Thursday, May 22, 2008

DVD Review - The Who Tommy Live

I recently got the triple DVD set "The Who - Tommy and Quadrophenia Live."

Honestly, I bought it for the Quadrophenia disc (which I have not watched yet and will review separately). I saw the "Who Review" tour in 1989, from which this Tommy performance is taken. I remember hovering over my stereo to capture the New York tour premiere, which was simulcast live on the radio and was the band's first full performance of Tommy in more than 15 years.

It was a mind blowing experience. Remember, Pete's hearing was reportedly totally shot, so when Daltry started the show with "Can we have a little quiet?" I thought he was going to ask the crowd to not be too over the top due to Pete's ears. Which would have been a deal breaker. But he instead said, "Like Keith Moon used to say, 'Have a little respect. It's a FUCKING OPERA!'"

And with that, the band launched into the Overture.

Now, I saw the band twice on this tour and was NOT a big fan of the giant lineup - four horn players, three back up singers etc. Lame shit. But that lineup actually lent itself really well to Tommy.

So, back to the DVD. The band played Tommy all the way through only twice on this tour. The New York show I just mentioned, and a show in Los Angeles, captured on this DVD. At all the other shows on this tour, including the ones I saw, they did a stealthy portion of Tommy, but not the whole shebang end to end.

The trouble with this DVD is that the LA show had guest stars. Steve Winwood doing Eyesight to the Blind; Patty LaBelle doing Acid Queen; Billy Idol doing Cousin Kevin. Phil Collins as Uncle Ernie; Elton John as Pinball Wizard. Blech. I so would have preferred the New York show on DVD, where there were no guests.

So I was kind of underwhelmed by this DVD for all of those reasons: not a big fan of this lineup, the guest stars, Daltry's horrible haircut and earring.

But then I noticed that there was a DVD bonus option of running commentary by Daltry and Townshend from 2005. The concert plays in the background and these two pop up on screen to talk about all sorts of things. This bonus feature saved the disc for me as we hear all sorts of nuggets about the tour, how Pete wrote Tommy, etc. Some examples:

--Pete admits the whole 1989 tour was put together so they could make mounds of cash.

--Daltry hated the big band format as much as I did, and Pete admits it wasn't really a rock show, but more of a music revue doing Who tunes. He was very insecure musically and added all of those band members to help him out.

--They had no idea if Elton John was going to show up to that LA show until he appeared onstage. He missed rehearsal and soundcheck. And you can hear the difference in Pinball Wizard as they lowered the key dramatically for him.

--Townshend asked bassist John Entwistle to write the Tommy songs about child abuse (Cousin Kevin and Fiddle About) because he couldn't touch those topics due to his own experience of abuse as a child.

--Daltry hated the guest stars at the LA show as much as I did because they took the best songs to sing and he was sort of relegated to stand around in the back a lot.

--Pete talks about the writing of Tommy song by song as the concert unfolds. It is fascinating to hear him go over the storyline in such depth and to hear what his thought process was. I learned a lot. For example, he talks about how the piece reflects a lot of what the Europe post-war generation was going through (Roger Waters explores this throughout his career as well), and how that related to the Vietnam era, etc. Lots of good info.

So, in all, I'd recommend this disc as a pretty good live version of Tommy, but more so for the insight you get from Daltry and Townshend throughout.

Looks like the Quadrophenia concert from 1996 has the same commentary option. But I saw that tour as well and am really jazzed about seeing the live version, so I have a feeling I will like that DVD more overall. They lumped the non-Tommy and Quadrophenia tour songs on a third DVD, which I have not watched yet.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I just bought the updated 3-disc Amazing Journey Who thing but haven't watched it yet. I'm saving it for a long trip coming up. I was never a big Who fan but have really gotten into them over the last couple years or so.