Friday 4 July 2008

Review 33) The Who "Live At Leeds" (1970)

You can now buy 'Gettin' In Tune - The Alan's Album Archives Guide To The Music Of The Who' in e-book form by clicking here!

On which that perennial cash-in, the ‘live’ album, finally comes of age…

Track Listing: Young Man Blues/ Substitute/ Summertime Blues/ Shakin’ All Over// My Generation/ Magic Bus (Original UK and US editions – the 25th anniversary CD re-issue in 1995 added another eight tracks from the same Leeds show and a later 2 CD pressing (circa 2002) added a whole hour-long performance of Tommy)



For The Record:

Ones to watch out for: My Generation, Summertime Blues (on the original edition), Heaven And Hell, Tattoo, anything from Tommy (deluxe edition)

Ones to skip: Substitute is a rather perfunctory version of a classic single, at least compared to the other powerhouse songs on Leeds which sound as if they have been completely re-arranged and revitalised.

The cover: A basic sheet of brownish paper with the title stamped across the top. Leeds is, in short, a rare example of an official release made to look like a bootleg, with the original LP coming complete with photo-copied sheets of important band documents including a contract for an appearance at the Aquarius Festival (the band’s biggest gig in America until Woodstock two months later), a bill for a smoke generator used on-stage in 1967, a legal warning to manager Kit Lambert that an out-standing bill for instruments meant they could be re-possessed by Jennings Music and a confusing rejection letter from EMI dated October 1964 that ‘cannot decide if the band [then playing as the High Numbers] have anything to offer or not’. Err, yes they do—as you’ll be finding out in a few months’ time (these demos are, by the way, pretty darn good—way better than the audition tapes that got bands like Byrds, the Searchers and even the Beatles signed). The original vinyl fort this album even carried the typical bootleg warning ‘crackling noises are not the fault of your needle’. The CD has the phrase replaced by the sentence ‘crackling noises have been corrected!’ printed on it instead!

Key lyrics: “Well a young man ain’t got nothing in the world these days…” “Substitute you for my mum, at least I’ll get my washing done” “When you move up close to me, that’s when I get the shakes all over me…”  “Hope I die before I get old” “I can’t explain, I think its love, try to say it to you that I feel blue, but I can’t explain” “We’re as happy as we can be—and now I get my fortune told for free” “I’m a boy I’m a boy but my ma won’t admit it, I’m a boy I’m a boy but if I say I am I get it” “Sickness will surely take the mind where minds can’t usually go, come on the amazing journey and learn all you should know” “A vague haze of delirium creeps up on me, all at once a tall stranger I suddenly see, he is your leader – he is your guide, on the amazing journey together we’ll ride”

Original UK chart position: #3, still in the wake of Tommy’s success – the 21 weeks this album spent on the charts remains the best performance of any Who album in the whole of their career.

Singles: The live version of Summertime Blues taken from this album was pushing the market one release too far and only made #38.

Out-takes: Several additional tracks from the same Valentine’s Day 1970 concert as outlined below. You can also hear studio alternatives of the following tracks: Young Man Blues ( a rather bland version recorded in  1968 and first intended for Tommy) and Summertime Blues (a basic but sprightly version recorded in early 1967 shortly before Who Sell Out sessions began in earnest; both of these tracks are available on the excellent expanded CD issue of out-takes and rarities album Odds And Sods). Substitute and Magic Bus were only ever available as singles and can be found on pretty much every Who compilation out on the market, as can My Generation, which also served as the title track of the band’s first album (1965).

Availability: As discussed, you can get three versions: a stand-alone 35-minute release, an expanded 75-minute release or a deluxe two-hour 2CD issue. Amazingly, the extra material on these expanded issues is pretty much all up to the same high standards, making you wonder why this set wasn’t a quad or even a quintuple disc set originally!

This album came between: This album came after Tommy (1969) – a messy masterpiece (transformed into a masterpiece pure and simple by the live version on the deluxe edition of the Leeds CD); The follow-up was Who’s Next (1971), a superbly mature album that might have been the best Who release of the lot if Pete’s “Lifehouse” idea hadn’t fallen through – listen to Bargain or Behind Blue Eyes and just weep at the level of perfection on show here (however the album is too well-known for this list, worst luck and how the repetitive Going Mobile squeaked through the tight editing process I’m not sure!)

