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Listening to You: The Who at the Isle of Wight 1970 (1998)

This is the film of The Who's appearance at the third (and final) Isle of Wight festival in 1970. This is regarded as the band's finest performance.

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Cast

Credited cast:
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Himself (The Who)
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Himself (The Who)
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Himself (The Who)
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Himself (The Who)
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Ricki Farr ...
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This is the film of The Who's appearance at the third (and final) Isle of Wight festival in 1970. This is regarded as the band's finest performance.

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3 November 1998 (USA)  »

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During The Who's performance, Pete Townshend makes a comment about "foreigners" coming in and causing problems. Earlier that weekend, a group of French anarchists tried to storm the festival and tear down the iron fence that surrounded the stage area. See more »

Quotes

[first lines]
Stage Announcer: Ladies and gentlemen, a nice rock 'n roll band from Shepherd's Bush, London... The Who!
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Soundtracks

Christmas
Written by Pete Townshend
Performed by The Who
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Maximum R&B, Live and at its Peak
3 February 2005 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

The Isle of Wight festival in 1970 is often regarded as one of The Who's finest performances: after almost two years of steady touring behind 'Tommy,' the group was in peak shape, so well-rehearsed and in tune with each other as performers that not even their reckless antics and often bitter interpersonal animosity could undermine their virtuosity as a live act. 'Tommy' made superstars of The Who, but their identity as the inventors of 'rock opera' often obscures the fact that they were also essentially the inventors of punk, and were, at heart, always the thinking man's hard rock band.

'Listening to You' catches The Who at their best, warts and all. The sound mix is typically bass-heavy: guitarist/songwriter Pete Townshend and bassist John Entwistle were perennially at odds over the latter's tendency to play too loud, and though Entwistle was perhaps the group's most inventive and virtuosic instrumentalist, the guitar work is frequently inaudible beneath the bass, which tends to undermine the recording's overall quality. The editing is questionable, particularly for Who purists: director Murray Lerner falls into the typical tendency to place the 'Tommy' sequence at the end of the film, when in actuality it took up the mid-section of the performance. This editorial decision is particularly glaring and nonsensical on the DVD, as it includes an interview with Townshend in which he explains how the group intentionally placed 'Tommy' in the middle of the set so as to capitalize on the mesmerizing effect of its climax to unite the band with the audience for the final act. The camera work is limited to three angles--center-stage, stage-left, and stage-right--and thus lacks the scope of the Woodstock film and other premier rock films of the era such as Martin Scorsese's and The Band's 'The Last Waltz.' In some ways this limits the film, but it also allows for a more direct and authentic impression of what it might have been like to be there.

This is not a 'great concert film' in the same sense as 'Woodstock' or 'The Last Waltz,' but it catches the group at what most of its members considered to be their peak as artists and performers. Murray Lerner wisely includes a great deal of the group's on-stage banter, though a little knowledge of the chaotic nature of the festival--where over half a million fans crowded onto the island and perpetuated the pseudo-revolutionary nonsense of the era by gate-crashing and harassing the performers for the great sin of expecting people to pay for tickets and behave with civility--is necessary to understand the tone of the commentary. Townshend gets in a few good digs at the crowd--introducing live staple 'Young Man Blues,' he remarks 'blues, for the people who paid to get in!'--reminding the contemporary viewer that the Who's irreverence and cynicism extended to idiotic followers of the zeitgeist as well as to the uptight, bourgeois establishment.

There are some glaring omissions--'A Quick One' and 'Amazing Journey/Sparks' most notably--but the disc includes less frequently filmed gems such as 'Water' and 'I Don't Even Know Myself' to make up for the absences somewhat.

For Who neophytes, 'The Kids Are Alright' is probably a better introduction to the group as live performers, but, even given its deficiencies, 'Listening to You' will not likely disappoint anyone interested in the music of the era or the art of live rock performance.


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