It may sound incredible – nay, it is incredible – but a live rendering of Tommy by the original lineup was not released until this double album was issued in 1996. The one landmark live disc by the band bypassed Tommy almost entirely. And the one “official” release that had a full performance was as diluted as it could ever possible be – it was part of the “Join Together” box set, with a trillion guest chirping in and a backing band as huge as to render the three surviving members irrelevant.
That was the reason everybody flocked to this when it was issued in 1996. We all had our appetites whetted the previous year, as a video of the performance was released by Murray Lerner. Although it was not the full performance, it sufficed to send everybody counting the days until a live CD was issued. And we didn’t have to wait that long, fortunately.
When pitched against “Leeds” (the obvious comparison) the disc does not fare that well in terms of sound. The main problem to me is that Moon is nowhere as well miked, and the drums sound flat. The whole concert you listen to “tock, tock, tock” as if a table was being knocked. And speaking of Moon, he is not entirely in as the show starts – he gathers pace and starts hitting hard as the “Tommy” set is nearing.
The “Tommy” set. Whenever this album is discussed, that seems to be all there is to be said. The truth is that if you compare the other live performances found here with their “Leeds” counterparts they are mostly inferior – “Substitute” in particular is incredibly punchless. The one exception is the live version of “Young Man Blues”, as the Isle Of Wight interpretation blows any other into the ionosphere.
A nice find of the Isle Of Wight album is “I Don’t Even Know Myself”. The song was only played live for a short time, and it is a definitive rarity. And this 2-disc set also has “Water”. I am a bigger fan of other versions (the one provided as a bonus track on the remastered “Who’s Next” springs to mind), yet I know many to whom the song can’t last less than 8 minutes. They will be quite pleased with the one found here, then.
But make no mistake, the album is a must owing to the energy-sapping performance the guys put all through the concert. “Tommy” live is every bit as legendary as we all have read, and you get to see how some snippets like “There’s A Doctor” take a life on their own onstage (they were dull on record). And I must say that after listening to “Tommy” as performed here, my appreciation of the original album was bolstered considerably. And the maxim “Every show from the Tommy-era would make a great live album” is proven to be true.