Line-up: Roger Daltrey, John Entwistle, Keith Moon and Pete Townshend (produced by The Who)

Putting The Album In Context:

STEADY yourself ears, this is the hardest, heaviest rock band at their hardest heaviest best, revisiting the best of their back catalogue with an energy they will never have again and a wonderful way of joining the epic with the downright funky basics. There’s a lot of firsts about this album. One of only two live albums on this list and the only re-issue to easily trump the original (you can now get it on CD with the whole two hour show - complete with an hour-long performance of Tommy – rather than as the original 35-minute highlights set) there are no re-recordings of any kind and the band nail a complicated set with alarming ease. Why this set was restricted to just six (admittedly long) songs on the original I don’t know – they’re not particularly the best renderings made on the night and Leeds would have made a great double or triple record, even without recycling songs from Tommy. Recorded at Leeds University on Valentine’s Day 1970, a date that courtesy of this record has gone down in history as one of those all-time you-should-have-been-there events (the band played a fine anniversary set at the university again a few years ago), the release is a useful stop-gap collection that finds the band gleefully rushing back to the rock and roll gems that started things off for them after scoring big with the delightful prog rock of Tommy, reminding newcomers of the band’s illustrious beginnings as Britain’s noisiest rock band of the 60s.

The band are very relaxed on this performance, veering on the edge of falling apart throughout, but that sloppyness only comes about because the band are playing at the absolute limit and all four musicians are improvising to within an inch of their lives, competing with each other as to who can dominate the songs more. The Who are also sharing a definite sixth sense about where to go on these recordings, especially the interplay between Moon and Townshend which is extraordinary considering the live versions on this record and on other contemporary Who shows are often wildly different, with the band striking out in some completely unexpected direction night after night. Yet such is the band’s ‘togetherness’ of the period, each time Pete breaks away for a guitar solo or Roger improvises a lyric, its as if the band have been playing that version night after night for years, so well tuned to each other’s performances are they.

Despite the lack of new group originals and the use of three cover versions, Leeds isn’t exactly your typical 60s live-album cash-in either, as each of these songs are marvellously re-invented for concert performance, full of atmosphere and power that the studio versions of these songs just don’t quite have. Just compare this album to similarly-vintaged live offerings from The Who’s contemporaries: by contrast The Kinks Live At Kelvin Hall (1968) sound tired and are hard to hear, as if they are playing down a wind tunnel, the Rolling Stones on Get Yer Ya-Yas Out (1970) start off well but struggle to get to the end of a song before inspiration fades and on Jefferson Airplane’s Bless It’s Little Pointed Head (1969) half the band seem to fall asleep somewhere about the middle of the record. All of these bands were good live, but none of them quite owned the stage in The Who did around the end of the 60s and the beginning of the 70s – certainly not for the two-hour straight shows that the quartet were performing at the time when they really were within a shout of being the world’s greatest ever rock and roll band. Even the rather relaxed stage comments are often hilariously funny, not an adjective often used to describe The Who (Keith trying to calm down the audience for the start of Tommy – ‘shush, it’s a bleeding opera innit?’ - Pete announcing in a posh voice that the band will play ‘our three easiest singles’, Pete calling Tommy the pot opera, the rock otter and various other variations on ‘pop opera’, etc). The Who were obviously having fun that night on stage – amazingly most other live Who recordings from the period sound just as entertaining, but back in 1970 when releasing live albums invariably meant a lack of ideas and a need for quick money, Live At Leeds was something of a breakthrough moment for popular music.

Choosing what tracks to discuss below gets a bit complicated for this record. Most of you fans out there will own some sort of sparkly CD copy of this album by now, which have all been extended from the original 35 minute record to some extent (the latest copy is more or less quadruple that length!) and unusually for this list, there never was a CD of this album released without the bonus tracks (as far as I know any—look in your lattices and tell me if I’m wrong!) However, we like to do things properly at the album archives, even if that makes us some of the most mind-numbingly boring people on the planet, so for the purposes of this review the tracks for this album will be discussed in the same order that it came out in 1970. To keep the rest of you happy, however, read on to the end and you’ll also find a brief discussion about all the new juicy bits that have come to light in the 35 years since this album first came out.

