Classic Recordings: The Who – Live at the Isle of Wight

The Who Live at the Isle of Wight album artwork

THE WHO – Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970

Lillith -  (Vinyl)

By Paul Rigby

Arguably the world’s best rock band, The Who oozed energy. Even when they were not destroying their instruments in a fit of on-stage rage, the band radiated a sense of simmering power. It is no surprise, therefore, that the recorded live outings of the outfit, in their prime, are highly prized, including this example.

Pressed by the Russian label, Lillith, this is the first time that the concert has been available on vinyl since the 2004 Earmark release: a combination of the Sanctuary label’s masters and Italian-based Get Back label’s mastering/pressings.

Both presented as 3-disk sets and featuring the same tracklisting – although the Lillith pressing correctly lists the medley, Shakin’ All Over/Spoonful/Twist And Shout – the immediate differences between the two are noticeable and obvious. The Earmark pressing arrives in a heavy gauge, plastic cover, with the black disks, sitting in individual plastic inner sleeves, present in a multi-fold-out gatefold. The new Lillith release, however, features no outer cover but retains all three LPs within a single, slip-cover, container. Each disk sits in a plastic and card inner sleeves. In addition, the Lillith version presents each disk as a single colour. One LP is offered in red, another in white and the final disk in blue. Both Earmark and Lillith feature the same artwork and liner notes.

Finally, while the Earmark version was pressed on 180gm vinyl it appears, after examination, that the Lillith package has been pressed on 140gm vinyl. This is not necessarily a ‘bad thing’, however. Firstly, because the jury is still out on whether 180gm adds any sonic value (it can help prevent warping, though) and, if your turntable features a built in clamp – as my Avid Acutus does – a thinner vinyl disc is actually moulded to the platter more easily.

Onto the sound quality. Both collections derive from the same remastered master tapes, completed in 1996 by John Astley and Andy MacPherson. Any subsequent sound differences will lie in the transfer of those masters and the final pressing.

Listening to the Earmark pressing first, the perils of recording any live outing raises its ugly head. A balanced recording is difficult at the best of times but it’s particularly tough here with Keith Moon’s drums sounding rather veiled and lacking in detail during the Tommy rendition. The cover of Mose Allison’s Young Man Blues conveyed Roger Daltrey’s emotion and passion well, however, while Pete Townshend’s guitar licks were effective, if a little muted, in their impact.

Switching to the Lillith pressing and the Moon drums, while still suffering from a lack of bass definition within the Tommy sequence, did enjoy a new found life, were more incisive with a greater degree of clarity. Similarly, during Young Man Blues, both the vocals and guitar parts benefitted from a lifting of both the upper midrange and treble frequencies adding extra impetus to the performance.

Also, due to the lack of carbon black that makes all black vinyl ‘black’, the Lillith pressings lost the subtle magnetic influence that carbon black imposes on the sensitive cartridge, adding a touch more focus to the presentation.

All in all, this Lillith pressing is the best available vinyl version of the Isle of Wight gig currently on offer.

Stand-out track: Young Man Blues:

One of the few covers featured on the set, this Mose Alison song plugged into the band’s rebellious nature and their struggle with life in general. Daltrey gives a powerful vocal performance, backed by grammatical percussive thumps from Keith Moon while Townshend’s sweeping guitar epitomises the blasé, dismissive nature of the ‘young man’ in question.

Tracklisting

  • Heaven and Hell
  • I Can’t Explain
  • Young Man Blues
  • I Don’t Even Know Myself
  • Water
  • Overture
  • It’s A Boy
  • 1921
  • Amazing Journey
  • Sparks
  • Eyesight to the Blind (The Hawker)
  • Christmas
  • The Acid Queen
  • Pinball Wizard
  • Do You Think It’s Alright
  • Fiddle About
  • Tommy, Can You Here Me?
  • There’s a Doctor
  • Go To The Mirror!
  • Smash The Mirror
  • Miracle Cure
  • I’m Free
  • Tommy’s Holiday Camp
  • We’re Not Gonna Take It
  • Summertime Blues
  • Shakin’ All Over/Spoonful/Twist and Shout
  • Substitute
  • My Generation
  • Naked Eye
  • Magic Bus

Let us know what sounds great on your speakers here.

6 Comments

  • audiolover says:

    Great to see a live album classed as audiophile. This really does make you feel you’re right at the concert. Some reviews of jazz and classical would be great too.

  • Who am I ? says:

    As a fan of live performance recordings, and The Who in particular, I have always been totally underwhelmed by the CD version of the Isle of Wight gig. Muddy and claustrophibic spring to mind. ‘Live at Leeds’ sounded fantastic on the origanal vinyl and even my home recording of the late 70′s Swansea gig on a C90 ferric cassete, courtesty of BBC Radio, sounded much sharper.

    Having said all this I will be really interested to see if the latest post recording processing with the latest technology has improved the listening experience. I hope it has, as this was a classic Who performance.

  • davide miele says:

    hey! i bought the lilith pressing a few days ago and it sounds great to me. there are some records that i’d like to see reviewed:
    - rage against the machine’s first album (featuring the best drum recording, to my ears)
    - baudizm by erykah badu
    - aja by steely dan
    - quadrophenia by the who (new pressing on 180 gm vinyl)

    and several other

    by the way: great job, guys!

  • hanit says:

    Hallo,

    for me ‘ Imagine’ from John Lennon is a milestone in music history.
    My ancient LP is not really in a good shape, however sounds even better than the CD Version I bougth in the 90′s!

  • Island Eye says:

    Wow , indeed impressive information. Adding to my bookmarks!

  • Sara says:

    Crank up the volume, pour a cosmo, close your eyes and pretend you’re there!

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