The Who went on at about 2:30 in the morning, playing in typical English festival weather — cold, dark and wet. As the centerpiece of their show, Tommy was already teetering on its last, played-out legs. And we’ve recently been blessed with an expanded CD reissue of the group’s definitive concert document, Live at Leeds, taped just six months before this show. So ask yourself: How much Who is too much? Is this excavation of their IOW ’70 show — Tommy, warts and all — necessary? Yeah, if only for the white-riot theater of “Young Man Blues” (particularly the band’s astounding staccato convulsions in the midsection); the rare, live reading of Pete Townshend‘s wonderful hymn to self-doubt, “I Don’t Even Know Myself”; and the raw, glowing power of “Naked Eye.” As Townshend tartly remarks early in the set, “Smile, ya buggers. Pretend it’s Christmas.” And treat yourself.
Listening to The Rock & Roll Circus on CD spares you the pain of watching Mick Jagger prance around in ringmaster’s gear and seeing the death-mask pallor of Brian Jones’ face. But then you miss out on riveting eyefuls of Taj Mahal — a vision of blackoutlaw cool amid the lily-white parade of British rock royalty — and an early, surprisingly grungy Jethro Tull. There’s a reason why the Rolling Stones stuffed this 1968 TV show into the can after filming: The Who blew ’em off the soundstage. Get the video and see for yourself.