Live in Texas ’75
Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
In the recording studio, The Who were rock’s sonic innovators, transforming Pete Townshend’s grandiose musical mischief into note-perfect, ball-busting brilliance. On-stage, they were a totally different beast: a quartet of sloppy, goofy loose cannons, fumbling their way through their epic catalog with boyish British humor, punk-ish urgency, and snot-nosed showmanship.
Live in Texas ’75 captures The Who in all their heroic, anarchic glory—but it also documents the kings of rock and roll just as their reign was coming to an end: Their latest album, the sorely underrated The Who By Numbers, was then regarded as a minor disappointment, arriving after the trifecta of classics Tommy, Who’s Next, and Quadrophenia; meanwhile, Keith Moon, the band’s wildly explosive and wildly destructive drummer, would only last for another full tour before his overdose death in 1978. Because of its timing as much as its often breathtaking performances, Live in Texas ’75 stands as an important document in rock history.
And now the concert itself, filmed at Houston’s The Summit on November 20th, finally has the proper fidelity to match its legacy. Though the set has been available in bootleg form for ages, fans can attest to its shoddy sound and out-of-focus visuals. The new version is no Woodstock, mind you -— Live in Texas ’75 is still a polished bootleg at the end of the day, using two cameras at the most and still bearing some occasional distorted hiccups. Nonetheless, the improvement is still staggering, particularly the thunderous new audio mix from longtime Who collaborator Jon Astley: Every crashing Townshend chord, cascading Moon tom-tom blast, and John Entwistle bassline ring rich and clear.
Though the band were opening their US tour in support of The Who By Numbers, the set-list focuses almost exclusively on material from the band’s mid-period critical peak, including a lengthy suite from Tommy and several soaring anthems from Who’s Next. But the quartet open the evening with a noisy blast from the band’s early days: Striding on-stage to face an army of swooning fans, Townshend—dressed in his trademark white jumpsuit –— blares out a few errant chords and launches into the harmony-laden 1966 single “Substitute,” following with the 1964 power-chord anthem “I Can’t Explain,” as Daltrey performs his fiercest lasso mic twirls.
The three cuts played from By Numbers are half-assed after-thoughts: On the ultra-catchy “Squeeze Box,” the quartet seem lethargic and disinterested, and the song itself feels lacking without the layered banjo and accordion lines of its studio counterpart. Many By Numbers tracks had caused friction within The Who: Daltrey had been openly critical of the material in various interviews around that time, and he even refused to sing on Townshend’s confessional belter “However Much I Booze,” noting the lyrics were far too personal. When played in Houston, Daltrey leaves the stage altogether. And even when the gold-haired rock god returns to sing the lust-fueled “Dreaming from the Waist,” he seems too disconnected from the lyrics to generate any catharsis.
When The Who dig into their classic repetoire, their confidence emerges—as does their aggression. Their longtime live staple “Summertime Blues,” captured in its most primal form on Live at Leeds, is a monstrous highlight, Entwistle stealing the show with his booming bass fills and hilariously demonic vocal growls. The entire Tommy suite (from a ripping take on “Amazing Journey” to an anthemic “Listening to You”) slays with precision, each track flowing seamlessly into the next. But the evening’s most spine-tingling highlight arrives on Quadrophenia’s “Drowned,” with Daltrey launching into a face-melting, hoarse-throated scream and Townshend lighting off a firecracker guitar solo moments later.
Ultimately, though, it’s the small moments between the bombast—the deadpan humor, the sarcastic band interactions—that make the biggest impact: Moon booing John Entwistle and yelling incomprehensible nonsense as Townshend introduces “Boris the Spider;” Moon grabbing the mic and announcing, “I’d like to do 17 numbers off my new album” before “Behind Blue Eyes;” Townshend dancing a gangly, awkward jig during the rambling encore of “Magic Bus.”
These moments remind us of the human beings behind the personas—the four fascinatingly flawed, idiosyncratic personalities that combined to make this band one of rock’s greatest. Live in Texas isn’t a perfect live document—but in a sense, that’s what makes it so special.