Tommy and Quadrophenia Live
with Special Guests
First Appeared in The Music Box, December 2005, Volume 12, #12
Written by John Metzger
When The Who embarked upon a series of farewell shows in 1982, the group had become a shadow of its former self. Not only were its members struggling with drug addiction — drummer Keith Moon had overdosed fatally in 1978, and Pete Townshend nearly had suffered the same fate in 1981 — but also what proved to be its final studio effort It’s Hard was largely a forgettable affair. Despite the bickering that threatened to keep the band apart, however, Townshend along with Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle managed to set aside their differences in order to reunite on several occasions. Although each jaunt has been met with accusations that the ensemble was selling out its principles, The Who at least made an attempt to do something special for its fans every time that it returned to the stage. Indeed, it resurrected Tommy for its 25th anniversary tour in 1989, while seven years later, it once again hit the road in order to debut Quadrophenia in a concert setting. Each of these events is wonderfully reproduced on the newly issued, three-DVD set Tommy and Quadrophenia Live with Special Guests.
Granted, the 1989 rendition of Tommy paled in comparison with the urgent, crash-and-burn fury that The Who had brought to the staging of its rock opera in 1970 — the reissued version of Live at Leeds along with The Isle of Wight collection are perfect examples of the band in its prime — and essentially, this latest incarnation of the album served as a precursor to its transformation into a Broadway musical. Although The Who didn’t tour with an all-star cast, it was joined by an array of artists that included Phil Collins, Steve Winwood, Patti LaBelle, Billy Idol, and Elton John for a unique concert in Los Angeles that was broadcast as a pay-per-view event. It’s this version of the story that is featured on Tommy and Quadrophenia Live with Special Guests. Aided by its sizeable entourage, which also boasted a five-piece horn section, The Who was extraordinarily well-rehearsed, and session drummer Simon Phillips was so polished and precise in his approach that he subsequently failed to propel the music in quite the same manner as Moon had. Nevertheless, on songs like Amazing Journey and Sparks, the group still succeeded in raising quite a ruckus — even if it was one that was carefully arranged — and overall, its momentum largely was kept afloat by the superstar extravaganza that was on display. In particular, Collins was remarkably effective as Uncle Ernie, while LaBelle took a page from Tina Turner’s book by adding a soulful bite to her portrayal of The Acid Queen.
The Who undoubtedly was just as practiced in bringing Quadrophenia to life, but in the end, its approach proved to be more aggressive, thanks to the punishing reverberations of drummer Zak Starkey, who fared better than Phillips in balancing Moon’s chaotic mayhem with the professional refinement that Townshend was seeking for the tour. Laced with visual imagery and pre-recorded dialogue, the storyline gained focus while the band effortlessly darted among moments of raging angst, heartbreaking confession, and orchestral majesty. In particular, the tortured exchange between Daltrey and Townshend on Helpless Dancer perfectly captured the fracturing psyche of the tale’s protagonist, while in the middle of a punchy rendition of 5:15, Entwistle launched into a vicious solo that, unfortunately, is one of the precious few segments in which the sound of his bass isn’t buried almost inaudibly in the mix.
Featuring the entirety of the second set — 13 songs in all — from the Los Angeles production of Tommy, a trio of tracks from its counterpart in New Jersey, and six selections from the Quadrophenia tour, the final disc of Tommy and Quadrophenia Live with Special Guests is largely a survey of The Who’s greatest hits. All of the material was delivered solidly, and while much of it lacked the full-throttle fury for which the band was known, the enthusiasm of the group, as particularly was evidenced by Townshend’s antics, is undeniably infectious. Not surprisingly, the encores from the Quadrophenia shows — which included a punchy romp through Substitute; a playfully intimate, acoustic rendition of Won’t Get Fooled Again; and an explosive, blues-inflected journey through Who Are You — fared best, and the performances provided further proof that a better line-up was fielded for this particular sojourn.
However, it isn’t the music that makes Tommy and Quadrophenia Live with Special Guests such a worthwhile endeavor; it’s the delightfully candid, full-length commentaries that Townshend and Daltrey recently recorded for the package. Over the years, these sorts of accoutrements have become standard fodder for DVD renditions of theatrical releases, but they remain a real rarity for music-oriented collections. In addition to providing background information about how the material originally came together as well as how each tour was mounted, Daltrey discusses the challenges in performing the songs, while Townshend elaborates on the obstacles he had to overcome in writing them. In addition, he offers a detailed analysis of each of his rock operas and gives them a proper historical perspective. Without a doubt, these carefully edited dialogues are an impeccably insightful addition to the collection, and they inevitably save Tommy and Quadrophenia Live with Special Guests from being just another concert video. Indeed, this is a relic that is too invaluable for fans of The Who to ignore.
Of Further Interest...
1 Star: Pitiful
2 Stars: Listenable
3 Stars: Respectable
4 Stars: Excellent
5 Stars: Can't Live Without It!!
Copyright © 2005 The Music Box