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Reviews » DVD Video Reviews » The Who - Tommy and Quadrophenia Live
The Who - Tommy and Quadrophenia Live
Rhino // Unrated // November 8, 2005
List Price: $34.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by John Sinnott | posted November 18, 2005 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
E - M A I L
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The Concerts:

There are some things that it is useless to debate. There's just no point to it. Abortion, the reasons for the civil war, and the existence of God are all things that people have made up their own mind about and there is no use trying to change it. Another such topic is the greatest rock band of all time. For me, it's The Who, and there's no use discussing it any further. It is simply a fact: The Who are the best, and their greatest album is Quadrophenia. (Though Who's Next comes a very close second.) The only bad thing about Quadrophenia is the lack of commercial live recordings of the album. Thought they toured extensively with Tommy, their other great 'rock opera', Quadrophenia didn't translate well to a live setting and it was seldom preformed, which is a shame. Now, for the first time, fans can own a live performance of both of their rock operas. The Who: Tommy and Quadrophenia Live is a three disc set that not only includes the two title concerts, but also has 22 additional songs done live in three different shows. This is an exciting and dynamic set that is sure to please the group's fans and attract new ones.

The Tommy concert included in this set was recorded at the Universal Amphitheater in LA in 1989. This wasn't just wasn't another concert, it was the conclusion to their 25th anniversary tour. Because of that they decided to throw out all the stops and make this an EVENT, a lavish production with several guest stars including Steve Winwood as the Hawker, Patti LaBelle as the Acid Queen, Elton John as the Bally Table King (naturally), Billy Idol as Cousin Kevin, and Phil Collins as Uncle Ernie.

That's the only thing I really have against this concert: it's not a raw and rough rock concert, but a huge production. I didn't think that the guests added much to the presentation either. It was nice seeing Elton John again, and Patti LaBelle was very good. Billy Idol on the other hand was horrid, overacting terribly. He doesn't really sing his song either, rather he just recites it. His incessant screams and swearing are supposed to make him come across as a tough guy, but he just looks like a fool.

Having said that, the parts without the guests is really rocking. Pete (who plays an acoustic guitar in these concerts in deference to his poor ears but is backed up by an electric guitarist), still has a lot of life in him, and John Entwhistle is still fantastic, as always. Tommy contains some really great music and it sounds great here with a full compliment of backup musicians. A fun concert that is a joy to have.

The Quadrophenia concert was recorded at various venues over the course of the group's 1996-97 US Tour. It comes from recordings of the footage of the band that they threw up on the screen while the concert was going on. This wasn't meant to be turned into a home video release, just to let the people in the cheap seats see the band members. Because of this, there are no shots of the entire stage, just closeups of the performers. There wasn't a lot of variation on the camera angles either, I think Richard Starkey only had a single angle during the whole show.

In this show they wanted to tell the story of Jimmy, and to help audiences follow the narrative they filmed an actor who played the main character. Between songs he would act out a very short scene the would set up the next song. He did an really good job too. When I first heard about the idea I though it sounded stupid, but it works well. They also incorporated scenes from the 1979 movie, newsreel footage, and images that represented the England of the early 60's. While this does make the show flow better, the producers of the DVD decided to show only this footage during the instrumental sections instead of the limited closeups of the band members. I would have like to have seen the band rather than stock footage, and I assume most of the people who buy this set feel the same.

In another stab to make it easier to understand the story, they hired a couple of guests to play a pair of roles. 60's rocker P. J. Proby preformed as the Godfather, and Billy Idol as the Ace Face. Proby does a good job, and Idol better than he was in Tommy, but he still refuses to sing and speaks the lyrics instead.

As for the concert itself, it was fantastic. This was simply an astounding concert. The opera manages to capture the feelings of being in your late teens better than any other music (or TV show or movie for that matter) and this high energy performance did a great job of conveying those feelings to the audience. You can still hear the anger, angst, and despair in Daltrey's voice as he sings about Jimmy's troubles. Pete Townshend doesn't jump and leap about as he did 20 years earlier, but he still plays with feeling and heart. I thought Entwhistle's bass was mixed a little lower than it should have been, but his wicked bass lines still came through clearly. In addition, Zak Starkey, Ringo's son, does an excellent job on drums. He's no Moon, but a pretty mean drummer in his own right.

