The Who

Join Together

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From every standpoint outside the financial, the Who's reunion tour in 1989 was a mistake. Yes, it was a success and millions of fans went home happy, but in retrospect, it's clear that the reunion tour -- following just seven years after the "farewell tour" -- tarnished the reputation of the Who almost irreparably. No critic took them seriously, and it wasn't only the tour that received poor reviews -- revisionist criticism brought into question the worth of their recordings. This isn't a minor thing, either -- by 1997, the Who launched an American tour to no hoopla or attention whatsoever, perceived as merely another act on the oldies circuit. Of course, the group still had its hardcore fans, and many critics cited their work through 1973's Quadrophenia as classic, but they had lost the mystique that had clung to them even through the Face Dances/It's Hard era. Was the tour really so bad that it could effectively ruin the Who's contemporary reputation? Judging from Join Together, a two-disc live box set released in 1990 to commemorate the tour, it may have been. Ranking with Who's Last as an utterly dispensable release, Join Together may be billed to the Who, but it feels like a Who revue. All the elements are in place -- there's Pete Townshend's trademark flamenco strums, John Entwistle's galloping bass, Roger Daltrey's strangled yelp, even a complete performance of Tommy -- but it doesn't feel like the Who, it feels like a replication. It's clear that Entwistle and Daltrey yearned for the attention and cash, while Townshend wanted to plug Tommy (which worked, by the way, since the performances on this tour certainly paved the way for the Broadway musical of the early '90s) and his newest work, The Iron Man ("Dig," the Who's contribution to the rock opera, is featured on the second disc). It was a marriage of convenience, and it sounds like it. Even worse, the music is bloated with horns, backing vocals, keyboards, and extra guitarists -- it sounds like a house band for a talk show, while the Who at its prime sounded like a small army on the rampage. Of course, the Stones have augmented their core group with these kinds of auxiliary musicians for years, but they had a better sense of showmanship. Here, the Who are professional musicians and they accordingly sound as faceless as studio musicians, which is especially disconcerting given the familiarity of the voices and songs. It's listenable, to be sure, but it just doesn't feel right.

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