Pete Townshend would be the first to tell you that his rock opera Tommy has a loose narrative and is approached best as an evocative piece. As a rock'n'roll album, Tommy worked because its cumulative effect was based on emotion and on the power of this great band. The Who filmed the stage performance on disc one of this three-DVD set for television in 1989, at the close of a 25th-anniversary tour. When Tommy is performed on stage, with various singers taking the parts of characters in the story, its weaknesses become glaring. The guests do well (for once, Patti Labelles over-the-top singing seems appropriate), but it would have been better had the band played it straight out.
Townshends second rock opera, Quadrophenia, is easier to follow than Tommy because Townshend kept the story simple and focused on the changing mental state of the main character. The filmed version of a 1996 performance in London on disc two of this set includes fewer guest singers and incorporates footage from the 1979 feature film based on the opera. A much stronger band, with drummer Zak Starkey keeping things firmly grounded, make for a much stronger disc two.
Disc one is in a somewhat murky full screen, while disc two is cleaner and in widescreen. Disc three, which includes performances of the bands hits from both shows, is in both formats. The sound is generally good on both discs, but John Entwistle should have been mixed higher. While all three discs are enjoyable enough, its Quadrophenia that makes this set worthwhile.
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