Tommy And Quadrophenia Live

The Who

Down to two members, the Who continue to plunder the vaults for scrumptious and invaluable artifacts. The Now & Then compilation with its two new songs and subsequent tour without late bassist John Entwistle didn't exactly set the world on fire, so why shouldn’t Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey go for broke and break out the goods? In this case, Tommy and Quadrophenia Live, a three-DVD bundle of joy, answers the call and delivers some extraordinary performances with lots of extras.

Tommy and Quadrophenia, conceived and mostly written by Townshend, initially drew acclaim from critics and fans alike. As live pieces, however, they couldn’t have been further apart. Tommy was a triumph -- financially, artistically, and personally, while Quadrophenia languished in turmoil that left most spectators utterly confused. Both operas garnered further appreciation as movies, but the Who as a musical force began to wane as soon as Keith Moon passed on to that great drum throne in the sky. Seven years with drummer Kenny Jones in tow failed to restore the spirit and machismo of the original Who. By the mid 80s, the band was on its way to becoming a nostalgic act that more or less faded away into the sunset.

In 1989, Townshend, Daltrey and Entwistle regrouped and agreed to tour as the Who to celebrate their 25th Anniversary. In the process, they enlisted a large ensemble of backup musicians to smooth over the rough edges and opted to play Tommy on four different occasions. The version on the first DVD of this set took place on August 24, 1989 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles. Adding to its allure, this show features an all-star cast that includes Elton John, Phil Collins, Billy Idol, Patti LaBelle, and Steve Winwood. John reprising his film role as the Pinball Wizard, Winwood solemnly portraying the Hawker, and the ever incomparable Collins dressed to the nines as Uncle Ernie -- are all vocally in sync with the band. Idol comes off as slightly sloppy, almost clumsy, yet he’s a natural as Cousin Kevin. At its most extreme, LaBelle is overpowering and a sight to behold as the Acid Queen. The circus-like atmosphere does little to dispel the high production. Still, for all their efforts to revive their classic on contemporary terms, the Who come out shining during the climatic choruses of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” that close Tommy. One down, two to go.

The Quadrophenia DVD, filmed during the band’s 1996/1997 U.S. Tour, is much more attuned to the original concept when compared to the few and fragmented performances of the 70s. Heavy on film clips and moshy dialogue, the Who get plenty of help from a far more utilitarian gathering of musicians and guests, and unleash a vibrant and well-paced presentation. Billy Idol is on board again, this time as the Ace Face. He is joined by P.J. Proby, who plays the Godfather, a part originally anchored by Gary Glitter, presently in exile and avoided at all costs. Altogether, the Who and their assemblage fire away gleefully on each and every tune, culminating with Entwistle's bass solo on "5:15" and the might and majesty of “Love Reign O’er Me.”

The third disc of the set, entitled Live Hits, pulls together concert staples like “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Baba O’Riley” trotted out during the 1989 and 1996/1997 tours. It also features a surreal interview with Billy Idol and a preview of an upcoming Who documentary slated for a Fall 2006 release. Packaged efficiently and complete with a colorful, informative 18-page booklet, Tommy and Quadrophenia Live is priced to move and guaranteed to whet any Who fan’s appetite until that long-waited studio album arrives. They’re undoubtedly taking bets in Vegas on when that will happen.

~ Shawn Perry

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