The Music (Original Album):

On the original LP things kicked off with Young Man Blues, a heavy contemporary version of a 50s Mose Allison blues number which the band make their own with a more straightforward rock arrangement. Bemoaning the fact that elder generations no longer have respect for the young, it’s a neat twist on the subject matter of My Generation and finds Roger Daltrey in particularly strong growling form. The stop-start nature of the song is unusual, but does at least allow the band to show off their amazing band interplay, with the ‘holes’ or silences in the track just as together and solid as the on-beats. And for those people out there who believe you have to ‘see’ a gig to get the atmosphere, just compare this barnstorming five minute version to the October 1968 studio recording (on CD copies of the Odds and Sods rarities album) – fine as it is, that older version just cannot compete with the energy or dexterity here.

A rather ordinary version of the classic complex single Substitute followed. One of the Who’s better loved singles, it’s a very short song dating from 1966 that packs a lot into its two and a half minutes and always took on a new dimension when played live (it has never been out of The Who’s set lists in the 40 years since its release). With a riff that sounds like an animal prowling round the floor, the Who re-invent the pop single for their own ends, retaining the singalong chorus and backing harmonies but dispensing with any of the false jollity usually associated with 45s of the day.  Ignoring the typical romantic lyrics of most 60s singles, Pete wrote a caustic lyric about a narrator who questions his self-worth when his girlfriend uses him as a ‘substitute’ for another guy instead of any real affection and then widens the theme to explore the idea of ‘fakes’ in society – ‘fake’ leather shoes, ‘fake’ plastic macs, etc. Along the way the narrator tells us about his own rather confused skew-whiff world, where his artificial height comes from his tall shoes, his young age conceals a ‘backdated’ wisdom, his skin colour is different to that of his parents and his seemingly simple character masks a jumble of feelings and emotions that he cannot understand. A typical Townshend song in the way that it deals with lies and mis-perceptions head on, it’s transformed from simple ditty into a rocking wail of denial on this album.  

A cover of Eddie Cochran’s Summertime Blues sounds equally tailor-made to The Who. A great rabble-rouser, it again knocks the spots off the only official studio version taped shortly before the Who Sell Out sessions in mid-1967 (see Odds And Sods again) and takes moaning teenage frustration to a whole new level, featuring a band at the peak of their ensemble powers. Roger’s vocal is at its growling best here, barking out this song of teenage frustration at not being able to take his parents’ car out with his friends during the summer holidays, although it’s Entwistle’s deep bass rebuttals, acting as the boy’s no-nonsense parents, that steals the show.

Shakin’ All Over is another 50s song re-invented and updated to sound like new. Unlike its American cousins, however, this fiery song was written by the lead singer of English band Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, although its rather better known through countless later versions. Indeed, it was something of a favourite for early 60s club-playing groups, owing to its simplicity and a funky riff guaranteed to get an audience response of some form or another (The Swinging Blue Jeans for instance did a particularly fine version of this song, which is the pinnaclwe of the Merseybeat sound over it’s 150 seconds, all hard-hitting jangly guitars, crunchy echo and swash-buckling drums). The Who never did return to the song on record, which was used in their set-lists of the period as a gentle rocking come-down after playing Tommy for an hour straight without a pause (they often segued into another 50s track, Willie Dixon’s Spoonful – a combination you can hear on the Isle of Wight Festival 1970 CD). Of all the three cover versions on Leeds this one might well be the best, being well suited to Roger’s vocal at its deepest and leaving Entwistle lots of room to manoeuvre round the song’s main riff and go on some truly jaw-dropping bass runs of his own concoction.   

