This DVD release will serve as a historical document and 4Reel Productions have provided the collecting community with a "bootleg" in the classic sense of the term!
It's a bit like getting forewarning on a train wreck and hustliing to get the best position to view the impending disaster. We know how the story goes, or more appropriately - how it ends. That is the only disadvantage going into this WHO performance at The Cow Palace 1973 on DVD. What you really have to digest is that this IS THE WHO on their legendary Quadrophenia Tour of the U.S...there isn't another video document of this length to witness what legend has etched into our heads, so this is really very cool. But that doesn't mean we are going to really like what we see!
The video is really excellent for the first hour or so. There is a 3 camera set up and 2 of them provide some crystal clear black and white proshot vantage points. The third camera seems to have either just a poorer position from back of the arena, or it's simply not as good of equipment as the other two. This is also 33 years old so...who knows. What is evident is that it's from the master which includes the burned-in video counter at the bottom of the screen, along with the burn-in "BGP" for Bill Graham Productions. For this video though, it doesn't deter much from the scheme of things. This is authentic and first generation.
What is a bit of a disappointment is the audio. Again, not a huge issue but given that most of the Bill Graham video productions utilized soundboard audio, not sure why the reference to an "audio upgrade" provides us with an audience tape that is only intermittently and borderline "very good" - it seems to gradually get worse as the show goes on. The soundboard for this must have been really horrible or something. Because this isn't a show you are going to watch over and over again, it's not a deterrent to the entertainment value of seeing the band at this juncture of their career. The black and white footage offsets the setup and impact of the impending drama. Speaking of which, there are a handful of places where there are 8 to 12 second gaps in the proshot footage...and also a few spots where the audio drops out. 4Reel utilizes screen messages to acknowledge those issues as they arise and it's handled appropriately. This only adds to the bootleg experience and the drama of this more historical performance and its' place in WHO-lore vs. a full-show producton with all the remastered bells & whistles and a title you will keep out for numerous viewings. No, this is one of those you stash away and pullout to show your friends over beers and have a laugh.
My impression of the band in this performance is one of puzzlement. Were they really drunk?...stoned?...all of the above? Very likely...but one thing for sure, they weren't having an "on" night! Of all people, Pete is the most aware of the direction this thing is going. Keith seems "fine" for the duration of the first half, though he doesn't have that wicked snicker face expression we are all used to. It's more of a "oh shit" expression of bewilderment and concern at the same time. And because I wasn't exactly sure when he passes out, I was expecting it early in the gig, not later. The guy obviously has some stamina! Keith actually lasts until the middle of "Won't Get Fooled Again" before he goes down the first time. What is bizarre is how the band handles it. As I said, Pete is in the moment but aware something isn't right. Roger is in his own world and in auto-pilot mode - or!...ignoring the whole situation and finding a quiet happy place! John Entwhistle is nearly non-existent in this whole scenario. Both as an on-screen focus and as a concerned party. He's just not "involved" at all from this video. However, we do notice that he is sporting the notorious "Skeleton" outfit from the 1970 Isle of Wight performance -or at least the top-half as a jacket. (In the official "30 Years of Maximum R&B" video, he comments in an interview segment about wearing that suit for the first time and putting it on for the first time actually right before they hit the stage. It was fitted so tight that he was unable to sit down in it!) Maybe he had it tailored to free him of his lower, skeletal half. Anyway, the band finishes out "Fooled" without Keith and it's very awkward for everyone - but the audience! They still cheer and go nuts, perhaps not realizing what really happened!?! But the band are a bit out of it, stunned, whatever. Pete apologizes and tells the crowd Keith is having some stomach problems of some sort and obviously they "aren't a group" without him...and that they will just have to wait. This is where the video is paused. It jumps back after they've resuscitated Keith and he obviously snapped out of the stupor enough to confirm he can finish the show....Pete and Keith are shown emerging back onto the stage, wrestling about like a couple of brothers. Roger and Pete guide him back to his stool and we're off again.
It isn't until Keith goes down cold for the second time in the middle of a brutal and tenuous version of "Magic Bus" (about 10 minutes after resuming the performance) that Pete and company resign themselves to the fact that he's really out this time. This is the infamous footage we have seen of the roadies folding up a noodle-like Keith Moon and carrying him offstage behind the drum kit. The rest plays out just like the story we've been told. Pete frustrated and directionless decides to ask if there are any Drummers in the house?....any "good" drummers around?...make your way to the side of the stage for a quick audition. There is a little cut or pause in the video here where this apparently takes place and resume with an eager Scott Halpin being shown Keith Moon's drum kit to settle in and take a shot at playing with some legends. Incredible and sad at the same time. The expressions on Roger and Pete, the feable attempt at finishing the show, the whole thing is just strange. In defense of the band here, they were trying to give the crowd their effort because the crowd was so supportive. And what a thrill for Scott Halpin! In fact, the inside of the sleeve art has a documented interview wiht Mr. Halpin many years later and is an interesting read along with being a nice addition to the whole document DVD.
Yes, this is what it is...and highly recommended for sheer rock and roll historical value. Nice job 4Reels.
*(The video rating for this one is based primarily on the first two-thirds of the video where the #1 camera from the floor of the arena Pete's side, and Camera #3 onstage - stage-right, are utilized. The other vantage point from the back left-side of arena giving us a stage shot, is the one that is used more towards the end and is of lesser-quality than the other two. So it jumps around a bit throughout the entire show but an 8.5 is where I comfortably land in grading it on the average.)