(This is edited from the review of Pete Townshend’s 1985 live album I originally wrote for my old Angelfire site in 2003.)
It really does pain me to have to give this album such a terribly low rating. I was expecting more from it, I suppose. It was rather disappointing; Iron Man made a better initial impression! It sounds a little better after repeat listens, but it’s not all it could’ve been. There were a total of 22 songs played at the show if I understand correctly, with 18 featured on the video. Four of the songs here weren’t featured on the video.
The low rating isn’t for crappy material, but rather crappy selection and arrangement. The backing band is very tight, and of course Pete has one of the most incredible voices I’ve ever heard, but it just wasn’t arranged properly. Missing first and foremost is the onstage banter that makes live recordings so much better. The onstage jibber-jabber on Live at Leeds and Isle of Wight adds to the performance rather than detracting from it. I know some people would rather the band just get on with it and perform, but I like it when the band interacts with their audience. It adds a human dimension to a live recording.
Secondly, these performances just aren’t as good as they could’ve been, or else maybe they look and sound better on the video. There are standard performances of the overplayed “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Pinball Wizard,” a great version of “A Little Is Enough,” a rather good version of “I’m One,” and an okay version of “Eyesight to the Blind.” I was disappointed that “I Put a Spell on You” wasn’t as good as I’d been told it was; I’d been told I’d need estrogen replacement therapy after seeing Pete performing it! It also makes no sense to close up with “Eyesight to the Blind.” That’s not a closing track!
The highlights by far are the energetic opening track “Barefootin,'” “A Little Is Enough,” “I’m One,” and “Save It for Later,” the lattermost of which was originally done by The Merseybeats. I can see why he wanted to do that song instead of the old dried-up “Pinball Wizard” when he was on Letterman in ’94! It’s the best fucking song on here, and very sweet. If only the stingy record company had decided to include more songs of this calibre. Why haven’t they issued this show on DVD yet? I’d buy it.
By far the most disappointing tracks are “After the Fire” and “Stop Hurting People.” The former was brilliantly done by Roger on his 1985 solo LP Under a Raging Moon as the opening track. It’s not the problem I had with some of the demos on the two Scoop double-albums, not being used to hearing Pete singing songs Roger normally sings, but rather that this isn’t a very spirited performance.
Same deal with “Stop Hurting People.” As the opening track on All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes, it’s really sweet, beautiful, and poignant, but here it’s just utterly lifeless and lacklustre. It’s like he talks his way through both songs more or less. They lack the beauty and creative fire of the studio cuts.
All in all, a disappointing experience that could’ve been so much better. Like with Live at Leeds, the record company puts more and more tracks on each new reissue so that we spend more and more money in the pursuit of trying to get the complete show all in one place without getting a bootleg!
I would not recommend this as an album to bring into your collection right away. It’s not horrible, more like disappointing and poorly-executed. The record companies can be such obtuse idiots sometimes, putting out such slick PR spin, and then wonder just why in the hell people complain about certain compilations and live shows they’ve put out.