“Rock and roll’s never ever stood dissecting and inspecting it at close range. It doesn’t stand up. So shut up.”
Jeff Stein’s documentary, The Kids are Alright, lives up to that statement from The Who frontman Roger Daltrey, who shares it near the climax of the film in a chapter the DVD calls “Final Words.”
There isn’t much interview footage in Kids, and what there is is mostly rather silly – the band standing on their hands, or taking the piss out of each other, or joking about their “medicine” with Ringo Starr. The rest of the movie is a collection of the band’s live performances. The combination of tracks is nonchronological, which fits The Who’s style: wild, haphazard, reckless and, above all, exciting because you’re never sure quite what will come next.
I say “The Who’s style” like I’ve got a great idea what that is when, in fact, I don’t own a single Who album even though my iPod is littered with all the other great lost gods of classic rock. Renting this movie, and discovering this band in full for the first time is due to a performance included in the film, from The Who’s appearance in The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus. That film went unreleased for decades because, rumor has it, the Stones didn’t appreciate getting upstaged in their own movie; as a result, no one ever saw The Who doing “A Quick One While He’s Away” until it appeared in Stein’s documentary. The performance lived up to the legend and a little research on the song pushed me to this doc, which is about to push me headlong into the band’s discography.
In honor of Mr. Daltrey I’ll stop myself there except to add that the movie ends with a rendition of “Won’t Get Fooled Again” which may be the greatest rock performance I’ve ever seen on screen. It’s conventionally — even a little boringly — shot, intentionally, I suspect, to best appreciate The Who’s flamboyant stagecraft. Then, a flurry of inventiveness at the song’s famous climax: during the extended synth break, the band disappears completely into a fog of psychedelic laser lights that practically scream “Hey! You know that last joint you were saving for the best part of the movie? Hit it NOW!” The camera swoops down just as a spotlight picks up Moon for his drum solo, then pulls back to show Daltrey in shadow thrusting his arms to the beat. Just as he lets loose with that famous vocal chord shredding yell we cut to a shot from the side of the stage in super-slo-mo — the only shot of the whole movie, I think, that’s not played at normal-or-faster frame rate — of Townshend sliding on his knees as he strikes a chord to match Dalrey’s howl. For my money, it’s got all I want from a band: big sound, utterly pointless — and therefore utterly cool — physical theatrics, a little self-deprecating humor, and enough sloppiness to remind you that it’s really live and not a bunch of guys lip synching to a prerecorded track. Plus there isn’t even a whiff of self-consciousness or analysis. I just watched it four times in a row. Think I’ll go once more.