Pete Townshend -Vocals, Guitar; Roger Daltrey - Vocals, Harmonica, Guitar; John Entwistle - Vocals, Bass; Kenny Jones - Drums; Tim Gorman - Piano, Keyboards
Phase two of the Who's extraordinary career essentially began in 1978, with the death of their drummer Keith Moon and ended on December 17, 1982 with a pay-per-view television broadcast and global radio transmissions of what was billed as the Who's "Final Concert" at Toronto's Maple Leaf Gardens. So explosive, suspenseful, and innovative a drummer was Moon that he could never be replaced, but with the help of former Faces drummer Kenny Jones, the Who soldiered on into the 1980s. Jones was a great, solid rock drummer, but his more conventional approach changed the band dynamic and not surprisingly, things would never be quite the same. Despite releasing three more hit albums and touring as successfully as ever with Jones on board, the Who planned their 1982 North American Tour to be their last. Roger Daltrey had been quoted in the Daily Mirror as saying, "It has been mine and Pete's decision to quit touring now. We are getting too old to do kick-arse rock and roll every night and it will be a relief when it's all over." To fans everywhere, this was sad news indeed, but the performances were generally strong throughout the 1982 tour, and fans had the global simulcast of the final show still to look forward to.
A CD set titled Who's Last and a home video release were later issued to commemorate this event, neither of which contained the entire December 17, 1982 performance. Presented here is the complete unedited show from that evening, sourced from the King Biscuit Flower Hour masters, when The Who initially bid farewell to the Toronto audience and to legions of fans watching and listening the world over. Despite being recorded before 20,000 exuberant fans in a sporting arena, this recording sounds considerably better than the overly ambient simulcast and will be of interest to Who fans, not only for being the entire authentic performance, but for containing an ambitious set list. Many Who classics are here to be sure, but this performance is also intriguing for containing live performances of four songs from the 1982 It's Hard album, which would be the band's last studio album for nearly a quarter of a century. This set is also notable for the increased presence of John Entwistle, who in addition to his trademark "thunderfingers" bass playing, contributes three of his own songs and leads the group on the "Twist And Shout" encore.
Serving as warm-up exercises, the set kicks off with loose versions of the band's anthem, "My Generation," followed by another early classic, "I Can't Explain." Entwistle's "Dangerous" follows, sung by Daltrey, as the band begins hitting their stride. The fireworks start on "Sister Disco," from the 1980 Who Are You album (the last with Moon), a song which seemed to fully ripen onstage during this tour. Three strong new songs follow in succession, beginning with a rocking read of Entwistle's autobiographical "The Quiet One" from the 1981 Face Dances. Two highlights of the It's Hard album follow, first with a spirited version of the title track and capped off with "Eminence Front," Townshend's rumination on wealth, problem avoidance, and recreational drug abuse. Tim Gorman skillfully provides Townshend's signature synthesizer parts on the latter, and both feature Daltrey uncharacteristically contributing rhythm guitar.
Two classic Who's Next tracks surface next, with a somewhat ragged take on "Behind Blue Eyes" and a far more engaging "Baba "O'Riley," The first of several Quadrophrenia tracks surfaces next with the rarely performed "Dr. Jimmy," before Entwistle delivers the early signpost to his creepy side, "Boris The Spider." Further exploring Quadrophrenia material, "Drowned" is tackled next, and it's an excellent extended performance, showcasing Daltrey on harmonica.
One of the standout songs on It's Hard was Townshend's sociopolitical commentary "Cry if You Want," which thankfully is included here. Despite being a potent performance from Townshend and including an engaged guitar solo, this was edited out of the CD and DVD releases. Perfunctory versions of "Pinball Wizard" and "See Me, Feel Me" follow with Townshend sounding distracted, but things begin reinvigorating on a rare live performance of "Love Ain't For Keeping," and continue escalating through a double dose of Quadrophrenia material with "5:15" and "Love Reign O'er Me." They wrap the set up with two of their great anthems, "Long Live Rock" and "Won't Get Fooled Again" played back to back, which leaves the 20,000-strong audience howling for more.
Although now it is obvious that this performance is far from the Who's "final" performance, at the time it was perceived as such, and it was the last performance prior to the first official breakup. Approached as their last ever encore, the Who begins with a slow burning "Naked Eye" that is quite penetrating, followed by a quick romp through the humorous "Squeeze Box." The Who's cover of Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" will forever be associated with Keith Moon's drumming, but Jones holds his own here, and the entire band sounds fully engaged. For the theoretical last live song ever, Entwistle leads the way through a number that looks back to the very beginning, "Twist and Shout."
Thankfully, this turned out not to be the end of Townshend, Daltrey, and Entwistle recording and touring together, nor would it be their final performance as the Who. However, it was indeed the end of an era; one that lasted nearly two decades, when the Who was one of the most creative and powerful forces in all of rock music.