The Who – Concert For The People Of Kampuchea (King Snake KS-025)

Concert For The People Of Kampuchea (King Snake KS-025)

(approx. 152 min.):  Substitute, I Can’t Explain, Baba O’Riley, The Punk And The Godfather, My Wife, Sister Disco, Behind Blue Eyes, Music Must Change, Drowned, Who Are You, 5.15, Pinball Wizard / See Me Feel Me, Long Live Rock, My Generation / I’m A Man / Sparks, I Can See For Miles, I Don’t Want To Be An Old Man, Won’t Get Fooled Again, Summertime Blues, Dancing In The Streets / Dance It Away, The Real Me

The last great rock event was the little remembered Concerts For The People Of Kampuchea.  Organized by Paul McCartney and Kurt Waldheim (who was then Secretary-General of the U.N.), and it involved well-established artists such as Wings, Queen and The Who as well as younger new wave bands such as The Clash and Ian Drury.  It lasted for four nights between December 26th through December 29th and was professionally recorded and filmed. 

Very little has been officially released.  An LP and film came out in 1981 featuring selections from the nights.  But since the tapes have been sitting in the vaults.  The Who, who played on December 28th with The Pretenders and The Specials supporting, were well represented with three songs, “Sister Disco,” “Behind Blue Eyes” and “See Me, Feel Me.”

The complete Who performance has been in circulation in excellent video and audio quality but with a timestamp on the top of the screen, sometimes obstructing the view.  King Snake, on Concert For The People Of Kampuchea (KS-025), have found and released a copy of the video tape withoutthis obstruction.  It represents a substantial improvement over older copies and is as close to being the definitive live Who statement on videotape of this event.

In a review of this performance published in the January 5th, 1980 New Musical Express, Charles Shaar Murry wrote: 

“The Who strolled onstage at ten to fire crisp, compact versions of Substitute and I Can’t Explain and staggered off two hours and 20 minutes later after a great sprawling colossus of a set that seemed to include every major Who number that anyone (including Townshend himself) could remember. My first Moonless Night with The Who.

“Let us net belabour the point (chuck it around a bit, but not actually belabour it): The Who have been around for a bit, but their present audience is young(ish) and sharp(ish). Despite Barry Myers playing the same records that he’d play at a Clash gig (minus, of course, The Clash tracks) and the remaining echoes of’ the Massed Rudies, no sense of time warp descends as The Who slope on. Townshend’s baggy red pants, black’n’maple Schectercaster and Strummerish bandana seem contemporary without concessions. Daltrey poses, but Townshend dances: they seem far less-conscious than at any other time during the 70’s.

“Two and a half hours was pushing the attention span more then somewhat, but at least one hour and a half of it was purest magic, definitive evidence that burning out and rusting are by no means the only alternatives left to superannuated rock and rollers. The Who have patently done neither, proving consistently interesting and creative over a longer period than any of their competitors.

“Pete Townshend is a contemporary of The Rolling Stones; he’s also a contemporary of The Clash. He’s a contemporary of anyone who’s done anything good and worthwhile in rock and roll since 1965. It’s food for thought, mobsters – if you wanna be a hero, just follow him.”

Like all great art, the music of the Who transcends contemporary fashions and has merit for all.  In the mid-seventies the band hit a level of stagnation in their setlist which saw them play the same show for three years and for several tours.

By the final year of the decade, along with a new drummer Kenny Jones, keyboard player Rabbit Bundrick and a horn section came a new setlist and attitude for live performance.  Instead of presenting their concept pieces, they played a wide selection of songs from their albums. 

They even went so far as to play new, as yet unreleased songs in the midst of their seemingly endless improvisations.  At every opportunity Townshend and the others jam and improvisoe in every song they can.  And this is why Murry suggested they were “pushing the attention span.”  But this is also the reason why this is one of the greatest Who performances on tape.

The set doesn’t differ substantially from the previous US tour which ended a couple week before.  “I Can’t Explain” and “Substitute” open the show.     

“Thank you.  Good to be back in England, that’s for sure” Daltrey tells the audience afterwards.  It seems people in the front row were standing too close to the stage.  It’s too dark on the video to see why Daltrey starts complaining, but he says:  “Not like this, though.  What is this here?”

Pete quips “Christmas!”  Daltrey continues addressing the people, “really, if you want to sit on this, help yourself.  Bloody awful, innit?  I’m gonna build a moat around the next stage, with barbed wired and  machine guns.” 

“Piranhas” Townshend again jokes.  “You’ll have to sit down” Daltrey tells the front row.  Pete introduces Rabbit Bundrick and tell them “it’s a bit loud, this one” before “Baba O’Riley.”

Pete has a lot of fun running around singing “The Punk And The Godfather” which he introduced as being “about London.” 

There is an annoying feedback from the microphones during the opening verses to “My Wife” which bother Entwistle judging by the faces he makes.  The song is stretched to almost ten minutes with even Bundrick on Hammond making his presence heard.

“Drowned” is the second Quadrophenia song of the set played and contains a long harp solo by Daltrey and Townshend name-checking Ian Drury. 

The only nod to Tommy in the set is “Pinball Wizard” with a clever segue into “See Me, Feel Me.”  Judging by the light-show, this is rightly one of the climaxes of the set.

After “Long Live Rock,” surprisingly enough their current single, they play a very medley starting with “My Generation.”  Instead of going into the blues “My Generation” as in the previous tours, they get into a slow version of Bo Diddley’s “I’m A Man” leading into “Sparks.” 

A rare live performance of “I Can See For Miles” morphs into a tune called “I Don’t Want To Be An Old Man.”  It’s a slow blues-like number which had never been played before or since.  Daltrey recites rudimentary lyrics, “I don’t want to be an old man, ’cause there’s fuck all good about that / I don’t want to be an old man, ’cause there’s fuck all good about that / but the young man knows about that / It’s filthy Friday / it’s gotta stop.”  The words, which seem inspired by “Young Man Blues,” seem to be made up on the spot.  After several minutes they rip into the set closer “Won’t Get Fooled Again.”

“Summertime Blues” stars off the encore set, which leads into a cover of “Dancing In The Street” and a young version of “Dance It Away” which would be released several years later on Townshend’s solo album (All The Best Cowboys Have) Chinese Eyes.  Finally, they segue into “The Real Me” to close the  marathon performance.

Kampuchea, along with the Chicago video, is one of the very few visual documents from this period of The Who’s career.  It is one of the more interesting as they are trying to redefine themselves after losing Keith Moon the previous year.  King Snake did an excellent job in obtaining a more clear and timestamp-free version of the tape, making this an essential release.

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