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click here to order The Who - Live at the RAH

Let's See Action
The Who - Live At The Royal Albert Hall
DVD release

Don't worry. I'm not going to exercise editorial privilege and write a full review of this 3+ hour DVD. This is, at the end of the day, a Who concert, not a Pearl Jam concert, and Ed's participation in it, while wonderful, is minimal.

If you've ever wondered what it's like to see the Who, and you want to understand Ed's affection for these guys, I'd urge you to buy, rent or borrow this DVD. Unlike a lot of the Who's visual product, this DVD release is stunning. The picture is crystal clear, the camerawork is precise, and the sound is mind-blowing. You can easily crank this up until your room vibrates from the bass without distortion, which is only fitting for the World's Loudest Rock and Roll Band (according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Really. Not kidding.)

The opening shot of the traditional "I Can't Explain" should be enough to bring the point home to you. If you watch nothing else, please at least sit through the first number. Speaking as someone lucky enough to have been in the first few rows of a Who concert more than once, I can tell you unequivocally that this DVD captures that feeling of being gob-smacked (as they say in the UK) with that incredible sound that is only produced by the Who.

If you do decide to watch the DVD, you'll be treated to the full-blown Daltrey and Townshend comedy routine. If you were at Bridge 99, you know what I'm talking about. Their dry, deadpan humor is very similar to Ed's. (Some people may have trouble understanding the accents - the audio is very clear on dialogue but even some Who fans did report trouble with comprehension.) But it's worth it.

My only disappointment with the Who's segment is "Baba O'Riley". Played in front of a British audience (who, by the way, don't call it "Teenage Wasteland"), this version is somewhat flat and anemic. It's not representative of what this song is really like live. (I still recommend getting ahold of a copy of The Kids Are Alright if you want to see the definitive "Baba".)

Ed's first appearance is track 13, for those of you with short attention spans. He's affectionately introduced by Pete - "the lead singer of Pearl Jam" - which results in cheers and some screams from the audience - "Eddie Vedder." Ed gets a warm reception from the crowd and a hug from Pete. He walks up to the microphone and gives this tiny wave, while looking up apprehensively at the upper reaches of the Albert Hall. It's a big room and a big stage and a big band and really big shoes to fill, even if you are the lead singer of Pearl Jam, this is the Who onstage in their home turf at a legendary venue. He takes a deep breath, and then we get a lovely version of "I'm One". At the end, both Pete and Ed exchange a look of shared relief. (You'll probably want to skip the next track, as it's "Behind Blue Eyes" with Bryan Adams. Wish it had been Ed instead.)

Track 21 brings us Ed again, introduced by Roger Daltrey, as he comes out for "Let's See Action." Ed sang this song with the Who at the House of Blues in 1999. While he's still peeking at the lyrics, he's had more of a chance to rehearse them this time, and it's a tight, polished rendition. Big hugs from Pete and Roger at the end - you will go "awww" if you have any heart in you - and Ed gets on mic to express, "Thanks, Pete - for everything ... Roger ... John."

The last number, "Listening To You" from Tommy, has Ed out there with Roger, Pete and Bryan Adams, but Ed's the dominant vocal, and this is one of the more perfect Who numbers for his voice. But the treat here is not so much Ed's performance, it's his reaction to the children representing the Teenage Cancer Trust that run out onstage towards the end of the song. They're happy and excited, and Ed stops singing to try to bring them up to the microphone. [FAN CLUB NEWSLETTER SPOILER AHEAD] It's even more poignant, because if you've read Ed's wonderful note about his experiences rehearsing for and performing at these shows as chronicled in the recent Ten Club newsletter, you will recognize some of the kids from Ed's photos. That's all I'll say. It reminds me of Ed's interactions with the Bridge School children at the Bridge shows I have been to...respectful and warm and affectionate.

So, that's the concert, but that's not all that's worth watching for the PJ fan. In fact, you really haven't seen the best of it. Disc two of the DVD has special footage of the rehearsals, and we get to see a full-blown "Let's See Action," but it's a raw rehearsal track, and Ed's much more relaxed and into it. The footage on this track shows the performers rehearsing, hanging out, and the stage and venue being set up for the show. There are great shots of Ed and Roger goofing around and laughing, Ed showing Roger something in his notebook -- Ed wearing a scarf during rehearsal, much like Roger does - I did a doubletake and made myself go back three times to make sure I wasn't imagining this.

But that's still not the best part. The best part has to be the separate rehearsal scenes for each special guest. Ed's begins by hearing an American voice off-camera saying, "Are you doing 'I'm One'?" And Ed's response is: "I'm gonna attempt it..." Ed arrives, and you hear Roger say, "It's Eddie!" and you see Ed hugging Zak Starkey in greeting. Ed rehearsing with Rabbit with cigarette smoke billowing - I'm thinking, please let that be Entwistle or someone else - the camera moves back and sure enough, it's Ed smoking while he's singing. (No comment.)

But finally, the ultimate scene, and what's worth any time or effort you put into getting ahold of this DVD is the scene where Ed and Roger are sitting there going through the setlist, trying to decide what Ed is going to do in the show:
Roger: "You want to do 'Getting In Tune'?"
Ed, hesitating: "Um..."
Roger: "Say what you want to do, Eddie..."
Ed: "Okay, yeah..."
Roger: "Don't be polite!"
Ed: "Well, I can do any of 'em--" with conviction, as he scans up and down the list he's holding in his hand, from top to bottom.
Roger: "I know, you can do any of them, just say what you want to do."

As a fan of Ed's, you just can't help but smile - here's Ed, and the lead singer of his favorite band is asking him what song he wants to sing with them. Even after all Ed has been through, he is still humbled and overwhelmed by it all. Can't really blame him.

If you need any more convincing, we'll just quote Ed from the newsletter again:

"When great songs are played with a reason or cause attached to them, they become more potent. It's just the way it works ... it heightens the meaning of the lyrics and even the guitar solos!"

The Who are still the world's greatest rock and roll band, and this DVD proves why. And Ed Vedder is still the world's biggest Who fan, and this DVD also proves why. If you're at all interested in the connection between the two, you owe it to yourself to check out this exemplary example of a rock and roll DVD.

The DVD and VHS video are currently on sale via Amazon.

Copyright © 2004 Five Horizons