Friday, February 21, 2014

The Who - Live at Leeds

After years of non-stop work and then the massive success of Tommy, The Who, and especially main songwriter Pete was feeling pressure to come up with a appropriate follow-up. This went through many phases as the Life House project before eventually becoming a more standard - though terrific - rock album, Who's Next. While Pete was struggling with this, the label and their fans were clamoring for more "product" so the result was this, their first live album, and the only one released while the original band was working.

Always a band to flaunt convention, the record and the set opens with Entwistle's wonderful "Heaven and Hell", a blisteringly powerful hard rocker that shows the group to be on top of their form. They blast right into their first single, "I Can't Explain", which works as well as a hard rocker as it did as a mod anthem, before taking a breather to introduce their unique version of "Fortune Teller" that segues into Pete's "Tattoo". Their take on Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" is one of their best interpretations ever - taking a piano blues and turning it into a crazed, dynamic piece of riffin' rock'n'roll. I love the banter between songs, though it is mixed comparatively so quietly that it can be difficult to hear unless you constantly play with the volume. In any case, three early numbers follow as a medley, "Substitute", "Happy Jack" and "I'm a Boy" - all great. Pete gives a long (probably as long as the song itself) introduction to one of my favorite early tunes, the "mini-opera", "A Quick One, While He's Away", another stellar performance. Some people might want to take a breather after that masterpiece, but not the Who - they then take on Eddie Cochran's "Summertime Blues" and make that their own, as well, and got a hit out of it in the bargain! From there they jump right into another amazing cover, "Shakin' All Over" that has a lengthy "jam" in the middle, though it works here. Unfortunately, the jam in "My Generation" degenerates into meandering - one critic said that once they stopped smashing their equipment at the end of this, they didn't know what to do with themselves! There are some nice tidbits, though, such as snippets from Tommy (which they perform basically in its entirety at this show, as well), especially the instrumenttal "Sparks" with Pete's gargantuan E chord! On this 2-CD set there is yet another long jam song, "Magic Bus", on disc one so that Tommy could all be on one CD, instead of the middle of the set, as it was live. These three jam songs in a row get a bit tedious, but I'm sure it was better in its original setting.

As I said, disc 2 here is dedicated to Tommy, done basically in its entirety - there are a couple of pieces missing, but nothing major. The sound is excellent - possibly better than the studio version, which was a bit muddy and, as I do, I like the stripped down versions here. Highlights include "Eyesight to the Blind", "Acid Queen". "Go to the Mirror"/"Smash the Mirror", "I'm Free" and, of course, "We're Not Gonna Take It".

One of the best live records ever and a superb document of this amazing group at the height of their exceptional powers. There's a number of versions of this available these days - you need to own at least one!