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review added: 7/9/02



Pete Townshend: Music from Lifehouse
2002 - MCY Music World (Image Entertainment)

review by Matt Rowe of The Digital Bits

Pete Townshend: Music from Lifehouse Program Rating: B+

Disc Ratings (Video/Audio/Extras): B/B+/D

Specs and Features

100 mins, NR, full frame screen (1.33:1), single-sided, RSDL dual-layered (layer switch at ???), Amaray keep case packaging, program themed menu screens, song access (18 tracks see track listing below), languages: English (DD 5.1 and 2.0 PCM Stereo), subtitles: none


The history of Lifehouse is a long tale. However, it's an important one. During the peak of The Who, Pete Townshend, easily the productive brain of the band (having already spun out Tommy), was hard at work on Lifehouse. He conceived Lifehouse as a vast and unusually deep concept project surrounding "the Grid" (with an uncanny resemblance to the Internet) - a concept borne out of Townshend's creative fascination with our affection for technology. The concept dealt with the departure of humanity from its immediate spiritual and social contact, into one that was a technological contact. Sound familiar? To underscore the foresight of Pete Townshend, we now spend a large portion of our interactive lives on the Internet. How's that for vision? As the story progresses, there is a pure musical note that reunites everyone to the purity of life, free of all control. That's the gist of the project. The problem was, it was far too complex an undertaking. The stories that surround the attempts to bring Lifehouse to fruition are vast, and resulted in a literal battle by Townshend - a battle of wills with the powers that be and his own health (he suffered a nervous breakdown).

Though it never quite came together, some of the Lifehouse songs ended up on subsequent albums. Fans of The Who may be surprised to know that most, if not all, of Who's Next are realizations of Lifehouse's best tracks. More ended up on Odds and Sods, a collection of B-sides and Who Are You. Which brings us to Pete Townshend: Music From Lifehouse, a new DVD from MCY Music and Image Entertainment. This disc is a live presentation of Lifehouse in musical form, without the operatic themes attached. It was performed in London at Sadler's Wells Theatre on February 25th, 2000. The show is carried out using a small orchestra and accomplished grouping of traditional musicians. There's Pete himself on acoustic guitar (yeah, I know), John Bundrick (ex of Backstreet Crawler and Crawler) on keyboards and Jody Linscott on percussion. Also featured are Chucho Merchan on bass and Phil Palmer (you'd swear it was Carlos Santana) on guitar. The band is completed by a trio of backups - Chyna (nope, not that one), Billy Nichols and Cleveland Watkiss, plus Peter Hope-Evans on mouth organ and Jew's harp.

But Who fans, take caution. This disc could either be a huge disappointment to you or a great joy. I will address the first issue now and then go into the reasons why, potentially, it is an important addition to your library. Much of the material on this DVD are songs that are very familiar. You will remember Teenage Wasteland, Love Ain't for Keeping, Bargain, Behind Blue Eyes, Baba O'Riley, Getting in Tune, Won't Get Fooled Again and Song is Over as they made up Who's Next. Other songs on this disc are found elsewhere in their original recordings. The problem, as such, is that there is absolutely no replacement for Roger Daltrey as THE voice for Townshend's conceptions. But here you get Townshend on vocals, and he is unable to capture the strength of delivery that Daltrey possesses. The vocal chores, although largely handled by Pete himself, are meted out to several of the backup singers. They really try to match Daltrey's vocals and sometimes they surprise. Secondly, the presentation of the songs is in a different format and may not be pleasing to discriminate Who fans' ears. Some of these songs are under performed, in that they are musically stripped down, acoustically rendered and vocally softened - definitely not the way you remember these great songs. But despite this, there are a few aesthetically pleasing performances. Won't Get Fooled Again and Baba O'Reilly will bring smiles to your face.

Here are the reasons that this release is an important one. It showcases the absolute brilliance of Townshend and the potential of Lifehouse as a complete show. We all know how good those songs are as they were finally recorded. Knowing this, there is reason to believe that Lifehouse would have eclipsed Tommy and Quadrophenia as the masterpiece album of The Who, had it been allowed to happen. This DVD makes you feel as if you've lost out on something great, or were deprived of something spectacular. I view this disc as a demo of sorts, serving as a vehicle for what Lifehouse could become if it had been given the jolt needed to jumpstart the project. Townshend can't get Lifehouse out of his blood, as its material keeps showing up everywhere. With The Who presently touring and Townshend's expressed desire to 'complete' the project (whatever he means by that), one can only hope that the remaining band members can collaborate and bring closure to one of the great incomplete developments in rock music.

Lifehouse is presented on DVD in both 5.1 Dolby and 2.0 PCM Stereo and is good in both formats. The stage is a fairly small one and the directional distribution of the sound space is well represented here. It's not a stellar audio mix, but it services this performance just fine. From the video perspective, the concert is delivered in its original full frame (1.33:1) and the lack of widescreen doesn't hurt the presentation at all. While anamorphic is always nice, some things work just as well in full frame where musical documents are concerned.

This DVD is a sparse one, providing only the concert and the track listing/song select. There are no bonus materials, which is a shame given the wealth of information that could have been brought to bear in explanatory form. There are many ways the value of this disc could have been enhanced, to increase its importance as a document in the lore of this magnificent project. To be fair, the booklet included provides extensive detail on the project - more than I have seen before included in a DVD. The disc runs approximately 100 minutes and features 18 songs.

If you're a purist, and enjoy The Who for their contributions and historical importance, this DVD is a good one for you. If, additionally, you're a Pete Townshend fan, this disc is definitely for you. The chance to hear Pete sing the crown jewels of The Who alone may be gratifying to you. If, however, you're hoping to hear Who-style renditions of the songs performed on this disc... stay away. You may be extremely disappointed. As for myself, I call this DVD "a bargain... the best I ever had."

Matt Rowe
mattrowe@thedigitalbits.com
Visit Matt Rowe's MusicTAP ------ Music Flows There!


Track Listing:

Fantasia Upon One Note
Teenage Wasteland
Time is Passing
Love Ain't for Keeping
Greyhound Girl
Mary
I Don't Know Myself
Bargain
Pure and Easy
Behind Blue Eyes
Baba O'Riley
Let's See Action
Getting in Tune
Relay
Join Together
Won't Get Fooled Again
Song is Over
Can You Help the One You Really Love?




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