Two years after the Isle of Wight Festival's rebirth in 2002, The Who returned to the English Channel island, to headline in 2004. Last appearing at the festival in 1970 (which would transpire to be the last edition for 32 years, due to a controversially premature end engendered by political intervention), its audience back then was said to be in excess of 600,000 people, although this total has been disputed over the years, with some claiming it was significantly less. Either way, when The Who returned 34 years later, the capacity had significantly reduced, albeit still a sizeable 35,000. And liner notes in the accompanying booklet imply this was something of an important show for the band, with 2004 being "a pivotal year for The Who". This is because the band's original and longstanding bassist, John Entwistle, passed away two years previously. So, it seems 2002 was a year of (re)birth and death, what with the festival's resurrection and the band opting to continue, following a period of uncertainty about their future.
Courtesy of Eagle Vision, we finally have the audio-visual release of the 2004 Isle of Wight performance of this most seminal of bands. Released across a variety of formats/combinations, it's the 3 disc (2 CDs; 1 DVD) set that's under scrutiny here. Apart from frontman Roger Daltrey and guitarist Pete Townshend, the band's lineup for the show featured John 'Rabbit' Bundrick on keys; drummer Zak Starkey; bassist Pino Palladino and guitarist Simon Townshend. Under a minute after hitting play from the disc's main menu, The Who are in full rocking flow with 'I Can't Explain'. No fancy intros to their appearance on stage (whether there was an intro that's been truncated, I'm unaware), it's down to business right from the off. And there follows a multitude of classic tracks, all performed with zesty enthusiasm through their unfalteringly authentic rock prowess. This is raw and dynamic stuff, from two of the original rock rebels. There's a reason so many bands, over the decades, have cited The Who as a major influence. And the evidence is here in this performance. Beyond their heyday, in 2004, they were on fire. By all accounts, they're still going strong on the live circuit to this very day.
Alongside phenomenal performances from Daltrey and Townshend throughout, their musical brethren also play an important role in the 2004 incarnation of The Who. Beyond the former's unmistakable tones and the latter's fretboard mastery, their fellow players were also pivotal in bringing the band's music to life on the festival's stage. In particular, sticksman Starkey turns in a remarkable performance behind his kit... following the Isle of Wight show, such talent was subsequently wasted in his ephemeral stint as drummer in the hideously overrated Oasis.
With a BBFC 15 certificate prominent on the packaging, together with a "contains strong language" disclaimer, it's no surprise that Townshend and Daltrey's thoroughly unpretentious song intros and general banter with the audience, throughout the show, feature a degree of "fucking" etc. Townshend also utters amusingly random observations, such as when he looks down at the plethora of younger faces in the audience (some nice editing here), and speculates that "most of you were probably sort of started here... in some shitty old tent around the back, you know!" He's probably half-right there!
Three different sound options are available on the DVD - Dolby Digital Stereo; Dolby Digital 5.1; DTS Surround Sound - with each mix sounding great. And, in terms of picture quality, it's not bad at all for a DVD. With video compression of MPEG-2 and an okay-ish bitrate (4294.00 Mbps) for the SD 16:9 presentation, it's a surprisingly detailed (noticeably so in close-ups), well-balanced image for the format. And, expectedly, the actual filming/editing is of a high quality, with both band and audience captured from a wide variety of angles, with roving cameras galore. The two CDs feel more like some sort of bonus content for this package - the sound is great, and it's always nice to have the audio to a live show in isolation, for alternative listening means... but the central appeal really is the DVD, as this is a performance that needs to be heard and seen. Some actual bonus content would have been nice - interviews; archive/retrospective documentaries perhaps; or even some footage, as terrible as the quality might've been, of The Who's previous two performances at the Isle of Wight Festival. As such, it's merely the show itself, although I'm sure that will be enough of an attractive prospect for people to snap up this essential audio-visual document of rock music history.
LIVE AT THE ISLE OF WIGHT FESTIVAL 2004
Review by Mark Holmes
2nd June 2017
CD ONE: 1) I Can't Explain; 2) Substitute; 3) Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere; 4) Who Are You; 5) Behind Blue Eyes; 6) Bargain; 7) Baba O'Riley; 8) The Punk and the Godfather; 9) 5:15; 10) Love Reign O'er Me; 11) Eminence Front; 12) Drowned
CD TWO: 1) Naked Eye; 2) Real Good Looking Boy; 3) You Better You Bet; 4) My Generation; 5) Old Red Wine; 6) Won't Get Fooled Again; 7) Pinball Wizard; 8) Amazing Journey; 9) Sparks; 10) See Me, Feel Me / Listening To You; 11) Magic Bus
DVD: Same tracklist as the two CDs
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN:
"...a multitude of classic tracks, all performed with zesty enthusiasm through their unfalteringly authentic rock prowess."