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Music DVD Reviews: Review of The Who: Tommy and Quadrophenia Live
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The Who: Tommy and Quadrophenia Live (2005)

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In the end, despite Roger Daltrey's hopeful wish in "My Generation," the Who didn't die before they got old. And this 3-DVD set documents the whole sordid aging process.

Don't get me wrong, these rare and special performances from the 1980s and 1990s give Who fans a snapshot of the band's creative crown jewels, the two operas that – like it or not – reshaped rock music. Two operas that also happened to contain excellent songs such as "Pinball Wizard," "5:15," and "The Real Me" that, even out of context, stood well on their own.

(One could be angry at Pete Townshend for showing lesser lights such as Styx and Pink Floyd the roadmap for making the crummy concept albums that we ended up getting force-fed through album-rock radio. In the end, however, Pete Townshend isn't accountable for people who abuse the genre any more than I'm responsible for poorly thought-out rock reviews someone else types at my computer, know what I mean?)

Who devotees and historians alike will dive into the DVDs and enjoy the hell out of them. They get great performances of "Tommy" and "Quadrophenia" out of a band that gracefully matured and was up to the task of delivering a stage show worthy of their places in the rock pantheon:
• Video and stills in both pieces help explain the weird and convoluted plot twists, and break up the monotony of a long concert
• Elton John, Phil Collins, and Billy Idol typically record unlistenable piffle no one should have to endure (unless they did something really, really bad, and the CIA is using the threat of hitting the "repeat" button as a means to extract more details about their crimes), yet they're surprisingly great as operatic role players for Townshend & Co.
• The bonus commentary from Daltrey and Townshend, accessible by remote, not only adds much historical perspective to the works themselves, but also into the history of early-1960s London Mod culture back when the Who called itself the High Numbers, times that served as the inspiration for "Quadrophenia"

"Even the Stones had Beatle haircuts, for fuck's sake," Townshend says at one point in this bonus commentary, which is worth the price of the DVDs alone. "[Back then,] Rod Stewart was a fucking cool-looking guy. Mods used to think he was gay. How wrong did we get that?"

On top of all this interesting material, this package comes with a nice greatest-hits bonus, disc, too. "Baba O'Reilly." "Substitute." "I Can See for Miles." If your favorite Who fan is anything like the guys I know who enjoy the group, wrapping this baby up and sticking it under the Christmas tree will make them happier than a pig in slop. For several nights in a row, because it will take that long to watch all three DVDs.

For the rest of us, however, who aren't fanatics? The tragic ironies of “Tommy and Quadrophenia Live” just can't overcome the bright spots. After all, Roger Daltrey's thumbing his nose at his elders in "My Generation" made the group great. Seeing Daltrey himself turn into an elder is just plain sad, sort of like watching video of Willie Mays at the end of his career. The spark's in the eye, but the trademark basket catch is a thing of the past.

By the time the punks came along in the 1970s and Townshend was introspectively coming to terms with his own mortality in “Quadrophenia,” the ballgame was over. No glossy, high-spirited re-rendering of these rock operas can hide the fact that these guys – even back in the late 1980s, when some of the footage for these DVDs was shot – had nothing more to say.

After Keith Moon overdosed and Townshend's tinnitus crippled his ability to perform, the Who should have packed it in. Now, thanks to this DVD that shows all their wrinkles, gray beards and bald spots up close, we're forever going to remember them as the guys who hoped they'd die before they got old – but didn't. Well, except for Keith.

~Mojo Flucke, Ph.D



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