The Who DVD Package (2005)

by | Nov 17, 2005 | DVD & Blu-ray Video Reviews | 0 comments

The Who DVD Package (2005)

Tommy & Quadrophenia rock operas performed live 1989, also Live Hits 1989
Roger Daltrey, Peter Townshend, John Entwistle, plus guests: Billy Idol, Phil Collins, Elton John, Patti LaBelle, Steve Winwood
Studio: MX Entertainment/Rhino R2 970500 (3 DVDs)
Video: Enhanced for 16:9 widescreen
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1, DD 2.0
Extras: DVD Interactive Visual Commentary on both rock operas by: Roger
Daltrey & Pete Townshend, “The Quadrophenia Story,” Photo Gallery,
Billy Idol Interview
Length: Disc 1 = 1 hr. 2:21; Disc 2 = 1 hr. 32:48; Disc 3 = 1 hr. 8:24
Rating: ****

This is a perfect holiday gift package for any Who fan, and probably
also for rock connoisseurs who lean more toward the Stones or
Beatles.  Other bands of the British invasion (and one of from the
U.S. – The Beach Boys) may have created the concept album idea, but the
Who are generally credited with having introduced the pop music world
to rock opera with Tommy.  Along the way the Who began to move
away from their previous destructive performing style (smashing their
expensive guitars at the end of concerts – part of why they didn’t do
as well financially as the Beatles and Stones) and toward what was
dubbed by Billy Idol in his interview here “thinking man’s rock.”

The Who had a mentor and co-manager, Kit Lambert, who filled a similar
role to that of George Martin with the Beatles – pushing the band into
entirely new areas and concepts.  He got the band’s chief composer
– Townshend – to listen to how classical music was structured, starting
with fellow countrymen like Henry Purcell. Townshend made some stabs at
rock mini-operas, stringing together several tunes around a story line.
Eventually there were enough about a rock star-cum-evangelist for
Lambert to write a film script for the group titled “Tommy
1914-1984.”  Townshend’s song Amazing Journey seemed to
encapsulate the story of Tommy: It was about someone living life
without seeing, hearing or speaking – experiencing everything thru only
touch and vibrations – in other words, thru touch and music.

Tommy had its premiere in London in l969 and was a big success for the
band. Later Ken Russell did a wild film version of Tommy, using the
band’s lead singer Roger Daltrey in the main role. Much of the
mysticism and spirituality of the Tommy story derived from Townshend’s
involvement in the teachings of guru Meher Baba. Tommy is a child
during WW II; when the war ends his father fails to return and she
takes up with another man.  Suddenly  the father comes back
and kills the lover in front of the child, who is thus struck deaf,
dumb and blind. He matures and becomes a pinball wizard, playing by
vibration and feeling.  The ministrations of many different
doctors and others (such as The Acid Queen) eventually result in Tommy
regaining his senses and freedom. He becomes a spiritual lead with
great charisma and opens a camp training his followers in gaining
enlightenment by covering their eyes, ears and mouth and playing
pinball. But in the end his followers rebel against him. 

The live stage performance took place in LA with Phil Collins play
Uncle Ernie, Billy Idol a school bully, Patti LaBelle as the Acid
Queen, and Elton John a pinball expert dazzled by Tommy’s talents. All
the great tunes from the original are here: Amazing Journey, Eyesight
to the Blind, The Acid Queen, Pinball Wizard, Tommy Can You Hear Me,
I’m Free, among them.

The next rock opera , Quadrophenia, was Townshend’s continuing saga of
self-exploration, but with a more complex story line that seems to need
more explanation. It’s about a boy with a personality split four
ways.  It also centers around the fights in that London era
between the Mods and the Rockers. I had wondered at the time of its
inception if it wasn’t designed to be recorded and reproduced via the
new quadraphonic format of the early 70s but had never seen a reference
to it. Now in the Visual Commentary by Townshend he explains that sure
enough his original idea was to produce the whole thing in quad sound
and have the hero’s four personalities all singing from a different one
of the four channels around the listener. The band even built a studio
of their own with four-channel capabilities for that very
purpose.  But it proved too frustrating an undertaking and the
idea was abandoned.

The rather convoluted story line is made clearer during the live stage
performance of Quadrophenia by showing on a screen behind the
performers (as well as full screen part of the time) excerpts including
dialog, taken from the feature film Quadrophenia made in 1974. Billy
Idol plays a similar part in this production of bully Ace Face, but
he’s one the four-ways hero looks up to. Some of the tunes from
Quadrophenia are The Real Me, I’m One, Drowned, Doctor Jimmy, and Love
Reign O’er Me.  Six tunes from Quadrophenia are encored in the
excerpts on the third DVD taken from the Who’s 1996-67 U.S tour. There
are also 16 other tunes performed live in l989, both in LA and in
Giants Stadium in New Jersey. Among the standouts are Who Are You? and
the rather un-Who-like (more like the Lovin’ Spoonful!) innocent tune
about Boris the Spider.

Sound, lighting and general production on all three discs is of highest
quality. Occasionally there are instruments such as harmonica to the
fore on the soundtrack – yet we never see the performer.  There
are also few shots of the distinctive-looking female percussionist in
the band, who would have provided a welcome contrast to all the
closeups of Daltrey – dramatic as the skilled actor he is.The Visual
Commentary is something new to DVDs.  It provides not just audio
commentary with the actual soundtrack lowered in volume under it, but
also shows either Daltrey or Townshend on the screen over the video of
the band, explaining various details of the music and production. You
turn the Visual Commentary on or off by pressing the Select button on
your remote. Unfortunately, on the Pioneer DVD player I was using this
also reduced the actual soundtrack from 5.1 to 2.0 stereo and placed a
little movie camera icon on the screen which refused to go away no
matter what sequence of button I pressed. This was not annoying with
Quadrophenia because it is transferred as an extremely letterboxed
widescreen image with the camera icon appear above it in the masked-off
area. However, the screen ratio was more squarish in Tommy and the icon
on a blue stripe appeared going entirely over the screen images at the
top.

A much more in-depth understanding of both rock operas results from the
comments of Daltrey and Townshend during the two performances. As just
one example, both talk about the psychological, economic and other
effects of WW II on those who lived thru it.  A collage of
newsreel footage of the war and postwar years accompanies some of the
appropriate sections of the work. I felt I now understood many
references in the songs of Tommy which were completely lost on me in
earlier hearings. The well-written and illustrated essay in the printed
booklet enclosed is also a good read. This is a package handsomely put
together and packed with exciting Who performances with great visual
and sonics.

– John Henry

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