Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, backed by their current touring lineup, do something the original incarnation of The Who never did: perform each and every one of the 24 tracks from their 1969 landmark Tommy. The occasion arose with the April 2017 benefit (for Teenage Cancer Trust) at London’s Royal Albert Hall. Initially intended as an acoustic interpretation, the band decided to rock out full-on with electric bombast. Townshend has explained that the delicate ‘unplugged’ scenario would’ve required too much rehearsal to keep the fundraising aspect of the show worthwhile.
At any rate the band is in fine form throughout, especially drummer Zak Starkey (Ringo Starr’s son, and a fine enough fit that Townshend once offered him a full role as permanent member of The Who). This isn’t the Who of 1969/70 of course and that should be a given when approaching this concert. Daltrey’s vocal range has gradually eroded, but at 73 he’s still in possession of some impressively powerful pipes (his well-practiced mic-swinging skills are obviously still intact as well). Townshend can still windmill his guitar and fingerpick with nuance; there’s little doubt the man still woodsheds on his instrument. His occasional vocal showcases, particularly “The Acid Queen,” provide an opportunity to display his mature, bluesy growl.
The highly-publicized “complete” Tommy essentially means the inclusion of the rarely-performed “Underture” and “Welcome,” the most often dropped tunes during tours past that saw the (mostly) full performance of the rock opera. As an extended encore, The Who runs through seven non-Tommy classics that includes rough’n’ready versions of “I Can See For Miles,” “Who Are You,” “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” and others—including a majestic “Love, Reign O’er Me.” Townshend and Daltrey are true rock soldiers and it remains thrilling to see them continue their march, regardless of how many times we’ve seen them do these numbers before.
Eagle Rock’s Blu-ray looks and sounds great, pretty much par for the course with the vast majority of their frequent concert releases. The panoramic shots of the Royal Albert Hall provide visual highlights. Audio options are DTS-HD MA 5.1 and LPCM 2.0. The only issue really is that the lead vocals feel a bit buried (and a bit muddy) in the mix—both of them, though the vocals seem even less distinct in the surround mix. It’s not difficult to listen to by any means, just might’ve liked a bit more upfrontness from the vocals.
There’s a 13-minute “Behind the Scenes” that offers a peek at the planning of the show and its rehearsals. There’s also the opportunity to see the animation segments that accompany “The Acid Queen” and “Pinball Wizard” on the big screens during the concert. Available separately (also from Eagle Rock) is a double-CD live album containing all the audio from the concert.