Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 29, 2015)
Some folks believe the Who mounted multiple “farewell tours”. That’s not the case, as they only once claimed a tour would be their final outing: their North American jaunt in 1982.
Few viewed this as a suitable ending for a legendary band, so the 1982 tour went down as a disappointment to many. Does it deserve so much negativity? A new release called The Who: Live at Shea Stadium 1982 gives us a chance to re-evaluate.
Shot October 13, 1982 at New York’s Shea Stadium, the concert presented 25 songs, four of which came from the band’s then-current album It’s Hard: the title track, “Cry If You Want”, “Eminence Front” and “Dangerous”. 1981’s Face Dances offered “The Quiet One” and 1978’s Who Are You presented its title song and “Sister Disco”. Nothing from 1975’s The Who By Numbers appeared, but we got “Naked Eye” and “Love Live Rock” from 1974’s compilation Odd and Sods.
1973’s Quadrophenia boasted four tracks: “I’m One”, “Drowned”, “The Punk and the Godfather” and “Love Reign O’er Me”. Off of 1971’s Who’s Next, we found “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Baba O’Riley” and “Behind Blue Eyes”, while 1969’s Tommy delivered “See Me, Feel Me” and “Pinball Wizard”.
1967’s The Who Sell Out brought “Tattoo”, and we got two early singles: 1966’s “Substitute” and 1965’s “I Can’t Explain”. The other four songs – “Young Man Blues”, “I Saw Her Standing There”, “Summertime Blues” and “Twist and Shout” – offer cover versions.
As I mentioned earlier, the Who’s 1982 has become viewed as a limp “end” to a legendary band. I’d like to say that Shea will cause fans to re-consider that belief, but I can’t. While the band occasionally comes to life, this mostly feels like a pretty mediocre performance.
God knows I want to embrace the 1982 Who. My first-ever Who concert experience took place during this tour; they started here in the DC area, and I attended the second of those two shows.
Even at the impressionable age of 15, though, I didn’t find a lot about the 1982 Who to stand out as great. 33 years later, I barely remember anything about the concert other than the guy who offered my a toke on his joint. (I passed.)
If the real-live Who couldn’t fire up a kid excited to see them, what hope does the same band on video have 33 years later? That said, because I went into Shea with expectations lowered over the last three decades, it became possible I’d like the 1982 Who more in 2015 than I did back then.
Or maybe not. Don’t get me wrong: Shea doesn’t present a bad performance from the Who. However, nor does it provide a particularly good show from the Who. For this most part, this seems to be a band going through the motions and without the drive to bring the concert to life.
Exceptions do occur, primarily during a mid-show stretch that starts with a smattering of Quadrophenia tracks. Those fare well, and to my surprise, a stretched-out rendition of the then-new “Cry If You Want” turns into a highlight. The album version never did much for me, but this extended live take gives the song some oomph.
Otherwise, Shea feels fairly uninspired. Granted, the “mailing it in” Who of 1982 looks pretty good when compared with the bloated version we’d see in 1989. Mockingly known as ”The Who On Ice”, that tour lacked almost any connection to the wild, fiery band that became a legend. While less than scintillating, at least Shea offers glimpses of the “real Who”.
These occur too sporadically to make Shea a memorable show, though I think my opinion might’ve been somewhat different if I’d heard Shea and not seen it. While the songs fail to produce great sparks, the band doesn’t sound bad at all, and they can muster decent reproductions of the tracks.
It’s the visual side that creates a deficit. Much has been made of the Who’s New Wave-inspired clothes from 1982, but that’s not the big issue.
The major problem comes from how detached and disinterested the musicians seem. In particular, Pete Townshend often looks like he wants to be somewhere else. He provides the usual theatrics – the windmills, the leaps – but his heart doesn’t appear to be in it.
Roger Daltrey comes across as more invested, but he still lacks the charisma I’d expect. John Entwistle looks bored, but that’s his shtick, so it’s not a distraction. Kenney Jones actually fares best of the bunch, as he shows a real pulse. He doesn’t make anyone forget Keith Moon, but he acquits himself better than expected.
Shea also lacks much panache in terms of direction and visual presentation. While I’m happy it doesn’t subject us to rapid-fire cutting and not much post-production goofiness, I think it could show more flair than it does. This feels like it was taken straight from the stadium’s video monitors with no attempts made to create a fluid, compelling concert. We get the Jack Webb “just the facts” version of the concert.
All of these factors conspire to turn Shea into a serviceable document of the Who in 1982. Clearly it could show the band in a weaker light, but it also doesn’t remind us what made the Who legends. It’s an artifact for die-hards.