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Reviewed by - George Bennett

The Who
Live at Royal Albert Hall


Released: January 6, 2004
Origination Year: 2003
Time: N/A
Tracks: 30
Produced by: Pete Townshend
Style: Live
Format: SACD
Enhancement: DSD

Pete Townshend wrote "I hope I die before I get old" 'round about 1964, and as a brash 19 year old mod punk with attitude to spare, I'm sure he meant every word of it at the time.  Well, he didn't - die before he got old, that is.  Funny how a bit of age can change a sentiment like that, eh?  And we're all the better off for it.  He's still a lively punk with attitiude, albeit an old punk.  But you'd be hard-pressed to suss out that "old" part by the performance on this 3-disc SACD Hybrid set, recorded live at The Royal Albert Hall in 2000.  (Inexplicably, Townshend has switched from his trusty Gibson Les Pauls to now using Fender Stratocasters.  But, believe me, he still gets that awesome Pete Townshend earth-moving slab of sound.)


It's best to look at this for what it is:  The last gig in a line of charity functions for The Teenage Cancer Trust, and, rather than a great concert, it's more of a (somewhat) relaxed, end of the road celebration of the tour and the Who's music.  The Who weren't about perfection here, they were about a good time.  Looked at as simply a live Who concert recording from 2000, it's not an especially great event.  It's a bit sloppy and loose, especially in the vocals.  Looked at for what it is, it's an enjoyable get-together of the survivng members of The Who (The 3/4 Who ?), their "backing band", and some well-known friends (including Nigel Kennedy, Bryan Adams [huh?], Noel Gallagher, Paul Weller and Eddie Vedder).  Townshend, Daltrey, and Entwistle slam back together like the young mod punks they once were, releasing the atom-splitting energy of their best early live shows.  Take it from an old fart - man, can these old farts still rock!  (at the time of this recording, of course.  Entwistle has since joined Mooney at that great gig in the sky).  As a loosely played,  sometimes sung by different voices, fairly-encompassing live best-of set, at 3 discs and 2 hours and 45 minutes (the last four of the 29 songs from 2002 and in CD stereo only), the sheer variety and volume (as in amount) make this a Who fan must-have, as all of these performances are most definitley a one-time in history event. 


There are a number of things that are impressive about this SACD 5.1 multi-channel set, but, uh, the SACD multi-channel mix ain't one of 'em.  We get hall ambience only, and not very good hall ambience at that.  In other words, the surround speakers are just a basic "you're in the audience" mix, and the front speakers don't really put forth a very spacious or open sound of the band's performance.  If it were done better, DSD could have been awesome for this release.  As it is, unless you really like that being-in-the-audience feeling, the surround mix was wholly unnecessary and the performance mix could easily pass for that of a standard CD.  No hi-res benefits here, and the DSD stereo version is simply the same w/o the audience in the surrounds.  (In fact, I have also seen the DVD of this very concert, and I highly recommend the visuals and the DD 5.1 surround as a much more enthralling experience - and it costs less.)


Now for some of the good bits...The Who have not been near top form since original drummer Keith Moon died in 1978.  The real eye-opener (ear-opener?) here is drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo's boy).  His sensitivity, technique, and execution so closely approximate Moon's that it's almost as if Keith had been reincarnated and is again bashing away behind the boys!  Simply (and eerily) outstanding!  (Kenny Jones, the only other official band member as Who drummer, never really got it, never really caught on, as it were, and every Who fan knew that he basically dragged The Who down - changed their dynamic...and not for the better.  Now, don't misunderstand, Jonesy is a fine drummer, but not for Who music.)


Long-time Who employed keyboardist "Rabbit" Bundrick is onboard, and his keys are way more forward in this mix than in the studio versions (except, of course, during the synthesizer intros and breaks in well-known places).  (Aside:  I saw The Who in 1971 in Miami, and Townshend explained to the audience that during the performances of newly released material from the 'Who's Next' album that, due to financial constraints, he was not about to slog another body along on tour for the synth bits, so Mooney would be dawning headphones and playing along to pre-taped synths that would be played over the PA system along with the band's live playing.  Also during this show, Mooney was as proud as a little kid as he related the fact that he had, just earlier that day, landed a 6 ft. Marlin while out on a boat in the ocean.  Standing behind his drum kit, he related the story in great detail, with accompanying arm gestures and eyes as wide as saucers.  I can attest that he was, indeed, a very loveable loon.) 


