Friday, April 13, 2018

Review: 'The Who Live at the Fillmore East 1968'


The Who were essentially an unknown quantity in America until they distinguished themselves in 1967with stateside performances at Murray the K’s concert series on the East Coast and the Monterey Pop Festival on the West Coast. When word of their autodestructive act got out, The Who rapidly developed a reputation as the ultimate Rock & Roll circus act. To capitalize on that deserved status, the planned follow up to The Who Sell Out would be a devastating live album recorded at New York’s Fillmore East in April 1968.

Unlike basically every live Rock album before it, the resulting recordings were powerful, well balanced, and mostly well captured. They were also loaded with gaffs as Pete Townshend stumbles on his guitar strings close to the beginning of the very first song and “Shakin’ All Over”; vocal harmonies miss their marks widely on “Fortune Teller”, “Little Billy”, and “Tattoo”; Keith Moon’s drums are so buried in the background on “My Way” that they seem to disappear at times; and Roger Daltrey sings the wrong words over John Entwistle in the first verse of “Boris the Spider”. Such errors are supposedly the reason an actual live album never materialized in 1968, and Decca settled for cheating new fans with the deceptively titled Magic Bus—The Who on Tour. Of course, quality control matters little to bootleggers, who embraced the unreleased tapes as their own for decades.

Now on its 50th anniversary, The Who’s April 1968 set is finally getting official release via UMe. The little flaws cease to matter as the strength of the overall performance booms through The Who Live at the Fillmore East 1968. There are many virtues to this collection. It catches The Who at a brief juncture when they still performed such oddities as the scrapped anti-ciggie advert “Little Billy” and a lengthy jam on “Relax” from the recently released Sell Out. Songs that didn’t make some of the bootlegs, such as “I’m a Boy” and Eddie Cochran’s “C’mon Everybody” (there’s a semi-Cochran theme throughout a set that showcases three of the rocker’s classics), are restored to the set, as are chunks of “Relax”, A Quick One While He’s Away”, and an almost absurdly extended “My Generation”, which is long enough to get its own disc in this new set. In at least a couple of cases, errors are fixed with cagey mixing: Moon’s drums are pulled to the fore in “My Way” and Daltrey’s lyrical fumble in “Boris the Spider” is pulled back. * Unfortunately, such miraculous cures of modern technology also come with an all-too common downside: the sound is brick walled.  Attention remasterers: stop making your remasters so fucking loud! The Who sure don’t need any assistance in that department.

Despite the uncomfortable sound quality, The Who Live at the Fillmore East 1968 remains a quality live album and one of The Whos worthiest archival releases. If anything, the occasional mistake only adds to the charm of a disc that captures The Who approaching the end of their most charming era.

*Update: It has come to my attention that despite the suggestion to the contrary in the press release, this new set is actually a mix of performances recorded on both nights of The Who's Fillmore stint in April 1968, so tracks weren't actually remixed to bury flaws but are totally different performances from the ones on the bootleg. Sorry about the sloppy assessing, folks.
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