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Roger Daltrey, Keith Moon, Pete Townshend
Writing Credits:

Making this rock classic available for the first time as a single-disc, stand-alone DVD, Rhino is proud to present The Who’s, Tommy Live With Special Guests. This live rendition of The Who’s full-blown rock opera about a deaf, dumb, and blind boy was performed live in 1989 at The Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, with special guests Elton John, Phil Collins, Billy Idol, Patti LaBelle, and Steve Winwood.

Rated NR

Fullscreen 1.33:1
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby 2.0
Not Closed-captioned

Runtime: 62 min.
Price: $14.98
Release Date: 6/6/2006

• Visual Commentary with Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey
Tommy Photo Gallery


Sony 36" WEGA KV-36FS12 Monitor; Sony DA333ES Processor/Receiver; Panasonic CV-50 DVD Player using component outputs; Michael Green Revolution Cinema 6i Speakers (all five); Sony SA-WM40 Subwoofer.


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The Who: Tommy Live With Special Guests (1989)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 15, 2006)

Behold as before our very eyes, the Who make a mockery of the “farewell tour” concept. The band initially parted ways in 1982. They came back briefly in 1989 to commemorate the 20th anniversary of their landmark album Tommy, and that looked to be it. However, in 1996 the band returned to play their 1973 release Quadrophenia in its entirety. While they often did full Tommy performances back in the day, they’d never done Quadrophenia from start to finish. The timing seemed odd – a 23rd anniversary tour? – but at least the occasion marked something different.

Since then, they’ve never really gone away. Even after the 2002 death of bassist John Entwistle, the band continued to tour. Pete Townshend continues to tease us with the notion that he and Roger Daltrey – the only other surviving original member – will put out a new Who album, but it’s been a long time in the making, so I’ll believe it when I see it.

This DVD looks back at the first of these two “reunion” tours. We get a full performance of Tommy from 1989. To make the show a little different, it features celebrity guest stars for some of the songs. Staged specifically for TV broadcast, the Universal Ampitheatre concert featured here includes many extra singers who didn’t appear on the regular tour. We get Steve Winwood (for “Eyesight to the Blind”), Billy Idol (“Cousin Kevin”), Patti LaBelle (“Acid Queen”), Elton John (“Pinball Wizard”) and Phil Collins (“Uncle Ernie”).

The 1989 band was already bloated. The Who functioned best as a group of four, but since Moon’s departure they padded their numbers with additional performers in vain attempts to broaden their sound. The 1989 tour represented their largest stab in this regard, as it combined a massive attack of musicians. In addition to the three main members of the band, drummer Simon Phillips and the guest performers, we got a guitarist, a keyboardist, five horn players and three backup singers. Due to hearing issues, Townshend even ceded electric guitar duties to another player while he contended himself with acoustic work.

Unfortunately, the cast of thousands approach to the songs robs them of their heart and life, and they feel like they’d fit better with the Broadway production of Tommy. This doesn’t usually feel like the Who, as 1989 offers a middle-of-the-road cover band aimed at the VH1 crowd.

The guest performers abet this sense of glossy showbiz concert. They distract rather than enhance. Inevitably, egotist LaBelle does the most damage. From her idiotic hairstyle to her obnoxious vocal pyrotechnics, her every move screams “look at me”. I may hate LaBelle more than any other popular performer of the last 50 years, and nothing she does here changes my opinion.

(Speaking of unfortunate hairstyles, this show displays a wide variety of bad choices. We get Daltrey’s almost-mullet and Townshend’s balding-guy-combover-ponytail. None of these compare to the atrocity that is backup singer “Chyna’s” absurd ‘do. She dyes her blonde and fashions it as a giant wedge of hair. For all the world, she looks like she’s wearing one of those Green Bay Packers “cheesehead” hats. It’s arguably the worst hairstyle in the history of the world.)

Winwood offers a straightforward take on “Blind” that works just fine. Unfortunately, the others all emulate the LaBelle “bigger is better” attitude with their performances. Each one tries desperately to emote their roles, and this leads to goofy turns that stand out in a negative way. Elton John is also hampered by vocal problems that rob his rendition of “Wizard” of any power. He should be the highlight of the guest stars since he had a big hit with that tune in the Seventies, but he displays a vocal range of about one and a half notes.

