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DVD Review: The Who – Tommy & Quadrophenia Live

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Guest Reviewer Fumo Verde

My old man was heavily into his music, bands like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix and of course, The Who. His songs became my songs, as we would do the old Father/Son things together, such as going to the hardware store to replace the nail gun I jacked up. So in 1989, when I got the chance to see The Who play live, I diverted “smoking funds” to “ticket funds” and had enough to buy not only a ticket to see The Who at the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, but I also had enough to see them perform Tommy at Universal Amphitheatre.

The first disc of this three-DVD set is that show. I had a great time at the show, even though I was sitting in the way back, second row from the very back wall, but this DVD brought me right up front. This was way cool for me watching a show I had been too. It was a great show then and still impresses me today.

The story of Tommy opens at the end of World War I with Mrs. Walker giving birth to a young son, whose father, Captain Walker is missing in action. Years later after Tommy’s birth and still no word on her husband, Nora Walker (played in the movie by Ann Margaret) marries Frank Hobbs. Captain Walker unexpectedly appears later, and in front of the eyes of young Tommy, Hobbs kills Walker. The effect on the young boy gives way to his illness, causing him to become deaf, dumb and blind. It seems that the only thing the boy can do is stare into the mirror and play pinball.

The movie was pretty trippy, but this live show cuts through the acid-trip visuals and brings you the music. On stage, the backdrop flashes scenes from the movie depicting either who sung the original song or what was going on at that point in the movie. Written captions also give the viewer who may have never seen the movie an idea of what is happening.

Starting off the guests list is Steve Winwood as the Hawker, played by Eric Clapton in the movie, who sings “Eyesight to the Blind”. This is a great opener, with Winwood playing the lead guitar on this section just like Clapton did. Next is Billy Idol, who at the time was on the top of his game. He plays and sings the song “Cousin Kevin”. At the time I didn’t think he did a very good job, looking back now, well, I guess I just don’t like Billy Idol. Next up is Patti Labelle singing the song made famous in the movie by Tina Turner, “The Acid Queen”, who is supposed to help the young boy regain his vision and hearing.

In the movie Tommy is pushed and pulled towards all these characters, in the stage version the characters come to Tommy. Even the “Pinball Wizard” himself, Elton John, the only person to appear in both versions, strolls in to pay homage to that “…deaf dumb and blind kid…’ who “…sure plays a mean pinball.” Both LaBelle and John put out great performances, but the best was Phil Collins. Taking over the roll of Uncle Ernie, originally done by Who drummer Keith Moon, R.I.P. Collins came out in boxers and a bathrobe, touting a bottle of what looked like J&B scotch, and grabbing his crotch as he sings his song “Fiddle About”.

The Who themselves play all the other parts as they did before. The music is invigorating and the crowd can feel the energy and the excitement, maybe because I was there. However it may be, this version of Tommy is a great way to see it.

The second disc gets better. Quadrophenia, The Who’s other great rock drama, was the story of Jimmy Cooper a boy, growing up during the turbulent 1960’s, who was so desperately trying to fit in with his crowd of friends. Jimmy has a slight problem; the doctor says that while he’s not crazy, he has a split-personality disorder made of four people. Along with the pills and the gin, Jimmy launches himself into the world of the “wild ones” where fights between the Mods and the Rockers erupt at every meeting.

The way The Who did this one was amazing. The performance of Quadrophenia, taken from their 1996-97 tour, blends live music with footage of what was really going on at the time of these riots in England. It also features Alex Langdon as Jimmy, who appears on screen and tells parts of the story as it rolls along. Other artists in include P.J. Proby as the Godfather in the song “The Punk and the Godfather”, Simon Townsend as the Bus Driver in “Dirty Jobs” and Billy Idol, once again, playing the Ace Face.

Quadrophenia was also a movie, but more so than Tommy. The music was a soundtrack that helped the movie images flow from scene to scene. On this DVD, it’s the images that help out as the music tells the tale. Quadrophenia is Townsend’s story, yet not only his, but also his band mates as well. The four personalities in Jimmy are the four personalities of The Who. One of the albums most famous songs, sung by Daltrey is “Love Reign O’er Me” which closes out the movie as we see Jimmy drive his Vespa over the white cliffs of Dover.

The third disc in this set is a collection of live songs The Who did after both shows and a couple of other dates. By selecting a second camera angle, Townsend and Daltrey appear onscreen like The Ghosts of Rock Past, offering up insightful commentary about the proceedings.

When The Who stopped touring after the US festival in 1981, they hit some financial problems so they came up with a reunion tour and the idea to do Tommy live. The tour helped their money situation and in turn it gave us this collection. Tommy was produced as a pay-per-view event and with the intention of being released, but the Quadrophenia show was made for The Who’s own archives. Looking back now, I was very lucky to see it performed live, and now I’m lucky to relive it again in a different light with a better view. I also get to see Quadrophenia performed live too. Moon and Entwistle have passed. Daltrey and Townsend aren’t getting any younger, but no matter what, the music The Who gave us can still light the fire in the hearts of the rebellious. “I hope I die before I get old”. It’s not about age, but the spirit, which lives on these discs.

keep on rockin’, Fumo Verde.

Fumo Verde is a member of The Masked Music Snobs.

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About Gordon S. Miller

Gordon S. Miller is the artist formerly known as El Bicho, the nom de plume he used when he first began reviewing movies online for The Masked Movie Snobs in 2003. Before the year was out, he became that site's publisher. Over the years, he has also contributed to a number of other sites as a writer and editor, such as FilmRadar, Film School Rejects, High Def Digest, and Blogcritics. He is the Publisher of Cinema Sentries. Some of his random thoughts can be found at twitter.com/ElBicho_CS
  • http://home.comcast.net/~chickyraptor/ted_hooters.jpg Dave

    The Who play Tommy and Quadrophenia live?!?! Sounds great!

    1989 … Billy Idol … Patti Labelle … Elton John…

    Or not.