Classic Rock Corner

The Who Got Hard on First "Farewell" Tour

The Who: Live at Shea Stadium 1982

Eagle Rock Entertainment, 146 mins., $14.98 DVD/$19.98 Blu-Ray

It’s become a standard joke in rock journalism that a band that perhaps milks things on the road past their sell-by date has “more farewell tours than The Who.” And while the band’s current worldwide jaunt in celebration of their 50th anniversary does seem like it really is the final large tour with surviving members Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, their first “goodbye” jaunt was way back in 1982.

That year found The Who at one of their many career crossroads. The shocking 1978 substance abuse-related death of volatile drummer Keith Moon took some wind out of the group. Townshend was suffering a series of personal, professional and pharmaceutical crises. And the rise of punk rock and New Wave briefly challenged the powers and relevancy of all those huge ‘60s rock bands (though, surprisingly, the Who escaped the scorn heaped upon acts like the Stones, Floyd and Zeppelin).

This DVD captures the October 13, 1982 show at the massive Shea Stadium, the second of a two-night stand that closed out the tour’s first leg. It’s a vital, powerful document of the band with a true, career-spanning set; it touches on early singles (“Substitute,” “I Can’t Explain,” the rarity “Tattoo”), selections from their rock operas Tommy and Quadrophenia (excellent takes on “Pinball Wizard” and “The Punk and the Godfather”) and ‘70s-rock warhorses (“Baba O’Riley,” “Who Are You,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again”).

Determined to prove their relevancy in the early ‘80s, the band also features a generous sampling from their then-current album, It’s Hard, in the set. (It would be the last Who record for almost a quarter-century.) Standouts here includes a driving “Eminence Front” and “Dangerous,” written by bassist John Entwistle and sung by Daltrey.

Actually, “The Ox” also takes a few rare vocal turns, on his thundering “The Quiet One” (a joke about his place in the band) and joyously sloppy covers of the Beatles' “I Saw Here Standing There” and “Twist and Shout.” The last two were undoubtedly a nod to the Fabs' own legendary Shea Stadium show.

As usual, Daltrey and Townshend are endless balls of energy (the former even jogging in place while belting out “Who Are You” and battling some vocal phlegm) while Entwistle stands stock-still. Jones – something of the odd man out as “the new guy” – brings a heavy skill, though his style is not rooted in the maniacal attack of his predecessor. Reported conflicts with Daltrey ensured led to his dismissal shortly after this tour.

Sartorially, Daltrey performs the entire show in a silver suit underneath an ‘80s perm, while Entwistle is similarly dressed. Townshend – clearly aping punk bands like the Clash, who opened the two Shea shows – opts for a more contemporary look of leather jacket, ripped sleeveless shirt, and striped circus pants all while sporting a greased, flattop coif. All while looking like Mick Jones’ older brother.

At the end of the show, Townshend screams “Eye of the Tiger!” to the audience, a likely reference to both the Rocky III song by Survivor that was then popular, as well as his view of the band’s vitality. The more safety-minded Daltrey is heard several times cautioning the audience at the front of the stage to step back and not push each other.

Bonus tracks include five songs from the band’s previous night at Shea, with “My Generation” “5:15” and “A Man is a Man” from It’s Hard on the list.

There are a few clinkers in the show, namely “I Can’t Explain,” “It’s Hard,” “Cry if You Want” and “Long Live Rock.” But overall, Live at Shea Stadium 1982 is a vital document of The Who and – with the restored sound and picture here – a sizzling statement from a band with a lot of petrol left in the tank.
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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero