“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.