From the very first notes on Disc One, a few Entwistle bass runs and then that unholy crunch and massive volume of Townshend's first chords (defining, in 20 seconds, the majesty, anger, brutality and beauty of rock'n'roll), the pulse shoots up and the blood races as The Who kick off 'I Can't Explain' (turn that sucker way up!!).  Musically, everyone's on form tonight:  Entwistle's bass playing is jaw-dropping and very well recorded (Thunderfingers, indeed - shoulda been Thunder'n'Lightning fingers, I reckon!); Rabbit's keyboards are inspired;  one can tell Townshend relishes having more instruments behind him, as he is allowed to open up and lay back a bit on his guitar, especially the leads, where he holds single-note screams much longer than is usual;  again, Zak Starkey is spot-on as Keith Moon in another skin and recorded excellently, just amazing (check out the DVD for further visual proof of this);  Daltrey's vocals suffer a bit, as he just can't reach those high notes anymore (but who among us can?), and, quite honestly, in places he just sounds tired...worn out...but his spirit is true to the cause.  


Various highlights include:  that almighty Pinball Wizard guitar intro along with Starkey's Moon-like drums;  Entwistle's defining My Wife, sounding very close to the original;  Mary Anne with the Shaky Hand, from my favorite Who album, The Who Sell Out;  the drum entrance on Bargain;  the mammoth sound of the intro to a somewhat different version of Magic Bus that jams for some 10 minutes;  here, Who Are You is a low-down, nasty, slinky thing;  Baba O'Riley - 'nuff said - oh the power (Pete yelling 'Fuck off!');  Getting in Tune never sounded better - great bass, and Eddie Vedder makes it happen;  You Better You Bet  - the vocal chords are warmed up now, and sound fine, the massive drum entrance, a great version;  5:15's awesome, unleashed power - 11 minutes and 40 seconds of straight-ahead angry man rock'n'roll, dynamic range used beautifully, Entwistle's extended, literally unbelievable bass solo with that patented sound!;  Won't Get Fooled Again - 'nuff said...the power and the majesty! the power of the drums entrance after the synth break!  The trilogy of Let's See Action into My Generation into See Me, Feel Me/Listening To You - the beauty, the power...majestic, anthemic!!


This 3 disc SACD is a laid back, party-time, friends over affair that works fine on that level.  As a live recorded document of The Who in concert, it has the energy but is a bit sloppy and catch-as-catch-can (and it is not The Who in concert - it is The Who, with friends, playing Who songs).  The DSD surround mix is a sad waste.  Who fans will want it for historical importance, for sure.  Others are suggested to check out the DVD of the same concert.  The video coupled with the DD 5.1 surround soundtrack makes the show much more vivid (obviously) and enjoyable and fills in some gaps/questions that the music alone doesn't quite fit.  It's a toss-up.


Track Listing:

Disc One:
I Can't Explain / Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere / Pinball Wizard / Relay / My Wife / The Kids Are Alright / Mary Anne With the Shaky Hand / Bargain / Magic Bus / Who Are You / Baba O'Riley.

Disc Two:
Drowned / Heart to Hang Onto / So Sad About Us / I'm One / Getting In Tune / Behind Blue Eyes / You Better You Bet / The Real Me / 5:15 / Won't Get Fooled Again / Substitute / Let's See Action / My Generation / See Me, Feel Me/Listening to You.

Disc Three (Bonus):
I'm Free / Young Man Blues / Summertime Blues / I Don't even Know Myself.

Audio Features -
DSD Stereo
DSD 5.1 Surround

The Who:

Roger Daltrey - Vocals
Pete Townshend - Guitars / Keyboards
John Entwhistle - Bass
Zak Starkey - Drums

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