Music Review: The Who - Tommy - Live at the Royal Albert Hall

By , Contributor
The 2017 incarnation of The Who performs the classic 1969 behemoth live from start to finish on Tommy - Live at the Royal Albert Hall, newly released as a double-CD by Eagle Rock Entertainment. As covered here on TMR, the concert is also available on Blu-ray and DVD separately. For those who want to focus solely on the music (or those who, like me, wind up doing most of their music-listening in the car or elsewhere), the CD set is the way to go. Disc one contains all 24 Tommy tracks—including the usually-absent "Underture" and "Welcome"—marking the first time the band has performed the entire album in concert. The occasion was a benefit for the Teenage Cancer Trust.

The second disc contains an extended "encore" of seven Who classics. No surprises, just sturdy takes of such warhorses as "I Can't Explain," "Baba O'Riley," "Won't Get Fooled Again," and "Who Are You." But the meat of this release is the opportunity to hear Pete Townshend and Roger Daltrey putting everything they've got into a muscular reading of their landmark album. Of course it's a much different band than when bassist John Entwistle and drummer Keith Moon used to tear through (most of) the record back in day (check the 2001 Live at Leeds - Deluxe and the 1996 release of Live at the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 for two powerful vintage examples, others are commercial available as well). But the remaining founding members retain enough bite to make this work after so many years.

In fact, while age has eroded Daltrey's vocal range noticeably, it's Townshend's voice that has gained both power and nuance over the decades. He howls and growls on his vocal features (including a magnificent take on "The Acid Queen") like a seasoned bluesman. Zak Starkey powers through on drums, demonstrating once again why Townshend once offered him the chance to become a permanent, official Who member. Originally planned as an acoustic-only performance of the full Tommy, it's mentioned right at the outset that it would've taken "three weeks of rehearsals" and cost too much to make it worthwhile in regards to the charity. The subtleties of an acoustic arrangement might've been interesting in terms of the affect it would've had on Daltrey's delivery. At any rate, you won't hear it here.

It goes without saying that what's left of The Who in 2017 is but a reminder of the band's glory years. But there's also comfort to be found in hearing a couple of hardened pros still able to turn it up and crank it out as effectively as they do on Tommy - Live at the Royal Albert Hall.

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Chaz Lipp is a Seattle-based freelance writer whose focus is film and music. His new jazz album Good Merlin is now available.

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