The Who: Tommy and Quadrophenia Live

review by John W. Herbert

This new 3-DVD set consists of two shows by The Who.
Disc One is a performance of Tommy from a charity show in LA, one of two complete Tommy performances from the 1989 tour. The Who were in what I call their "Las Vegas" phase: a 15-piece band, including a horn section. Special guests for this show included Patti LaBelle, Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, Billy Idol and Elton John. This certainly isn’t the "classic" Who of yore. Townshend plays acoustic guitar throughout and the horns certainly add a new twist to the music. But there’s no question whatever their configuration that this is a group of excellent musicians clearly enjoying themselves. The musical highlight is John Enwhistle’s bass solo during Sparks.
Disc Two is a performance of Quadrophenia from a 1996 tour. Again another large band, this time augmented by a visual presentation and guests P.J. Proby as The Godfather and Billy Idol as Ace the Face. Again Townshend sticks mostly to the acoustic guitar and the band is in fine form. This time the musical highlight is John Entwistle’s bass solo on 5:15. (Okay, yes, you caught me. I’m a bass player.)
The third disc consists of the LA show’s second set and encore, an extended encore from the Quadrophenia show, and three songs from Giants Stadium from 1989. No big musical surprises here, except the Quadrophenia encore opens with an acoustic version of Won’t Get Fooled Again, and features a slightly reworked version of Who Are You.
Both the Tommy and Quadrophenia shows have a "visual commentary" track by Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend, both of which are excellent. Controlled by the "angle" button, you can turn the commentary on and Pete or Roger appear on the screen, commenting on the concert, the music, the story, or whatever strikes their fancy. A must-watch for Who fans.
The viewer is alerted to the start of these segments by a pinball flashing superimposed on the screen in the case of Tommy, or a mod target symbol in the case of Quadrophenia. The downside is that the commentary segments start and stop all the time during the performances, and the viewer is constantly distracted by large flashing round objects in the middle of the screen distracting from the concert. Why didn’t the DVD producers put a less distracting and smaller symbol in the corner of the screen that doesn’t interfere with the enjoyment of the concert to signal the beginning of a commentary segment? Beats me, I guess that’s why they make the big bucks. Note to Rhino Records: Never do that again.

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