Just seven years after wrapping up one of rock’s first farewell tours, The Who returned to the stage in 1989 with another first: the classic album show. It was the 20th anniversary of Tommy, which seemed like a good excuse to book a bunch of stadiums and play the album along with a healthy dose of Who classics, aided by a mere 12 other musicians. In typical fashion, Pete Townshend gave a very frank assessment of the situation. “There is no band,” he told Rolling Stone. “It’s wrong, really, to call it the Who, because it isn’t the Who. It’s a bunch of session musicians brought together to play Who material. It’s kind of authenticated because of our presence, but that’s all, really.”
Most shows began with a slightly-truncated version of Tommy, but a few special gigs contained a nearly-complete take on the album packed with guest stars. The August 24th,1989 show at the Universal Ampitheater in Los Angeles featured Steve Winwood (“Eyesight to the Blind”), Patti Labelle (“The Acid Queen”), Billy Idol (“Cousin Kevin”), Phil Collins (“Uncle Ernie”) and Elton John (“Pinball Wizard.”) The show was broadcast on Pay-Per-View for $19.95, but you can watch it for free right here.
The Who didn’t tour again for another seven years, at which point they revived Quadrophenia with a rotating crew of guests that included Billy Idol, Phil Daniels, PJ Proby and Gary Glitter, one year before child pornography charges ended his career. The tour was a huge success, and in 1998 Cheap Trick began playing their 1970s albums in concert. Brian Wilson followed with Pet Sounds two years later, and since then it’s become a huge trend, though there are some detractors.
“I can’t see how a band sits around and says, ‘You know what would mean a lot to me?'” Patrick Stump told Rolling Stone last year. “‘Playing an entire album we put out 10 years ago, front to back. That’s the most honest thing we can do, and it’s not motivated by money.’ We get asked this all the time, and I’m always like, ‘Why? Why would I ever want to do that?’ The only way that’s ever cool is if you don’t announce it, like if U2 showed up at the Metro [in Chicago] and did Boy straight through or something.”
Billy Corgan has similar feelings. “The idea of getting up and playing an album that was never meant to be played live in that sequence smacks of consumerism,” he told Rolling Stone recently. “That stuff is the dregs of the music business. I have a hard time believing that everybody out there doing it really wants to do it.”