Thirty-four years had passed before The Who returned to the Isle of Wight for a spectacular Saturday night show on June 12, 2004.
What took so long?
Now available from Eagle Rock, The Who: Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 2004 brings that historic summertime concert to home audiences for the first time ever on eye-popping Blu-ray / DVD + 2CD.
The British mod-rockers behind “Pictures of Lily” and “I Can See for Miles” first played Seaclose Park in Newport on August 29, 1970. Filmmaker Murray Lerner captured The Who’s stellar set—along with others (Jimi Hendrix, Moody Blues, etc.)—for posterity back then, so it’s nice that director Matt Askem documented the group’s electrifying return engagement to preserve some of that 40th anniversary audiovisual energy for the ages.
Accompanied by John “Rabbit” Bundrick (keys), Simon Townshend (guitar, vocals), Pino Palladino (bass), and Zak Starkey (drums), founding Who-ligans Daltrey and Townshend romp through decades of celebrated hit singles, killer album cuts, and rock opera entries in the course of an hour and forty minutes—effectively covering twenty-one tracks with the vigor of men half their years.
The 35,000-strong outdoor audience loved it. Now you can, too.
The guys start strong with early singles “I Can’t Explain,” “Substitute,” and “Anyway Anyhow Anywhere” before dusting off Townshend’s synth-based works like 1978 powerhouse “Who Are You” (you’ve heard it on C.S.I., kids) and uber-ballads “Behind Blue Eyes” (from 1971’s Who’s Next) and “Love Reign O’er Me” (from 1973’s Quadrophenia). Still possessed of the alpha male physique for which he and successor singers (Robert Plant, David Lee Roth, etc.) have been admired, Daltrey ditches his purple-tinted shades to take in the view at twilight while Townshend tickles a Telecaster.
“Bargain” burns, “5:15” fascinates, and It’s Hard (1982) fave “Eminence Front” mesmerizes, but there are a couple funny Spinal Tap moments: Daltrey huffs the wrong harmonica on “Baba O’Riley, then tosses it aside when Townshend apprises him it’s the wrong key. Later, the boys reminiscence about the massive crowd at their first Isle of Wight gig:
“They’re still looking for 50,000 of them,” quips Roger.
Odds & Sods (1974) gem “Naked Eye” sounds marvelous on acoustic guitars, while the then-new Who bits “Real Good Looking Boy” and “Old Red Wine” fit right in alongside recognizable fare like the j-j-j-jumpy “My Generation” and bubbly “You Better You Bet.” “Won’t Get Fooled Again” brings the affair to a crescendo, then a titanic Tommy mashup (containing “Pinball Wizard,” “Sparks,” and “See Me, Feel Me”) consummates the band’s long-anticipated tryst with the adoring U.K. audience.
What number to ride out with? “Magic Bus,” of course.
There are already plenty of live Who albums and videos on the market, but Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 2004 is a worthy addition—a mid-career capper of a Who show that’ll sit nicely next to Live at Shea Stadium 1982 and Live in Hyde Park 2015.
Notwithstanding a few flip-phones held aloft in the crowd, there are precious few clues to date the concert to the mid-2000s. You’d think it all happened yesterday…which is half the magic of a decent, substantive, ridiculously rollicking concert film.
The Who: Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 2004 at Amazon.