The Who - Tommy Live At The Royal Albert Hall review

The original rock opera gets its first airing since 1989

Cover art for The Who Tommy – Live At The Royal Albert Hall

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“I was abused as a child,” Pete Townshend admits, explaining why it’s been difficult for him to perform Tommy in full since 1970, and making 2017’s first performance in 27 years (plus 40 minutes of hits) all the more poignant. Starry casts including Steve Winwood, Rod Stewart, Phil Collins, Ringo Starr and Elton John have at various times brought music’s first rock opera to life, but here The Who eschew gimmicky cameos and let Daltrey and Townshend fully inhabit rock’s most celebrated olfactory pinball supremo.

It makes for an amazing journey as Rog ’n’ Pete rattle breathlessly through the titular Tommy’s life – from birth to extreme PTSD to becoming Messiah of the flippers – knocking out such scintillating prog-pop pieces as Christmas, Sensation and Go To The Mirror! like casual filler. The Acid Queen loses a little menace in Townshend’s hands, but Daltrey brings a bombastic wickedness to Cousin Kevin’s torture prog and a sadistic Yewtree growl to Uncle Ernie. Snippets of pastoral country, music hall and breezy blues dab extra colours onto Tommy’s palette as it barrels towards its towering conclusion, and it’s not hard to see why most of the 70s strived to emulate it. Even without Elton’s gigantic glitter boots in sight it’s a dazzling feat.

Mark Beaumont

Mark Beaumont is a music journalist with almost three decades' experience writing for publications including Classic Rock, NME, The Guardian, The Independent, The Telegraph, The Times, Uncut and Melody Maker. He has written major biographies on Muse, Jay-Z, The Killers, Kanye West and Bon Iver and his debut novel [6666666666] is available on Kindle.