Sunday, October 21, 2012

Who Is This?: "The Who Rocks America 1982" (1982)



This twenty year old concert was captured on video in order to preserve what was going to be the Who's final performance before they retired from touring. Of course, that did not happen, and some of us wish this tape did not happen as well.

The concert film is shot on video in front of thousands of screaming fans in Toronto, Canada. I guess when they rocked America, the Who meant NORTH America. The concert lasts almost two hours, and the lads give it all they have- and that ain't too much.

The group includes Roger Daltrey on vocals and some guitar, Pete Townshend on guitar and some vocals, the late John Entwistle on bass and some vocals, Kenney Jones replaces the late Keith Moon on drums, and Tim Gorman is trapped behind a bank of keyboards.

The film opens with what can only be described as a lethargic version of "My Generation." "Can't Explain" follows, and the group looks tired and unprepared. "Dangerous" wanders all over the place, and I noticed the film suffers from a terrible sound mix, as Townshend's microphone seems to be set lower than the others'. On "Sister Disco," Townshend sings but Daltrey's trademark microphone throwing is way off. Director Namm cuts to Entwistle a lot as Roger chases his prop around the stage. Namm also has a habit of using then-state of the art video effects when things slow down, and they do nothing to enhance the viewing experience. "The Quiet One," written about Entwistle, is next and it has a bluesy feel to it that seems to wake everyone up. "It's Hard" finds Daltrey on guitar, and things definitely improve as they pound through "Eminence Front" and "Baba O'Reilly." And along came a spider...

Entwistle proudly announces that "Boris the Spider" took just eight minutes to write. I doubt it was that long. The song is terrible, and the build-up to this point is quickly lost. "Drowned" is better, as Daltrey does some kick ass harmonica playing. "Love Ain't for Keeping" is average, but Daltrey continues his streak with some decent guitar work. "Pinball Wizard/See Me, Feel Me" sounds good, but shots of Townshend show he is completely bored. The liveliest performance here, "Who Are You" is negated by more stupid special effects. Then comes what I can only refer to as "the cord incident."

On "Love Reign O'er Me," Daltrey gets his microphone cord tangled in Townshend's guitar amplifier cord. Daltrey is literally under Townshend's nose. He sings his bit of the song, then turns his back to the audience while furiously trying to untie the knot. I thought I was watching a deleted scene from "This is Spinal Tap." "Long Live Rock" gives Daltrey room to move, and suddenly the stage does not seem as large as before. "Won't Get Fooled Again" is good, but features some unintentional (?) feedback and a weird gallery of photographs from the old days of the group, including Moon.

The band says good night, and leave the stage. Interesting observations: someone gives Entwistle a cigarette right offstage. Later, when the group comes back for their encore, Entwistle is scratching his nose. This man had a well known heart condition and his cocaine addiction triggered a fatal heart attack, just pondering why there was so much shock when he died. Entwistle always looked about twenty years older than his bandmates, and he looks terrible here. The nose scratching? Maybe he was just scratching...maybe not.

For the encore, the intimate song "Naked Eye" gets completely lost in such a big venue. "Squeezebox/Young Man Blues" is handled well, and Entwistle closes the show with the perennial "Twist and Shout."

For the final concert they would ever perform, this was a complete disappointment. This was the final night of the tour, so no pick-up shots could be done. Instead, the viewer must suffer through two hours of material that does not even seem to interest the band. It took me three solid days to plow through the video, I was just as bored as the Who was. At one point, Townshend even comments that the audience has no idea what he is talking about. Terrible stage banter abounds.

I do like some of the songs, and Namm's picture is clear and colorful. He does spot some of his other cameramen on certain occasions, and when in doubt he cuts to Entwistle a little too often, but for a live concert this is directed well enough.

The Who survives, even today, touring despite the death of Entwistle. Hopefully, this video will not serve as a reminder of better days, I think next time I will just rent "Tommy" instead. (* *) out of five stars. Get this movie now!: The Who: Rocks America 1982 American Tour [VHS]