The real tour de force of the original set, however, is My Generation, the band’s classic song of teenage angst transformed here into a 14-minute monster that never seems to end, spiralling out into one breathless improvisation after another. This version looks back towards The Who’s eventful past by charging with all the energy of the original, before improvising its way into a selection of the band’s present Tommy material and then off into the band’s future: towards the end of the song Pete picks out some unrehearsed, half sketched songs that are the highlight of the set (and are later turned into the fairly rare songs Water and Naked Eye – see the all-singing all-dancing expanded version of Odds And Sods again). In one of the most memorable moments in the whole of The Who’s canon, you can hear Pete audibly trying to work out where he’s going next with each lick he plays and there’s a memorable moment where he pre-empts the echo bouncing off the walls of the concert-hall and plays along with his own solo. Who said you can’t have any double-tracking at a live gig?! Pete’s rhythm guitar style (in truth, John was more of the lead -player despite being the bassist of the group) is at its best here, suddenly lurching into new chords or phrases that sound as if they have just been made up on the spot. The band are Pete’s perfect back-up band here too: Entwistle and Moon work out just the right moment to thump their way back into the song and when to leave Pete to improvise by himself. Daltrey, left without a lot to do, still adds some great improvised blues hollering onto the end of the song. Amazingly, this ridiculously energetic version of My Generation was played as the first encore of the show, right at the end of the set, when the band had already been playing for a solid two hours. Considering I get tired out just tapping my foot to this song all the way through, that’s a staggering achievement. Unfortunately, this ever-popular song is about to get a rather boring chugging blues makeover in the band’s set-lists not longer after this recording – by the stunning evidence of this track the Who should have left well alone (** see note). 

After all this musical mayhem, that psychedelic souped-up take on Arriva’s finest known as Magic Bus sounds like a bit of an anti-climax, but its catchy one-chord riff and jocular percussion are tailor made for the end of concerts where the band can chill out to something really simple and stretch out on each riff as little or as much as they want. Dating from the band’s ‘lost’ period in 1968, when The Who released no album and had only minor charting singles in sharp contrast to their 1965-66 top-five charting peak years, Magic Bus is one of those rare songs that truly found its home on the stage and not the studio, where it remains to this day one of the band’s most popular numbers with fans. Coming after the spiritualism of Tommy, the classic band-bartering over a fair price to pay for a presumably priceless psychedelic wagon also cuts through any pretension that the band are nurturing their spiritual side! 


The Music (Extra Material):

Live At Leeds is undoubtedly a minor classic in its original form then, but the two various deluxe editions currently available are something else entirely. Putting the songs back into the context of the band’s set list reveals this Valentine’s night performance to be a carefully paced show, hitting peaks at regular intervals and spacing the similar sounding songs apart from each other. The Who’s true opener that night was Heaven and Hell, a mischievous Entwistle song only ever released as a B-side, which simplifies the bible’s verses on good and evil into its most basic terms. The charging instrumentation from the Ox makes for a classic opener to the show, giving Pete the space he needs in the guitar break to warm up and get into synch for the lengthy set up ahead, while Daltrey’s blues hollering harmony suits Entwistle’s typically dry delivery of an extremely subtle chuckling song (** see note 2).

For my money, no Who concert is complete without I Can’t Explain – The Who are the only famous band I can think of that played their first ‘proper’ single during every tour of their career (By comparison The Beatles never did Love Me Do on stage past 1962, the Stones never did Come On past 1963, the Beach Boys never did Surfin’ right up until a 1990s revival and The Kinks did Long Tall Sally just once before booting it out of their set list forever). This version of the song, even more than the others on record, is a pure two minute burst of confused adrenalin and a classic example of that classic Who sound: aggression stoked through with vulnerability, one that set the template for practically every Who song to follow.

Next comes the forgotten classic 50s song Fortune Teller which, as Roger’s long monologue at the start tells us, was covered by just about everyone in the 60s (he missed out The Hollies by the way, whose 1965 version from their eponymous third album remains the best of the many I’ve heard). This version is different to most other covers because the band unusually slow the first half of the song right down until it’s more blues than rock (most versions are rattled off at break-neck speed throughout). Apart from this interesting and intriguing variant, its not one of the band’s better covers or one of that 1970 night’s best performances. A shame given that the subtle humour of this song makes for a nice, typically Entwistle-like take on 60s romance: the narrator, unlucky in love, visits a fortune teller to ask when he’ll fall in love. Told soon, he goes back to the fortune-telling gypsy a week later to complain that he is still lonely and demands his money back. Suddenly he realises the truth the listener has realised several verses before – he is now in love with the fortune teller; cue happy ending, glowing harmonies and a typical Keith Moon double-time drum kick at the end, even if the hapless narrator has to accept that he won’t be getting a refund.

