Top critical review
on 11 July 2017
Let's be honest. Take the time to look at the tone of the average negative review for this 1982 live recording and you're likely to find the sentiment usually boils down to "It's crap because it's not Live At Leeds". But this is 2017 not 1970, and today Who's Last must deserve to be judged soley upon its own merits, not compared with an entirely different creation from a different era. And on that basis it's really nowhere near as bad as many people by default consider (or assume) it to be.
I myself for years was guilty of the latter, buying into all the talk of it being "lacklustre", the sound of the band "going through the motions", "a tired performance" or even just being "badly mixed". But when the CD appeared recently on Amazon for just a few pence I thought I'd finally take a risk and check it out for myself. And actually, it's not a bad album.
I'd go so far as to argue that Who's Last is probably the best post-Moon live recording the band have released. Although this tour saw keyboards added to the line-up, they are almost entirely only heard on those tracks which featured a keyboard on their original studio versions. In comparison the Royal Albert Hall recording from 2000 saw a stronger sounding band, but diluted by a liberal gloss of keyboards in places that keyboards had no reason to be. The 1999 Blues To The Bush internet-only CD suffered similarly in that respect, whilst 1990's Join Together saw The Who going cabaret with a cast of thousands, brass, keyboards, backing vocalists, special guests, even an extra guitarist. Enough said.
So within that context Who's Last is actually something of a stripped-down kick-ass live album.
Musically there's really only one notably duff moment, Long Live Rock, which here features an added reprise. During the main portion of the song Townshend for some reason decides to go into full "cockney geezer" mode with his vocals, completely ruining the song. The reprise section sounds like it was influenced by AC/DC's "Rocker", being performed at twice the speed of the normal segment, but as a consequence sounding like a bad pub-rock cover.
Some reviews make derogatory mention of Kenney Jones' drumming on Magic Bus. Granted, he fails to properly get a hold on the swing of the Bo Diddley beat, sounding far too mechanical and robotic, but at least he attempts to approximate it. I don't see any of see people making that complaint being equally vocal about the completely straight style of drumming the song has featured onstage since 1999 with the much praised Zak Starkey.....
As for the mix, I'm a little confused about why some reviewers are complaining about lack of bass or drums. Sure, Townshend's guitar is probably the loudest element, but the mix is pretty standard for one of this period. Prior to the digital revolution it was common for the soundscape to have some depth, rather than everything being pushed upfront. The natural order in that respect was usually vocals and guitar, then bass then drums. So the mix is just fine, and I hear the bass and drums without any problem.
And the band's performance? Townshend's guitar is actually quite punky at times, Entwistle does his usual Entwistle thing and Daltrey's vocals are for the most part on form considering the period in question. The weak link is Kenney Jones with his unimaginative style of playing, completed unsuited to The Who, but even that doesn't manage to drag the energy level of the performance down too much. And generally speaking, it is an energetic performance.
So if you're a younger fan of The Who, a millenial or suchlike, carrying no baggage from having experienced the band during their 1970s peak, I see no reason why you won't enjoy this recording. I'd even go so far as to argue that at times it showcases the band sounding more ferocious live than they have for some years on the modern stage.
And if you're an older fan, consider that same context. Of course this perfomance isn't going to sound like Live At Leeds. It features different personel performing later tracks which aren't conducive to extended jam sesssions or freeform explorations. Can you recall a single example of the band in their post-Leeds career performing the likes of Won't Get Fooled Again or Who Are You in the style of something from Live At Leeds? No? Case closed.
So don't buy into the stale and dated hype of this album showcasing the band as a live failure. Sure, it was recorded in the wake of two unquestionably substandard studio albums with the band on the verge of splitting up........but that makes even more surprising just how good the performance is.
So listen with fresh ears and give it a fair chance.