BBC Electric Proms is a concert series recorded at The Roundhouse in London. In October of 2006, The Who played there and BBC Electric Proms: The Who (BBC America, Friday, Midnight/11C) is the result.
I’ve had the pleasure of seeing The Who live on two occasions – once in 1967 and once in 1972 – so I’ve seen the band’s original lineup in top form and I thought, for sure, that BBC Electric Proms: The Who would be more or less an evening of The Who’s greatest hits. I was wrong.
The first thing you notice about The Roundhouse is that it, indeed, round. You can also easily see that, although it seats a goodly number of people, it’s built in such a way as to give everyone a really good view of the stage – and that even the ‘nosebleeds’ are not that far away. And when The Who come on stage, you can tell – just from the sound of the applause – that this is a venue with amazing acoustics.
The evening kicks off with an energetic rendition of I Can’t Explain which, though extremely well done does not allay my initial suspicions that this will be a perfunctory evening of hits – a suspicion further fueled by the next tune, Who Are You? Here, it is apparent that age has dulled vocalist Roger Daltrey’s range a tad – though he can still growl, snarl and scream with power, he either avoids the highest notes, or struggles a bit with them. Even so, he’s still got that old swagger – and he does attack the song with the kind of ferocity he’s always shown in the past.
Then, an abrupt change of pace: the band swings into Out On The Endless Wire from Endless Wire, an album that was released in October, 2006 – it’s actually quite jaunty. So far, the band is as tight as it’s ever been – the rhythm section of Pino Palladino on bass and Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s son) on drums may not be John Entwistle and Keith Moon, but they get the job done with a degree of style and plenty of energy (Starkey isn’t as manic as Moon but does provide some of the same kinds of percussive flourishes; Palladino moves more than Entwistle, but his bass is almost as fluid and grounded).
They follow that with We Got a Hit, also from Endless Wire, before slamming into an extended version of their generation gap anthem, My Generation (which features an impressive, almost-as-good-John-Entwistle bass solo, from Palladino). Then it’s back to new material – They Made My Dream Come True and Mirror Door (the chorus of which pays tribute to past geniuses of song), before moving into Baba O’Riley and a medley from their rock opera, Tommy (Pinball Wizard, Amazing Journey, See me Feel Me and Listening to You) before closing with the poignant Tea & Theatre from Endless Wire.
While Daltrey may have had to struggle a bit on the older material, the songs from Endless Wire were written to make the most of his voice as was in 2006 and, as a result, he really nails them.
The camerawork is agile and shows each of the featured players to good effect (there are at least two other musicians on stage, but I couldn’t find credits for them) and the sound is terrific. Other than a few brief instances in the opening moments, the vocals are bright and clear (Townsend fades a bit on one occasion) and the mix on the guitars is – again except for on instance in the first few minutes – extremely good.
Townsend (who used to think of himself as a rhythm guitarist even though he had a unique and intriguing lead style) has lost a bit of his knack for odd solos, but is fluid and original throughout. And it should be noted that Daltrey has lost nothing when it comes to the harmonica – his solo on Baba O’Riley is superb.
Overall, then, BBC Electric Proms: The Who is a concert film that shows that The Who could still kick a little ass live.
Final Grade: A