Judge Victor Valdivia's years as a '90s Britpop star are chronicled in his new book, Stuff I Like to Pretend Happened.
"They call me the seeker,
Starting in 2006, Roger Daltrey, singer for The Who, organized a series of annual concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall. The concerts benefit the Teenage Cancer Trust, a British charity dedicated to treatment and support for teenagers diagnosed with cancer.
TCT is compiled from various performances from the 2006 and 2007 shows. Here are the artists and songs on this disc:
• The Who: "The Seeker"
Though TCT is not a bad disc, it's not always a compelling one. The performances wind up falling into two types: the artists who are painfully reverent to The Who, and the artists who have almost nothing in common musically with The Who. Naturally, the former are truly forgettable. The Coral, Kaiser Chiefs, Kasabian, A Band of Bees, and the View are all derivative and undistinguished, rehashing past glories of both The Who and the early '90s wave of Happy Mondays/Primal Scream/Stone Roses Britpop. All of these bands are equally interchangeable (well, the View does stand out, dubiously, as the most musically incompetent of the bunch), and it's hard to tell them apart. The originator of much of this style, Paul Weller (with his legendary punk-era outfit the Jam), actually appears here, and he was as devoted a Who acolyte as any. However, his acoustic performance of "Butterfly Collector" is disappointingly dull. Strangely, so is the version of "Don't Look Back in Anger" by Britpop's premiere regurgitator, Noel Gallagher of Oasis, who is at least sometimes capable of moments of fire, even if they're usually someone else's. The nadir is reached by Razorlight, who crank out a version of "Summertime Blues" that captures every note of The Who's cover without conveying a shred of its energy, even with Daltrey on vocals.
The other groups are more successful. Whatever can be said about Bloc Party, they at least don't slavishly recreate their influences, unlike many of the other groups above. "Like Eating Glass" is a lively, energetic song that shows them off to full advantage. Easily the disc's most unusual performance is the piece by Super Furry Animals' Gruff Rhys, who sits at a table with a sampler and various noisemakers and sings (in Welsh) and manipulates them into an atmospheric dirge. It's not the most visually stimulating routine to watch, but the music is so otherworldly that it almost—almost—doesn't matter. Judas Priest and the Cure are, of course, the most unlikely performers here, as both bands emerged in the '80s from genres that dismissed The Who as bloated and irrelevant: heavy metal in Priest's case, post-punk in the Cure's. Interestingly, both deliver maybe the most solid and consistent performances. The Cure, in particular, avoids the more ethereal studio creations the band's most famous for and instead chooses the guitar-heavy rocker "The Kiss," resulting in one of the disc's high points.
Then, of course, there's The Who themselves. They're not what they used to be, and that's not an ageist slam. For one thing, there are only two of them left, what with drummer Keith Moon and bassist John Entwistle having died from rock 'n' roll excess. Plus, the years of hard living and even harder playing have taken their toll on Daltrey and Pete Townshend, most clearly evident in the unfortunate rendition here of "Baba O'Riley." Daltrey sounds painfully hoarse and the absence of Entwistle is keenly felt, as Townshend's guitar playing sounds thin. On the other hand, "The Seeker," which was never one of the more notable Who songs, actually benefits from the musicians' age. The song's message of world-weariness and spiritual dissatisfaction fits this version of the band much better than it did their fresh-faced original incarnation, and both Daltrey and Townshend play this song with clear conviction. "Tea and Theatre," from the duo's most recent album Endless Wire, is a gentle acoustic number about the passage of time and the bond between both men. It's unfortunately not as touching and emotional as it's intended to be, mainly because the song's melody isn't very memorable, but the affection between the two is just enough to carry it over.
The 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer and Dolby Digital 5.1 mix are both top-notch, as the shows were filmed in HD video. The cover art proclaims that the disc lasts 110 minutes, but the actual concert only lasts 69 minutes without credits. The remaining running time is taken up by the disc's sole extra, an interview with Pete Townshend (39:26). This is not a new interview, but an extension of the interview he did for the 1995 miniseries The History of Rock n' Roll. Since it's over a decade old, some of his references (such as the ones to Kurt Cobain and Ice-T) sound dated, and he doesn't mention Entwistle's death (which happened in 2002). Otherwise, this is a great interview, with plenty of reminiscences about his career and some typically sardonic humor. It's a welcome addition, though it seems hard to understand why more of the better performances weren't included on the disc as well.
TCT isn't a must-buy, even for Who fans, and it doesn't show off The Who at the peak of their powers (for that, it would be better to pick up The Kids Are Alright or 30 Years of Maximum R&B) but it does contain some creditable performances, and fans of the performers here might find it worth a look. This one's on probation.
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