Saturday, October 16, 2004

2-CD set lets fans
relive the Who’s
isle concert

"Authorized bootlegs" recorded at
the August show preserve many of
the night's memories

Are your ears still ringing? When the Who returned to Honolulu in early August, they put on a memorable show. But time passes, and those great ringing power chords and arch-melancholic melodies about identity and dignity are fading in the scrim of memory.

But they don't have to, thanks an innovative way of preserving the aural particulars of each show.

The Who have always been good to their fan base -- and, better yet, understanding -- while at the same time providing money's-worth product. When bootlegs were all the rage in the early '70s, they recorded the ultimate bootleg album, "Live at Leeds," still a staggering rush of adolescent flash. One of their first studio records, in fact, was "The Who Sell Out," which spoofed the whole uneasy shark-remora symbiosis of commerce and rock 'n' roll.

As the latest Who concert tour dates end, as fans are filing out, many may have missed a PA announcement urging them to check out TheMusic.com for a recording of that night's concert.

Turns out they weren't kidding.

In conjunction with the Who's Eelpie merchandising wing, TheMusic is offering actual CDs recorded at each stop of the band's tour. Think of them as "authorized bootlegs," except that they're sanctioned and recorded off the soundboard by the artists and producers themselves. Each two-CD set is supposedly shipped three weeks after a performance. The one I ordered of the Honolulu performance took more like five weeks.

They are only available through TheMusic.com, and the price is set in sterling: 15 pounds, which works out to about $22.50 these days, plus a shipping charge. The profits are earmarked for the Who's music education charities.

Every stop on the 2004 Who tour has been recorded, even the Maui show. TheMusic's web site reveals that the set list varied between gigs.

If you're a hard-core Who completist, you can buy every gig in a box set, and it comes in an adorable little aluminum "gig" box. They're numbered, only 150 are available and it'll cost you somewhere between $800 and $900. But hey, hey, it's the Who.

IT'S FASCINATING new technology, and a clever new way of repackaging the music business. It's been done before, and wouldn't you know, it was done by Peter Gabriel, always on the cutting edge. Duran Duran did it last year, too.

(For you music pirates out there, it's not that easy to "rip" the songs off these albums. They are preserved in a unique data format that plays on any CD player but does not download.)

So how does it sound?

Considering that it's a direct soundboard mix, with ambient microphones set up at each venue, it's ... pretty wonderful.

It's so good, in fact, that one immediately suspects some back-shop tinkering. Did they really play this excellently? I recall distinctly Pete Townsend's guitar going hamajang in the middle of a song and a few exciting moments of atonal mayhem, but deuced if I can find it here. And there's is virtually no dead air between tunes.

An even closer listening reveals that it really is the Honolulu show. You can distinctly hear that idiot who was screaming for "In-a-Gadda-da-Vida!" and Roger Daltrey's microphone huffing on "Baba O'Reilly" (one of the few recording errors that makes it seem "live," along with cable buzzing and 60-cycle hums) and Townsend's humble aside, "We haven't been here for a very, very, very long time, and it's great to be back!"

The memorable moments pile up: the crowd singing along on the phrase "It's only teenage wasteland!" and the satisfying twinkle of the acoustic guitar playing minor chords on "Behind Blue Eyes" and someone in the audience chanting "Go get 'em, Pete!" and the great sustain and tone on Townsend's guitar on "Love Reign O'er Me" as well as his swoopy guitar phrases and thoughtful dynamics on "Real Good-Looking Boy," one of the new songs.

They play with explosive power and vented angst, and that has not changed.

From the moment Pete Townsend power-chorded E/DD/A/EE and lit the fuse on "I Can't Explain," it was a memorable evening. Thanks to new technology, we get to relive it.

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