad thought I was a bit young, especially given the tragic deaths at the Cincinnati concert that occurred only days before their DC appearances.

As many know, the Who didn’t keep their promise to bid farewell to the stage, and they toured again in 1989 for a 20th anniversary celebration of their landmark – though overrated – “rock opera” Tommy. They returned in 1996 for dates that highlighted 1973’s Quadrophenia; although that trek started as an extremely limited excursion, it soon extended and the band remained on the road through 1997. They came back for yet another tour in 2000, and I expect they’ll return in the not-too-distant future; they’re truly the band that wouldn’t die.

I caught the Who on the 1989, 1996 and 2002 tours. My only connections with classic Who have come via video records. The best archive appears in the popular The Kids Are Alright film. It uses an anthology formula, but it includes some terrific performances, highlighted by definitive versions of “Baba O’Riley” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, both played at what would be Moon’s last show.

Maximum seems interesting but less successful. Its Moon moments are good but rarely much better than that, and it concentrates far too much on the years after his death. These clips are compelling for archival value – I’d never seen extended footage from the 1979 tour, and some shots from rehearsals are also useful – but it doesn’t provide the band at their consistent best.

I’m not sure how high Wight ranks on that scale, but it’s a much stronger piece as a whole. Considering today’s multimedia live extravaganzas, it’s interesting to see just how simple and scaled-down this production was. Granted, the festival setting made it difficulty for any of the acts to display much personality, but it still seems startling to witness the starkness of the effort. Other than bassist John Entwistle’s goofy skeleton suit – that must have looked bitchin’ 30 years ago – the band didn’t feature too many nods to showbiz.

However, they did perform a pretty fiery little set. Starting with Entwistle’s “Heaven and Hell” – a common set-opener from the era – they plowed through a string of Who classics. Of course, the vintage of the program means that you won’t find stalwarts such as “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Baba O’Riley”, “5.15”, or “Who Are You”. At the time, Tommy was their most recent album, and it featured prominently in this and other shows of the period. In addition, we got hits like “My Generation” and “I Can’t Explain” as well as then-new tracks like “Water” and “I Don’t Even Know Myself”.

Intended for a 1970 EP, those last two songs never saw the light of day in that format. Instead, they and other tracks like “Naked Eye” made it out in dribs and drabs as B-sides and other non-album releases. Neither tune distinguished itself, and since both also appear on Maximum, their archival value here seems questionable. Actually, the Maximum rendition of “Water” came from a different show, but that DVD offered the same 1970 Isle of Wight performance of “Myself”. That tune’s easily the better of the two, mainly because “Water” just poured on for days; it lasted far too long to be compelling.

Nonetheless, Wight found the band in good form. The Moon incarnation of the Who have been touted as one of – if not the - best live acts ever, but video releases like Maximum didn’t really let us know what all the fuss was about. Clearly, Wight doesn’t substitute for the actual experience, but at least it lets us get an idea why the Who were so revered in their heyday. Without question, this was a fiery and energetic performance that really kicked many of the tunes into high gear. Moon gave the band an energy that could never be equally by Jones or other replacement drummers.

Many feel that Moon was the greatest rock drummer ever, but I don’t agree. To be certain, Moon was the perfect performer for the Who. He fit the band like a tattered glove, and his style of wild rolls and fills suited the rambunctious and aggressive style of the group. However, he would have been a disaster in many other acts. Try to imagine Moon as the drummer for the Beatles or the Stones and contemplate how terrible they would have been with him.

