On November 20, 1975, the Who began its U.S. tour at the Summit in Houston. Pete Townshend, at long last, was sober; Keith Moon, flamboyantly, was not. The Who by Numbers had dropped stateside the previous month and was charting well. On The Who Live in Texas, remastered by Jon Astley and released on DVD for the first time this Tuesday, the band exudes a sense of momentum and a certain enthusiasm for the moment: The Tommy medley at the concert’s midsection is a high point, but it’s the newer material that steals the show. While the footage is somewhat cobbled-together, sallowly lit and peppered with annoying slow-motion effects, the performance itself is surprisingly tight. Yes, Townshend windmills on the guitar, and Roger Daltrey hurls his microphone around a lot, but otherwise the four chaps deliver their vaunted noisiness with mature precision. There’s an aura of no-bullshit professionalism to mid-era Who: No Pink Floyd lightshows here, and no “autodestructive art” either. The message: Townshend no longer needs to smash his guitars. He’s more concerned with psychic autodestruction, and how to avoid it.
Quadrophenia, after all, is Townshend’s etymologically muddled attempt to double down on schizophrenia, and the Houston rendition of “Drowned” offers a sample of that album’s dissociative splendor. “Squeeze Box,” dissociated from the banjo of the studio version, is eminently disposable, but Moon’s confrontational audience banter has never been more entertaining. “Thank you, Houston,” he slurs at one point, leaving his bruised drumkit to take the center microphone. “Whoever said this was a hick town with more millionaires per square inches than any other, it certainly wasn’t me.” The audience actually cheers (mostly longhairs, so go figure), and Moon proceeds to introduce “our idea of what we think Tommy should sound like.” The medley goes down in virtuosic fashion: John Entwistle and Townsend offer on-the-nose responses to each other, and to Moon, on the extended and dynamically flexuous “Amazing Journey.” (Here again one could do with less slow-mo film editing.)
The intra-band shenanigans come off almost clubby, as though the Who don’t realize they’re in an arena, and it’s awfully endearing to see Moon mocking Townshend for his height, or Townshend mocking Entwistle for his lyrical oddities: “Very strange subject matter, very strange chords,” he says of “Boris the Spider,” one of Entwistle’s earliest (and weirdest) compositions. These gestures of egalitarian affection kept the Who a band of brothers—unlike the Stones, wherein the Keith/Charlie faction seemed to be at permanent odds with the Jagger ethos.
Such moments enliven Live in Texas ’75 and set it somewhat apart from excellent Isle of Wight festival footage from 1970. The new DVD includes the band’s greatest material (Who’s Next and Quadrophenia were both post-Wight) and highlights a workmanlike stage assault. Zeppelin’s ’75 American tour had already outdone the Stones’ legendary circuit from ’72, but the Who, a band that began by writing songs about spiders and centerfolds, easily compete here with Zeppelin’s contemporary stateside performances. Townshend’s brandy habit was newly kicked. Daltrey was rarely more commanding. Entwistle was trebling hard on the bass. Moon still breathed. As a modestly priced artifact (the image so-so, the sound fantastic), Live in Texas ’75 is long overdue and at least 75% delightful.