Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (May 29, 2017)
Back in 1970, the Who played a show at the Isle of Wight Festival that became legendary. In 2004, they returned to that stage to play the Wight Festival for the first time in decades.
Of course, the Who of 2004 looked very different than the Who of the early 1970s. Drummer Keith Moon died in 1978 and bassist John Entwistle passed in 2002, so that left only guitarist/writer Pete Townshend and singer Roger Daltrey from the original band.
Although they would put out an album in 2006, the Who of 2004 also hadn’t recorded much since 1982, so Wight leans heavily on the band’s long-ago past. Wight does include two then-new songs, though, as “Real Good Looking Boy” and “Old Red Wine” appeared on the band’s 2004 Then and Now compilation.
From there, we get “Eminence Front” from 1982’s It’s Hard - the last new Who album until 2006’s Endless Wire - and “You Better You Bet” from 1981’s Face Dances. 1978’s Who Are You produces its title song, but we get nothing from 1975’s Who By Numbers.
1974’s Odds and Sods compilation delivers “Naked Eye”, while 1973’s Quadrophenia offers four songs: “The Punk And The Godfather”, “5:15”, “Love, Reign O'er Me” and “Drowned”. 1971’s Who’s Next gives us “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Bargain”, “Baba O'Riley”, and “Won’t Get Fooled Again”.
1969’s Tommy became a focal point of the 1970 concert, but the 2004 show boasts only a pair of medleys for “Pinball Wizard/Amazing Journey/Sparks” and “See Me, Feel Me/Listening To You”. Finally, the show includes some 1960s singles: “I Can't Explain”, “Substitute”, “My Generation”, “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere” and “Magic Bus”.
That’s a pretty good representation of the band’s best-known work – one could pick some nits but it’s tough to think of any glaring omissions. It’s also hard to find anything that stands out as a pleasant surprise, for beyond the two then-new songs, this seems like an awfully unambitious set.
I understand that two factors influence the song choices. For one, the Who played a massive festival crowd, and that’s not the kind of audience for which a “legacy” act like the Who would generally go for rarities. The bigger the crowd, the more “dumbed down” the set generally becomes, so I can’t feign shock at the nature of the selections.
Also, as I alluded earlier, by 2004 the Who had long ago turned into a touring band who lived off their history. Some artists can maintain that status and still pull out setlists friendlier to the “hardcore fan”, but it’s clear the Who decided they wanted to cater to the masses. This disappoints me as someone who’d like to hear some less familiar tunes, but I get it.
Within the scope of this review, the big question becomes whether or not Wight offers anything a Who fan can’t get elsewhere. Including this one, I’ve reviewed 10 different Who video releases that concentrate on live performances, and most of them offered a lot of the same songs we get here – what makes the 2004 Wight show special?
Not much, frankly, as Wight brings us a perfectly competent concert but not one that ever threatens to become intensely memorable. While the band put on a good show and give us more than adequate renditions of the songs, they never quite get to a higher plane.
It’s fair to question whether or not the 21st century Who are capable of transcendence. I first saw them live in 1982 and attended maybe another seven or eight shows in subsequent tours, and most of these left me a little unfulfilled. The concerts varied in quality but they just didn’t make me think I’d seen a great live band.
Until 2016, that is. I went to the band’s 50th anniversary tour when it hit town, and I admit I came with low expectations. The Who’s live Blu-ray from 2015 showed them in lackluster form, so I feared I’d get the tired, disconnected band from that show.
I didn’t, as their local 2016 appearance offered a surprisingly energetic and impressive concert. No, I won’t claim that they matched the classic years with Moon and Entwistle, but they showed a lot more life and passion than I expected, and this turned into easily the best Who show I’d ever seen.
While superior to the Who in the 2015 Hyde Park video, the Who in the 2004 Wight doesn’t stand out as great. Again, we get more than adequate versions of the songs, but nothing about the show strikes me as particularly impressive.
Given the glut of live Who concerts on home video, that takes us back to the most relevant question: does Wight bring anything new or novel to their catalog? The answer remains “not really”. It’s an enjoyable show but not one that I regard as crucial or especially memorable.