If you're a rock fan and you're being honest, there will come a point in your life where you are forced to admit that the art form has probably peaked, and maybe that peak came a half-century ago.
Rock has been declared dead and returned from the grave umpteen times, but it's at an all-time low, currently, and it's been there for a while. Just jump on the internet, and it's easy to find a ton of articles talking about how, say, the most recent installment of the Coachella festival in California featured very few rock bands, and the ones who did play were outshined to an incredible degree by Beyonce, who basically was so good everyone forgot about all the other 10 million acts that played over that festival's two weekends.
This stuff comes to mind in the context of this week's review fodder, a 50-year-old recording of a band from England on their way up who would eventually become enshrined as one of the era's true marvels: The Who.
As has been the case with a lot of bands of their vintage, The Who have been releasing a lot of archival material over the last few years, perhaps to get all the stuff into the hands of fans who are almost too old to enjoy it, and into the hands of the band and its management, who are almost too old to spend the money they'll make from selling it.
Regardless of the reason, the fact is that rock fans are being handed the keys to some astonishing artifacts that make the case - and prove it beyond the shadow of a doubt - that the late '60s was a time when the potential of rock met up exactly with its power, and that the music made around this time is probably the best rock music ever made.
Sure, there's other stuff that has come along. Punk, of course. Heavy metal. Hip-hop. There have been other musical revolutions that were impactful, and other artists that were era-defining, world-changing acts, but when you put on a Who live recording from their prime, you realize that they were writing the rules and breaking them all at the same time.
"Live at the Fillmore East 1968" is the latest archival Who album, and it depicts the group in the period of time just one year or so before they loosed the eternal "Tommy" into the world. It's interesting to hear the group sounding as savage as they were in the "Tommy" era, but without any of their material from that time leading the charge. At this point, the group had recorded hits, but their AOR heyday had yet to arrive. What they had in 1968 was guts.
"Filmore" isn't a polished, cleaned-up record meant to build a specific myth. What makes it so great is that it's ugly, jagged, out-of-tune, and all kinds of other things that are pretty rare to hear in 2018. Today, most bands are fixed, quantized, gridded out, tuned, and whatever else - even on supposedly "live" recordings. Nope, this LP is a snapshot of a band, warts and all. Funny thing is, the "all" is only enhanced by the warts, and the warts turn out to be bits of humanity that only somehow strengthen the band's presentation.
Basically, it's thrilling to hear four people, no click tracks, no backing tracks (which The Who helped pioneer in the "Quadrophenia" era, by the way), playing rock 'n' roll with the intensity it deserves, with the spirit of discovery and improvisation infusing it all.
Put it this way: get this album, listen to The Who play a 33-minute version of "My Generation" that only includes about two minutes of "My Generation" and weep for the fact that there aren't mind-altering, risk-taking, intense bands like The Who in existence any more.
Artist: The Who
Album: "Live at the Fillmore East 1968"
Recorded at: The Fillmore East, New York
Personnel: Roger Daltrey (vocals), Pete Townshend (vocals, guitar), John Entwistle (bass, vocals), Keith Moon (drums, vocals)