By 1989, there was no way the Who could ever recapture the glory of their days with Keith Moon on drums. That’s part of the reason they packed it in after 1982; they realized the futility of trying to go on without his presence. The 1989 Who goes as far away from the Moon-era band as I can imagine. I’d prefer a simple, straightforward four-piece take on Tommy to this overblown bloated Broadway edition. It’s not a good reflection on the original material.

The DVD Grades: Picture C+/ Audio C+/ Bonus C+

The Who: Tommy Live with Special Guests appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 on this single-sided, dual-layered disc. Due to those dimensions, the show has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Tommy looked like a videotape of a show from 16 years ago, though it wound up at the higher end of that quality range.

Sharpness usually seemed adequate. Wider images took on a soft feel and could be rather undefined, but close-ups and two-shots looked pretty distinctive and concise. Jagged edges and shimmering weren’t an issue, and I noticed no source defects.

Colors tended to be somewhat messy. A lot of that stemmed from the videotape origins, as it rendered the tones in a glowing manner. Other than that runny side around the edges, the colors were really pretty decent. They could have been more concise, but they weren’t a distraction. Blacks were a bit muddy but also generally fine, while the occasional low-light shot demonstrated adequate definition. This wasn’t a great visual presentation, but it seemed generally positive given the material’s origins and age.

As for the audio, Tommy boasted a Dolby Digital 5,1 soundtrack. Tommy presented a good soundfield. The track packed in a lot of instruments and vocals, but it balanced them well. Daltrey and the guest stars stayed focused in the center, while Townshend’s occasional leads came from the right. His acoustic guitar appeared there as well, while the electric guitar came from the left. The rest of the elements spread nicely across the front and created a full, distinctive picture of the band.

Unfortunately, the quality of the audio was less impressive. The track seemed compressed and without much dynamic range. Highs tended to be flat and slightly muddy, while bass response was lackluster at best. The music always suffered from a dearth of low-end, and this left it too dense in the mid-range. The audio wasn’t poor, but the lack of breadth made it average at best.

A scaled-down version of the product that originally appeared as a three-disc set of Tommy, Quadrophenia and extras, only a few of those bonus materials move to this release. We still find a visual commentary. This features remarks from Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey, both of whom were recorded separately in non-screen-specific situations. The “visual” part is little more than a gimmick. We see Pete or Roger onscreen as they chat. It adds nothing to the presentation, which otherwise is a standard audio commentary.

Or compilation of related interview snippets, which is a more accurate description. Not that I mean to insult the commentaries, for they’re actually quite good. The visual aspect of the tracks is a fairly useless gimmick, though. On a few occasions, it comes in handy, such as when Townshend demonstrates a dance. Most of the time it’s not much help, though.

At least the content of the material is strong. We learn a little about the concerts and the musicians, but mostly Daltrey and Townshend discuss making the album and interpreting it. This means Townshend comes to the forefront and provides most of the information. Daltrey gets in some nice comments, but since Townshend wrote the album, he becomes the focal point. Pete always has been one of the great interview subjects, and he continues to offer concise, interesting information here. There’s a little dead air at times, but overall this is an excellent discussion.

We also get a Tommy Photo Gallery. This presents a filmed running montage of images that lasts two minutes and 40 seconds. It combines some pictures from the tour along with a few pieces of vintage artwork.

What does this package lose from the three-DVD set? Not counting the Quadrophenia material, it drops the second set from the Tommy concert. That means we don’t get its 13 songs and 68 minutes of music. This version also omits three songs from another 1989 concert at Giants Stadium and a fine booklet about the Who.

Arguably the most legendary live rock band ever, fans won’t find the Who at their best during this Tommy Live DVD. Bloated beyond recognition, the band display too much pomp and not enough fire. The DVD offers erratic picture and audio, largely due to problems with the source. Both are acceptable, and we get some decent extras. This DVD is probably best left to the big Who fans, all of whom will want to get the three-disc version instead. I think the show seems unlikely to do much for casual admirers who might otherwise be tempted to grab this cheaper, single-DVD iteration.

Viewer Film Ratings: 4.3157 Stars Number of Votes: 19
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