In both concerts I would have like to have seen more of John Entwhistle. The way his fingers fly over his bass is amazing. He produces complex and intricate bass lines and makes it not only look easy, but like he's bored by the whole thing. He does get some time on screen during his bass solo in 5:15, and it is astounding.

The songs preformed on these discs are as follows:

Disc One: Tommy

It's A Boy
Amazing Journey
Eyesight To The Blind
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
Tommy's Holiday Camp
We're Not Gonna Take It

Disc Two: Quadrophenia

I Am The Sea
The Real Me
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
Sea And Sand
Bell Boy
Doctor Jimmy
The Rock
Love Reign O'er Me

Disc Three: Live Hits

Tommy - Second set:

I Can See For Miles
Baba O'Riley
Face the Face
Love Reign O'er Me
Boris the Spider
Join Together
Rough Boys
You'd Better You Bet
Behind Blue Eyes
Won't Get Fooled Again
Who Are You

Quadrophenia Encore:

Won't Get Fooled Again (Acoustic)
I Can't Explain
The Kids Are Alright
Behind Blue Eyes
Who Are You

Giants Stadium 1989:

Acid Queen
Pinball Wizard
A Little Is Enough

The DVD:

This three disc set comes in a gatefold pressboard case which folds up and fits into a slipcase. There is a book of liner notes included too.

One odd thing about this set is that they have disabled the pause, fast forward and reverse buttons. The chapter skip still works, but I can't imagine why you can't pause the video.


These discs come with both a 5.1 and a stereo mix. Both tracks sound very good, but I actually like the stereo mix a bit better. The 5.1 track often throws Roger's voice to the rear as well as the front speakers, and while it is very enveloping, it doesn't sound natural. Aside from that, the actual quality of the sound was very good. Tommy sounded better than Quadrophenia, this later concert has a slight hum in the background. Aside from that I was very happy with the way the shows sounded. They were clear and had good range and no distortion.


The 1989 Tommy concert was recorded and telecast as a Pay-Per-View event and later released on VHS. Since this was filmed with future releases and the home viewer in mind the video quality is very good. The full frame image is just a little soft but the detail is good and the image is clear. It's sure to satisfy fans.

As mentioned earlier, The Quadrophenia concert comes from a recording of the live feed that they threw up on the screen while the concert was going on. Because of this, the show doesn't look as good as Tommy, but it still is pretty good. The image is presented in widescreen, but is non-anamorphic unfortunately. The filmed sections of Jimmy were great, but the images of the band weren't as crisp as they could have been and overall soft. The level of detail wasn't as great as with the Tommy concert either and the live sections weren't lit very well making the image darker than it should have been. It's not too bad really overall, just not as good as I was hoping.


Both the Tommy and Quadrophenia discs have "video commentaries" by Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey. This has the musicians on screen commenting on the tour and the music. They didn't record these at the same time, so whenever one is on screen, the other isn't. That is both good and bad. On the down side, there is no dialog between the two and they can't play off each other. On the plus side, they seem to be more candid than they would have been otherwise.

I found this worth the price of the disc alone. Pete comments on each song and talks about the meaning of the song and what he was thinking about when he was writing it, which was immensely interesting. Though Pete gets more screen time, but Roger has a lot to say too. He talks about how Tommy changed the Who, why the record struck a cord with the public, and his feeling about the music as well as the guest stars. This was a great track, which you can also listen to without Pete and Roger's images on the screen by accessing the third audio track via the remote.

There is also a 3 minute reel of photos.

The Quadrophenia Story is an eight minute featurette which tells the story of bringing this amazing rock opera to the stage, and all of the problems that this entailed. Since a lot of the story takes place in Jimmy's head Quadrophenia doesn't have a tight narrative structure. Making this story come alive required some alterations but the results were very good.

The third disc includes another bonus item, an interview entitled Billy Idol: From Cousin Kevin to The Ace Face.

Final Thoughts:

This three disc set has The Who's two 'rock operas' preformed live as well as some of their best hits. The shows are probably more accessible to causal fans than the die-hard purists like myself who want to see Pete, Roger and John and don't really care about the theatrical aspects of the shows. Tommy was very good, a real rocking show, but Quadrophenia was outstanding. A real exciting and exhilarating show that was everything I was hoping for and more. When you add to that the disc of Who hits and the great commentaries with Daltrey and Townshend, this is a no brainer. Even with the issues the Quadrophenia has, this set is Highly Recommended. If you have even a slight interest in the group, this would be a great purchase.

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