Tommy Live (DVD)

The Who

Rhino, 2006

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


All this time, Tommy was a way for Pete Townshend to exorcise his personal demons. The line “See me feel me touch me heal me” is a cry out to Pete's own mother, and “Cousin Kevin” is a combination of everybody who ever bullied the Who's main songwriter. And the sexual abuse at the hands of Uncle Ernie? Don't ask, but if you get this DVD, Pete will tell anyway.

There is also a concert here too, but it adds very little to the deep canon of Tommy performances, especially if you've seen the movie and heard the Isle of Wight show. So after watching it once, you'll turn on the DVD commentary, featuring Townshend and Roger Daltrey commenting on the reasons the songs were written and how they form the story of a deaf, dumb and blind boy who becomes a pinball genius and a Messiah-like figure to a mob of half-wits.

Yes, it still makes no sense 35 years later, but by this point, nobody cares anymore. The market for this is baby boomers who grew up with the original 1969 album and fans of 80s nostalgia who want to buy this for the special guest stars who randomly pop up.

This DVD, separated from a dual package of Quadrophenia, is the 1989 performance in Los Angeles of the entire Tommy album, and only that album. However, the songs are thrown somewhat out of order and a few are missing, but nothing too important. The problem is, Daltrey ends the concert by saying “We're just getting started,” implying there are more songs to come – but none do! The show is barely over an hour, hardly worth whatever you pay for this DVD.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

“But Ben,” I hear you ask, “surely the hour's worth of performances of classic Tommy songs and a commentary by rock legends Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey is worth the price of admission?”

That all depends, kind reader. I can live without Keith Moon – Simon Phillips is an adequate enough drummer, and the addition of Steve Bolton on lead guitar and John Bundrick on keyboards augments the songs a bit. But Pete Townshend – who wears a black suit and a ponytail here – sticks to a six-string acoustic the entire time and only gets theatrical at the end, where he does four quick scissor-kicks to end the show. No instrument smashing or windmills here – this is mannered and precise, at least for Pete and bassist John Entwistle.

You may be wondering who the “special guests” are, and it reads like a who's who of late 80s pop stars. Elton John has a boring turn as the Pinball Wizard, while Steve Winwood does an Eric Claptonized version of “Eyesight to the Blind.” Patti LaBelle does a solid Acid Queen, while Billy Idol ruins “Cousin Kevin” and Phil Collins turns in a funny but creepy performance as Uncle Ernie. A passel (which is like a gaggle, but fewer) of backup singers and horn players recreate the necessary parts from the rock opera.

Now, there are some songs it is impossible to screw up, such as the “Overture,” “Amazing Journey,” “Sensation” and “Christmas.” Everybody ends the show with an inspired rendition of “We're Not Gonna Take It,” while “I'm Free” is as solid as ever. The highlight of the show comes early with an expanded “Sparks,” featuring some amazing bass work from the Ox, a short guitar solo from Bolton, some added keyboards and a hell of a lot more energy than anything else here.

Sadly, Tommy's own worst enemy has always been itself, and to further the complicated story a number of short, weak tracks must be, to get to the meat of the show, you need to skip through fluff like “There's A Doctor,” “Tommy Can You Hear Me,” “Do You Think It's Alright” and “Miracle Cure.” And the mundane songs like “Sally Simpson” and “Go To The Mirror” aren't improved on here at all, though it looks as if the band is bored with playing them – Townshend looks merely complacent, Entwistle looks bored and Daltrey does his usual macho bluster/beating tambourines act, complete with open denim jacket and curly blond locks, Robert Plant without the mystique. He still has a great voice, though.

If you love the band or any of the aforementioned artists, you might get a kick out of this. Everyone else should start with the Isle of Wight show or the original album, unless you really want to know the history behind the songs here. Granted, Tommy is a classic, but it deserves a better concert DVD than this.

Rating: C-

User Rating: Not Yet Rated


© 2006 Benjamin Ray and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Rhino, and is used for informational purposes only.