The Who's Tommy is one of the most legendary albums of the rock and roll era, or any era really. The classic rock opera pushed the limits of what could be done within the confines of a rock record and was meant to be listened to as a complete piece. The band has performed Tommy live many times since it was first released in 1969, but never in its entirety until now. In April 2017, The Who took to the stage at London's famed Royal Albert Hall to perform the complete Tommy in support of the Teenage Cancer Trust. The show was filmed and makes up the Blu-ray The Who -- Tommy: Live At The Royal Albert Hall.
The Blu-ray begins with some backstage footage of the band talking about the album. Roger Daltrey talks about how the record broke him out of his shell, and not just vocally, emphasizing the magnitude of the work. Pete Townshend for his part states that he was very proud of the album, having written most of it, but adds that he was 23 at the time and there were some "geeky bits" he wouldn't have put in if he were writing it now. Regardless, the band played the full album, including those geeky bits to great approval from the packed house.
Before the show even begins, Daltrey tells the crowd, "For those who were expecting it to be acoustic, you're gonna be bloody disappointed." Indeed, the band, which includes Townshend's brother Simon on rhythm guitar, Zak Starkey on drums, Jon Button on bass and a trio of keyboardists including Frank Simes, Loren Gold and John Corey deliver a potent, full-on electric performance of the album, plus a second set of Who classics after the Tommy performance concluded.
The Tommy performance begins the show and the band plays the album in order. The band launches into the instrumental "Overture," with Pete Townshend aggressively playing power chords while Starkey does his best Keith Moon impression. Starkey has played with the band on and off for many years now and is probably as close to an official member as anyone else will likely get. Daltrey adds tambourine for additional percussion.
On "It's A Boy," Pete and Simon Townshend harmonize, with the younger Simon sounding remarkably like his older brother in his youth. Throughout the show, Simon Townshend adds extra guitar, filling in the sound and allowing Pete Townshend to play more lead. He's also helpful on hitting notes that Pete may not be able to reach anymore vocally and sings some lead vocals too, such as on "Go To The Mirror." "Amazing Journey" finds Daltrey giving a confident vocal as the crack band ably navigates the song's complex rhythms.
Pete Townshend's eyes are closed during the intro to "Sparks" as he feels the music while Starkey pounds away behind him and Daltrey shows off his bluesy side on "Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker)," an old Sonny Boy Williamson number redone in a decidedly Who-like way. The band gives a heavy reading on "The Acid Queen" that showcases a gritty vocal from Pete Townshend while Daltrey pushes the limits of his range during the choruses.
Tommy's most famous track is, of course, "Pinball Wizard" and it doesn't disappoint here. The crowd is all in from the opening notes before Pete Townshend even begins the song's signature strummed intro. The Tommy portion closes out with the melodic hard rock of "We're Not Gonna Take It," but that is only the end of the first part of the show.
The group plays a short set of some of their biggest hits, including the Mod-era power pop classic "I Can't Explain" and a potent "Join Together" that utilizes all the singers in the band to recreate the song's big chorus. The show ends with a muscular "Won't Get Fooled Again" that is every bit as powerful as it was in 1971 with Daltrey nailing the scream.
The Blu-ray is presented in 1080i High Definition 16:9 and is well filmed, with many shots of the legendary venue interspersed throughout the show. Audio options include DTS-HD Master Audio and LPCM Stereo. The mix is full and powerful, befitting the music. Bonus features include a look behind the scenes and the screen footage used for "The Acid Queen" and "Pinball Wizard."
After all these years, The Who still delivers as a live band. Playing all of Tommy for the first time ever with a band in fine form (and voice) and for a good cause made this a memorable night for Who fans and the Blu-ray a great souvenir to remember it by.