Tommy and Quadrophenia Live

Tommy and Quadrophenia loom large in rock and roll history - as the first rock opera and...well... The Who's second rock opera, respectively. Despite these distinctions, until now I'd never heard (or seen) either in its entirety. Admittedly a Who-beginner, but familiar with the trappings of theatrical rock, I was somewhat hesitant coming into viewing these concert presentations of both, expecting a lot of bombast and awkward instrumental passages in the name of the plot. While I got a fair share of both, I was also pleasantly surprised and even somewhat moved by the performances.

Tommy, taken from a 1989 concert in Los Angeles, is the better of the two, sporting superior footage and a rotating cast of guest stars playing various roles in the story. The core band of Pete Townsend Roger Daltry and John Entwistle is augmented by additional guitarists, a horn section, percussionist and keyboard player. It's a nice big sound, and Patti Labelle steals the show as the Acid Queen, while Billy Idol (as Cousin Kevin) and Phil Collins (as Uncle Ernie) provide a bit of comic relief by hamming up their roles a bit for the crowd. Only Elton john's turn as the Pinball Wizard disappoints - he sounds out of breath and off key for nearly the entire song. As someone only familiar with the very basics of the Tommy story, I found it near impossible to follow the plot, as this is simply a bare-bones concert recording with little explanation of what's going on. (Who is "The Doctor?" What's the deal with "Tommy's Holiday Camp?") This is probably not an issue for most Who fans though, and the powerful songs speak for themselves. The final full cast rendition of "We're Not Gonna Take It" is particularly rousing.

Quadrophenia, on the other hand, suffers musically from too much of the aforementioned bombast and long-winded instrumental passages. Also, the expository films (starring Alex Langdon) stuck between nearly every song seemed to detract from the energy of the show, although they do go a long way towards explaining the story to a newbie like me. I suppose you can't really have it both ways. The guest "stars" (PJ Proby?) are also not as impressive, though Billy Idol's cheeky sneer again goes a long way toward lightening the mood. In the long run, though the story was easier to follow, I found it considerably less moving and was a bit restless by the end.

As a bonus option, both DVD's include an insightful full-length commentary by Townsend and Daltry. For fans, this is a definite plus, as they speak candidly about the concerts while watching along. All in all I would recommend Tommy over Quadrophenia, as it is a more entertaining spectacle and a true testament to the power of Townsend's deceptively simple songwriting style. However, fans will want to seek out the 3 DVD set, which includes both concerts and a bonus DVD of encore material from the rest of the band's career.

Reviewed for Coffeerooms by G.Mazz - Talk about it here

The details:

  • Overture

  • It’s A Boy

  • 1921

  • Amazing Journey

  • Sparks

  • Eyesight To The Blind

  • Christmas

  • Cousin Kevin

  • The Acid Queen

  • Pinball Wizard

  • Do You Think It’s Alright?

  • Fiddle About

  • There’s A Doctor

  • Go To The Mirror!

  • Smash The Mirror

  • Tommy Can You Hear Me?

  • I’m Free

  • Extra Extra/Miracle Cure

  • Sally Simpson

  • Sensation

  • Tommy’s Holiday Camp

  • We’re Not Gonna Take It

  • Photo Gallery

  • Visual Commentary with Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend

  • I Am The Sea

  • The Real Me

  • Quadrophenia

  • Cut My Hair

  • The Punk And The Godfather

  • I’m One

  • The Dirty Jobs

  • Helpless Dancer

  • Is It In My Head?

  • I’ve Had Enough

  • 5:15

  • Sea And Sand

  • Drowned

  • Bell Boy

  • Doctor Jimmy

  • The Rock

  • Love Reign O’er Me

  • The Quadrophenia Story

  • Visual Commentary with Roger Daltrey & Pete Townshend

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