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Listening to You: The Who Live at the Isle of Wight 1998

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Overview

Mod rockers the Who are captured live by director Murray Lerner at the legendary Isle of Wight festival in 1970, attended by 600,000 people. All the old classics are included in a typically energetic set; Moon the Loon, Roger the Dodger and Pete... the guitarist. And John Entwistle on bass. This is the first DVD release, without the extra material found on the DVD/Blu-ray re-release of 2006.
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Plot summary

This is the film of The Who's appearance at the third (and final) Isle of Wight festival in 1970. This is regarded as the band's finest performance.
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Review

The Isle of Wight festival in 1970 is often regarded as one of The Who's finest performances: after almost two years of steady touring behind 'Tommy,' the group was in peak shape, so well-rehearsed and in tune with each other as performers that not even their reckless antics and often bitter interpersonal animosity could undermine their virtuosity as a live act. 'Tommy' made superstars of The Who, but their identity as the inventors of 'rock opera' often obscures the fact that they were also essentially the inventors of punk, and were, at heart, always the thinking man's hard rock band.nn'Listening to You' catches The Who at their best, warts and all. The sound mix is typically bass-heavy: guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle were perennially at odds over the latter's tendency to play too loud, and though Entwistle was perhaps the group's most inventive and virtuosic instrumentalist, the guitar work is frequently inaudible beneath the bass, which tends to undermine the recording's overall quality. The editing is questionable, particularly for Who purists: director Murray Lerner falls into the typical tendency to place the 'Tommy' sequence at the end of the film, when in actuality it took up the mid-section of the performance. This editorial decision is particularly glaring and nonsensical on the DVD, as it includes an interview with Townshend in which he explains how the group intentionally placed 'Tommy' in the middle of the set so as to capitalize on the mesmerizing effect of its climax to unite the band with the audience for the final act. The camera work is limited to three angles--center-stage, stage-left, and stage-right--and thus lacks the scope of the Woodstock film and other premier rock films of the era such as Martin Scorsese's and The Band's 'The Last Waltz.' In some ways this limits the film, but it also allows for a more direct and authentic impression of what it might have been like to be there.nnThis is not a 'great concert film' in the same sense as 'Woodstock' or 'The Last Waltz,' but it catches the group at what most of its members considered to be their peak as artists and performers. Murray Lerner wisely includes a great deal of the group's on-stage banter, though a little knowledge of the chaotic nature of the festival--where over half a million fans crowded onto the island and perpetuated the pseudo-revolutionary nonsense of the era by gate-crashing and harassing the performers for the great sin of expecting people to pay for tickets and behave with civility--is necessary to understand the tone of the commentary. Townshend gets in a few good digs at the crowd--introducing live staple 'Young Man Blues,' he remarks 'blues, for the people who paid to get in!'--reminding the contemporary viewer that the Who's irreverence and cynicism extended to idiotic followers of the zeitgeist as well as to the uptight, bourgeois establishment.nnThere are some glaring omissions--'A Quick One' and 'Amazing Journey/Sparks' most notably--but the disc includes less frequently filmed gems such as 'Water' and 'I Don't Even Know Myself' to make up for the absences somewhat.nnFor Who neophytes, 'The Kids Are Alright' is probably a better introduction to the group as live performers, but, even given its deficiencies, 'Listening to You' will not likely disappoint anyone interested in the music of the era or the art of live rock performance.
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Roger Daltrey

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Pete Townshend

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Keith Moon

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John Entwistle

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