Moon was an imaginative and creative player, but only a limited number of bands could work with his violent style. The Who happened to be the ideal match for him, but I don’t believe that one can easily categorize someone as the “best” drummer, for that designation depends far too much on the style of the band. If forced to choose, I’d pick Charlie Watts as the greatest drummer, simply because the success of the group depends so much on him. Folks may concentrate on Mick and Keith, but Charlie’s the heart and soul of the Stones. They could – and did – survive the departure of founding guitarist Brian Jones – and replacement Mick Taylor after him – as well as the later exit of original bassist Bill Wyman, but if Charlie split, that’d be it; they couldn’t – and shouldn’t – continue. I’ve seen the Stones live often enough to see what a difference he makes when he’s at his best, and that factor means I think he’s the top. (Big Country’s Mark Brezezicki also plays an extremely strong role in the band’s success; I’ve heard recordings without his fluid and engaging martial style, and the group simply can’t cut it when he’s not there.)

Editorial rant finished. Whether one feels Moon was the best or not, he definitely helped propel the Who into a powerful unit, and Wight adequately replicated the band’s performance. To be certain, the DVD offered a very basic show. The filmmakers utilized an extremely straightforward and simple manner of filming for the most part. As times we got some quick “in-out, in-out” camera zooms that probably looked cool in this drug-addled era – check out “Heaven and Hell” or “My Generation” for some examples – but otherwise the camerawork seemed restrained and accurate.

However, don’t expect a very balanced look at the band. The camera operators really seemed to dig singer Roger Daltrey, as he dominated the show. Guitarist Pete Townshend and Moon also received a fair amount of attention, but poor Entwistle largely got the shaft. Even during “Heaven and Hell” – for which he was the lead singer! – there wasn’t a single shot that concentrated on Entwistle! The bassist also featured in some of the program’s most amusing parts. At one point, we saw shots of Entwistle at the microphone intercut with images of him feet away by an amp.

Obviously the filmmakers inserted some generic band clips at moments that came from different songs, though they usually weren’t so obvious. They also replicated a few crowd images. Probably the worst aspect of Wight related to the excessive examples of audience shots. Those snippets are acceptable when used very sparingly, but above and beyond the occasional glimpse, they become tiresome and feel like a gimmick; it’s as if the filmmakers want to show us the rapture of the crowd to convince us that it’s a great show. We shouldn’t need the approval of others, as we can discern for ourselves whether or not the performance makes the grade.

Wight seemed additionally annoying because it clearly duplicated some of these clips. For example, we saw the same shot of a pregnant dancing chick on a few occasions, and others looked awfully familiar. If you’re going to focus so strongly on the crowd, you should at least feature unique scenes!

Despite the occasionally-shoddy filmmaking, The Who at the Isle of Wight provided a generally compelling document. It helps that this is the only DVD of a fairly full-length show from the classic incarnation of the Who, and the cameras caught them on a good night. Despite some poor editorial choices, the disc captured a great band near their peak, and it definitely merits the attention of fans.

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

The Who: Live At the Isle of Wight 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. Despite a mix of concerns, for the most part I thought Wight offered a pretty solid visual experience that looked a bit better than I expected given its age and source.

Sharpness came across as acceptably distinct, though it never appeared exemplary. Wight’s picture existed in a kind of netherworld; I wouldn’t call it crisp and well defined, but I also wouldn’t refer to it as particularly soft or fuzzy. Overall, the image seemed to be acceptably clear, but it failed to deliver fine focus or delineation. Moiré effects and jagged edges presented no significant concerns, and I also discerned no signs of edge enhancement.

Colors played a very small role in Wight, mainly due to the style of the production. Outside of Daltrey’s muted coat, the band wore nothing other than black and/or white clothes. The lighting added some moderate levels of color, but the show didn’t use the varied and vivid hues seen in modern concerts. Wight remained a fairly monochrome presentation for the most part. The colors that we did see appeared fairly good, with reasonable vivacity. However, since they were such a minor element, this wasn’t much of a concern.

Black levels played a stronger role in the film, and they generally appeared fairly deep and dense. At times they could look slightly inky, but as a whole I felt they seemed reasonably rich and strong. Shadow detail appeared a little more problematic, however. Low-light situations seemed slightly heavy at times, which was to be expected for this sort of presentation, however, as the nature of the project clearly didn’t allow for any lighting modifications to improve clarity. I didn’t think the picture ever seemed terrible dark, however, as it mostly presented good definition in dimly-lit shots.

