If there's one album that stands out as the trademark of The Who, it has to be Tommy, the 1969 rock opera that has become legendary over the years since its release. The album was a Top 10 record peaking at #2 on the Billboard charts in 1970, while “See Me Feel Me” from the album peaked at #15 in that same year.
The album's history includes having been redone several times in various forms. One version of Tommy became an album with Roger Daltrey, Maggie Bell, Ringo Starr, Rod Stewart, Richie Havens and Steve Winwood in various roles backed by the London Symphony Orchestra. There was the 1975 movie with The Who, Tina Turner, Oliver Reed, Jack Nicholson, Elton John, Eric Clapton and Ann-Margret produced by Ken Russell which film critic Roger Ebert called “one glorious excess after another.” There was also a Broadway musical in 1993, and numerous live performances were done by the Who, some with just the band and others with added star cast members, such as in 1989.. And an expanded deluxe edition of the original Tommy album with added then-unheard material was released in 2013.
Now we have The Who – Tommy Live at the Royal Albert Hall filmed in April 2017, and out Oct. 13 on DVD and Blu-ray, CD and vinyl. The selling point here – as hard as it may be to believe – is that the Who had never performed the rock opera live in complete form until this show. The reason they did it here was for a benefit for the Teenage Cancer Trust, a favorite charity of the band, especially Daltrey, who has performed numerous times over the years to raise money for it both with and without the Who.
There's not a whole lot to say about this new performance. The band, augmented by Pete's brother Simon on guitar and Zak Starkey, son of Beatles drummer Ringo Starr, doing his dad proud on the drum kit, sounds very good. The songs feature animations in the background, two of which for “Pinball Wizard” and “Acid Queen,” are included in the Special Features, along with a look at the band rehearsing for the show. And besides Tommy, the DVD and Blu-ray feature performances at the end of a bunch of Who classics, including “My Generation,” “Who Are You,” “I Can See For Miles” and “Won't Get Fooled Again.”
Daltrey and Townshend are very energetic here, no mean feat for two guys who used to jump all over the stage when they performed some of these songs 40 years ago. Older Who fans may feel that a vintage live performance with Keith Moon and John Entwistle, even if incomplete, would have been better. But this show, on a stage The Who have performed on many times before, is worth hearing because Tommy is and always will be a great piece of music. There's no question, though, that the spirit of their two departed comrades was there that night.