The Who: Tommy and Quadrophenia Live with Special Guests appears in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 for Tommy and of 2.35:1 for Quadrophenia. Both come on single-sided, dual-layered discs. Quadrophenia has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Since both productions came from totally separate shows and years, I’ll discuss them on their own.
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.
One negative of Quadrophenia came from the lack of anamorphic enhancement. Fans may not gripe too much, though, since they’ll be happy to simply get a commercial release of this show. Tommy went on the market years ago, but Quadrophenia never hit shelves. The DVD’s booklet notes that “the show was only filmed for the band’s archives”.
That disclaimer should set us up for poor quality, and to a degree, that’s what we got. Nonetheless, the picture looked eminently watchable and didn’t suffer from any fatal flaws.
Given the source material and the lack of anamorphic enhancement, sharpness faltered at times. Those segments were erratic. Some wide shots looked crisp and distinctive, while others were soft and fuzzy. In general, wider images tended to be a bit rough and edgy, as I noticed jaggies and a little shimmering. Definition was consistently decent, but it lacked great clarity and accuracy. Source flaws manifested themselves in the form of video artifacting, an issue that became moderately prominent at times. Otherwise the presentation was clean.
Colors also varied. Most of the tones came from stage lighting, though a mix of hues popped up in the filmed sequences. The stage shots tended to be runny and messy. They lacked that video glow seen in the Tommy segment, but they were never particularly tight or vivid. The filmed parts presented stronger hues, though they remained fairly lackluster. Blacks were acceptably dense but nothing special, while low-light shots could be thick and murky. Given the fact this production was never meant for public consumption, it looked pretty good. Just don’t expect professional quality material.
As for the audio, both Tommy and Quadrophenia boasted Dolby Digital 5,1 soundtracks. These also varied in quality. 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.
Unsurprisingly, the audio of Quadrophenia was more problematic. It had flaws in terms of soundscape and quality. The imaging essentially came across as broad mono. The material didn’t explicitly concentrate on the center channel, but it also failed to spread instruments and vocals across the speakers with any distinct definition. I heard elements from the different spots but not to a degree where I could pinpoint them at all. This was a mushy soundfield without any real stereo presence.
Audio quality wasn’t much better. Much of the time it sounded like a really good audience recording. Vocals lacked natural tones since they displayed lots of arena reverb. The rest of the track demonstrated the same lack of dynamics that marred Tommy. The music stayed in the muddy mid-range most of the time. Highs were a little rough, while lows lacked punch or depth. Just like the picture was always perfectly watchable, I didn’t mind listening to Quadrophenia. Nonetheless, it failed to present a high-quality auditory experience.
Some nice extras come with this three-DVD set. Both Tommy and Quadrophenia present visual commentaries. These feature 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 albums and interpreting them. This means Townshend comes to the forefront and provides most of the information. Daltrey gets in some nice comments, but since Townshend wrote the albums, 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, particularly during Quadrophenia, but overall these are excellent discussions.
On DVD One, we 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.
DVD Two adds a seven-minute and 48-second program called The Quadrophenia Story. This includes behind the scenes footage and comments from Townshend and creative co-director Aubrey Powell. The latter offers the majority of the material as he discusses the development of the 1996-97 performances, the roots of the story, and bringing about the tour. It’s an informative and enjoyable little piece.
On DVD Three, extra songs are the focus. Entitled “Live Hits”, this disc includes the second set from the 1989 Tommy concert in California. This becomes the most substantial component of DVD Three, as the performance presents 13 songs: “Substitute”, “I Can See for Miles”, “Baba O’Riley”, “Face the Face”, “Love Reign O’er Me”, “Boris the Spider”, “Dig”, “Join Together”, “Rough Boys”, “You Better You Bet”, “Behind Blue Eyes”, “Won’t Get Fooled Again” and “Who Are You”. All together, these last one hour, eight minutes and 20 seconds.
Does the bloated Tommy band fare better on these numbers? Somewhat, but don’t expect miracles. There’s just something wrong about hard-charging rock tunes like “Fooled” being played with horns and whatnot. It’s good to see Pete on electric here, and a few of the tunes fare acceptably well. The flaws of the 1989 band remain, however. Still, it’s good to get this set so we can see the whole show.
A few more tracks from 1989 appear. Taken from a Giants Stadium show, we get “Acid Queen”, “Pinball Wizard” and “A Little Is Enough”. These go for a total of 12 minutes and 55 seconds. Though I remain unimpressed with the 1989 band, I do like that we can hear the two Tommy tracks here without guest vocalists; too bad the DVD doesn’t include the other songs not done by Daltrey or Townshend as well. “Little” originally came from Townshend’s Empty Glass; it’s not a great tune, but I like that it’s here.
The Quadrophenia Encore from 1996-97 comes next. This 32-minute and 17-second set encompasses “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, “Substitute”, “I Can’t Explain”, “The Kids Are Alright”, “Behind Blue Eyes” and “Who Are You”. The DVD offers a nicely raw performance in that it doesn’t edit or polish the evening’s events. This means we see Daltrey get irritated over a wonky guitar, and other flaws appear as well. The music remains in the same tone as the regular Quadrophenia performance, and the encore adds a nice element to the package. I can’t sat I care for the acoustic “Won’t Get Fooled Again”, though.
In addition to a teaser for an upcoming documentary called My Generation: Who’s Still Who, we find an Interview with Billy Idol. During this seven-minute and 10-second piece, Idol talks about his prior thoughts about the Who, his impressions of Tommy and Quadrophenia, and working with the band. He tosses out a few interesting insights, but mostly this featurette tends toward innocuous praise.
Additional information pops up in the package’s 20-page booklet. This includes credits along with a very good essay by Matt Kent. He traces the band’s history, especially in regard to Tommy and Quadrophenia. Kent provides a solid examination of the material in this fine text.
Arguably the most legendary live rock band ever, fans won’t find the Who at their best during this Tommy and Quadrophenia Live DVD. Still, it includes many good moments, especially connected to the Quadrophenia tour, and it comes with plenty of music to entice fans. The DVD offers erratic picture and audio, largely due to problems with the source. Both are acceptable, and we get a nice collection of extras. This DVD is probably best left to the big Who fans, as it seems unlikely to do much for casual admirers.