As for print flaws, they contributed some moderate problems, but they still seemed reasonably non-invasive for the most part. I saw occasional examples of speckles as well as some general debris. One might expect a fairly grainy image given the movie’s age and shooting conditions, and indeed I noticed a moderate amount of grain throughout the show. The biggest concern, however, seemed related to one particular camera. At the start of “I Don’t Even Know Myself”, a big hair popped onto the screen, and it reappeared periodically throughout much of the show. Eventually I wrote this note to myself: “Damn that pesky hair!”

Note that the various flaws weren’t as distracting as one might expect. To be sure, this picture improved over the prior version. The original Wight DVD was dingier and dirtier. It still looked decent, but the remastered edition definitely presented stronger visuals. Even the pesky hair seemed less intrusive in this release. Sharpness seemed about the same for both, but blacks and shadow detail came across better here. Some problems inherent in the source material remained, but I was pleased with the clean-up work done on this title.

Another change from the old DVD, the new Wight included both Dolby Digital 5.1 and DTS 5.1 soundtracks. Anyone looking for substantial differences between the two mixes won’t find them. To my ears, both sounded pretty much the same, though the DTS audio packed a slightly greater punch.

Whereas the original DVD’s soundfield presented somewhat unnatural separation of the elements, the 5.1 tracks were more logical. Daltrey’s vocals and Moon’s drumming stayed around the center, while Entwistle’s bass and singing came from the front left. Townshend’s guitar and vocals emanated from the front right. Given their positioning on-stage, this made sense. The surrounds didn’t add much to the presentation, but they embellished the environment acceptably well.

Audio quality also improved over the original set. That package showed some hum attached to Daltrey’s vocals, but I didn’t notice it here. It also lost most of the edginess and crackling that occasionally occurred. Daltrey’s singing usually showed good presence and definition, and the track mixed matters better than in the past. The old track put the vocals too far to the front and left the drums with little dimensionality. Here things seemed more smoothly balanced and natural. Opposed to the somewhat dinky and boxy sound attached to Moon’s drums in the old one, here they presented stronger force.

Townshend’s guitars were reasonably clear and aggressive; some distortion occurred, but that’s to be expected given Pete’s style. Bass seemed moderately deep but never tremendously rich or distinct. I thought the remaster went a little heavy on noise reduction, as it worked a bit too hard to remove hiss. This wasn’t a stunning track, but it definitely improved upon the prior mix and reproduced the material well.

Whereas the original DVD of Wight included no supplements, the 2004 edition kicks in with one fairly significant piece. We get a new interview with Pete Townshend. In this 38-minute and 55-second program, Wight director Murray Lerner chats with Pete about a mix of topics. Townshend goes over his attitudes toward performing and specifics about the Wight festival. He also covers songwriting - with details about a few specific tunes - and notes in regard to life in the Who and the era in which the festival took place. One must occasionally take the somewhat self-loathing Townshend’s comments with a grain of salt, but he remains a consistently entertaining and engaging interview subject. He provides a wealth of useful information in this lively and brisk chat.

I definitely recommend this version of Wight to Who fans who don’t own the prior release. What about those who already have the older DVD? They also should snare the new one. It presents significant improvements in both picture and audio. My grades jumped from “C+” to “B” in those categories. That doesn’t sound like a big increase, but this is one instance where you shouldn’t put a ton of stock in my letter grades. The marks are restricted by limitations of the source elements; I was tempted to bump both to “B+” territory but didn’t think they quite deserved it.

Nonetheless, both are substantially stronger than on the old DVD. In addition, we get a good extra here via a long interview with Pete Townshend. Wight stands as the best depiction of the Who in concert and should belong in the collection of all their fans.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.4285 Stars Number of Votes: 7
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