Music DVD Review: The Who – ‘Live At Shea Stadium 1982’
“The Who. And The Clash. They’re gonna’ shake up the living, and wake up the dead, baby.”
The occasion was what was then billed as The Who’s last hurrah back in 1982, making a stop at Seattle’s long-since demolished Kingdome. The show would have been a big enough deal on its own, with the promise of The Who – once one of the greatest bands in rock, but a band seemingly content to ride its glorious past into the sunset during the post Keith Moon years – going out in one final, fiery blaze of glory.
But with the addition of The Clash – the self-proclaimed “only band that matters,” and the same critical darlings widely perceived at the time to be rock and roll’s newly anointed saviours – this tour now qualified as a must-see event. There was just an unshakable sense of history being made here, and of the torch being passed on from one generation to another.
The fact that those same ads played equally on both Seattle’s “New Wave” station KYYX, and the more traditional “Rawk” station KISW – and during a period when rock and roll still existed in the polarized vacuum of the post-punk and disco early 1980s, with fans still deeply divided across genre lines – also represented a brilliant marketing strategy. It was the sort of positioning move designed to bring these differing factions back together in a collective group hug.
Sadly, the historical record tells a much different story. The only band playing those shows that went out like a passing comet was The Clash, who famously broke up onstage not a year later at the 1983 US Festival (in a show I actually witnessed). Meanwhile The Who have carried on – well actually, make that “off and on” – ever since. They continue to tour even now, long after losing bassist John Entwistle and with what precious little remains of Roger Daltrey’s once unmatched, but now sadly diminished voice.
What most true fans, at least those being honest with themselves, should be able to agree on though is that The Who probably could have done their dignity a favor by taking a cue from The Beatles and Led Zeppelin, and hanging it up after Moon died.
With all of that said, a newly released video document of The Who’s first farewell tour in 1982 from Eagle Rock casts a surprising new light on this era. Though far from being a defining live document of The Who performing at their absolute peak – the 1969-70 period that produced Live at Leeds and Isle of Wight 1970 remains the holy grail there – The Who Live at Shea Stadium 1982 is still better than it has any right to be.
For those of us who were there, what we remember most from this period is also what we would most likely prefer to forget. We were all still feeling the loss of Keith Moon, and the two albums that followed his death – the understandably forgotten Face Dances and the only slightly better followup It’s Hard – probably still stand to this day as the least memorable entries in an otherwise stellar catalog.
There is also the none-too-small matter of the ill-advised “look” adopted by The Who during this period. Daltrey’s bouffant Billy Idol hairdo, and Townshend’s striped pants and silly looking Flock of Seagulls cut may have seemed both stylishly “New Wave” and even somewhat justified (based on their Mod heritage) at the time. Viewed in retrospect here, they both just look plain ridiculous. There’s good reason that we’ve forgotten the visual picture seen on this DVD, and why history has instead chosen to forever enshrine Daltrey as the bare chested, golden-locked rock God we remember from the Woodstock film, and Townshend as the wildly leaping madman we most often picture windmilling his ass off in that signature white jumpsuit.
Still, they sound nothing short of amazing here. John Entwistle in particular, despite being as stoic an onstage presence as ever, is just a wonder to watch on this DVD. The cameras wisely focus in often when Entwistle’s fingers are doing the walking too. Despite his motionless demeanor, Entwistle’s bass work at this show proves once again exactly why, as one half of rock’s greatest rhythm section ever (along with Moon), he was the quiet bedrock of The Who at their earth-shaking, thunderous best.
Speaking of which, nothing should be taken away from the surprisingly remarkable work of Kenney Jones. Faced with the unenviable task of filling Keith Moon’s larger than life drum stool, this had to be a next to no-win situation. Yet the evidence here proves beyond a doubt that he more than rose to the occasion in trying. This rings particularly true on the several songs from Quadrophenia in the setlist. It should be noted that when The Who originally tried songs like “Love Reign O’er Me” live several years prior, the results were a mixed, but mostly uneven bag at best. In stark contrast, Jones pretty much nails the same songs here.
But the final takeaway here, comes with the surprising ways this performance recaptures so much of the raw, dangerous and chaotic quality that made such concert recordings as 1970’s Live At Leeds the acknowledged classics they are regarded as today. Whether it was a product of breaking Jones in as Keith Moon’s replacement, or something born more from a hunger to reestablish relevance as “New Wave” bands like The Clash breathed smoke down their necks, The Who sound much looser and more alive than anything I can recall witnessing during the show at Seattle’s Kingdome from that same tour. By that reasoning alone, Live at Shea Stadium 1982 comes as an unexpected surprise from a much maligned era, and is a keeper to boot.
*Article first published at Blogcritics Magazine.