The rarely-performed Tattoo, on the other-hand, sounds mighty good live (was it really only two band albums and 16 list albums ago the band first did this song – it sounds like it comes from another era altogether in this ever-changing period!) and Roger does a good job of remembering all the song’s clever half word rhymes while the band get all Motown-like behind him (see review no 17 for more on this classic song!)

After Substitute on the original set comes the other two ‘easiest’ Who singles according to Pete, Happy Jack (the band’s first big hit outside Britain) and I’m A Boy (‘our first number four’ as Pete tells us proudly). Both are pretty dispensable re-workings compared to the rest of concert, but it’s interesting to hear the subtle differences between the live versions of these songs and the studio originals. I’ve never really understood the fuss behind Happy Jack, sometimes reckoned to be The Who’s best or nearly best single, and I’m even more confused after reading various Who articles that claim that Jack was either Pete himself remembering his own holidays on the Isle of Mann (his trumpet-playing dad used to perform there in a band most summers) or a seaside donkey (!- why is Jack ‘singing’ then? shouldn’t he be braying?!?) The typically Keith Moon use of the drums as a ‘lead’ instrument that dominates the other musicians completely (he even plays the melody in the solo as well as setting the rhythm – I kid you not!) is worth a listen though.

I’m A Boy however is a terribly impressive creation for a British band circa 1965, a tale of a family in the earth’s future who ‘order’ a girl to add to their family, a sort of premonition of the online-shopping phenomenon (although last time I looked, babies weren’t listed in the Tesco brochure—still they’ve got everything else including some fairly rare CDs so I suppose its only a matter of time). Alas, like many online-shopping experiences, the company get the family’s order wrong and send them a little boy tby mistake. A very Substitute-like narrative of being an outsider left in the wrong place then gets under-way, with Pete’s latest character desperate to claim back the identity snatched from him by his insensitive parents and siblings. This song was - like many a Townshend song of the era - originally part of an abandoned mini-opera, which would have been a fascinating project to hear if the songs were all as good - and as odd- as this little gem! (It would have been easier to follow than Rael, that’s for sure!) The song calls for a much more polished performance from The Who than normal in either version, sporting some very Beach Boys-ish harmonies that the band do a fair job of re-creating live.

Next up is A Quick One, which is one of Pete’s other early attempts at writing a suite of songs with one underlying theme. Its always good to hear live (the 1966 studio version is but a pale shadow of the energised recording heard here), although the definitive version of this song remains the one the band played at the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus show in 1968 (The Who’s - if not The Stones’ - performance is one of the best live rock performances ever recorded by anybody, with Moon even pouring water over his drum kit and turning it into a fountain at one point!) A simple story of a girl who grows bored waiting for her husband to return from overseas and liaises with Ivor the Engine Driver in the mean-time, it makes up for in charm and musical eccentricity what it lacks in original ideas. Listen out for the band singing ‘cello cello cello’ at the song’s end – this is where the cello arrangement was meant to be added on the original version before the band got bored and the record label ran out of money!

You’ll need to cut to the second disc then to hear the concert in its ‘proper’ order, assuming you own the – gulp – third incarnation of  Live At Leeds, where we now move on to a complete performance of Tommy. Sacrificing the original album’s often unusual instrumentation and sketchy arrangements for pure hard rock adrenalin, the live version actually comes off far better than the record, courtesy of sacrificing some of the lesser songs and the fact that instead of experimenting anew and learning the rock suite piece by piece as they go along, the band know this rock opera back, front, left, right, upside-down and in 3-D by 1970, several hundred performances later. The band who recorded Tommy in 1969 were a little unsure of how their momentous career change would go down with the public and hedged their bets whenever they could – but by early 1970 the double disc of Tommy had been performed live for nearly a year and the band are much tighter and a lot more confident, getting every little nuance of it exactly right. Unbelievably, Tommy runs for nearly an hour, with the songs blending into each other much better than on the studio incarnation, and the band play through without a single pause until right near the end. Most of the tracks sound better here but Sally Simpson is especially improved, offering a welcome tightly-drilled acoustic sound to offset the loudness of the rest of the material (the song is terribly ragged on the studio record, I think—no wonder the deluxe version features the band trying in vain to keep a straight face through two abandoned takes given how dodgy their arrangement sounds and Roger’s grumpyness with his backing trio is easy to understand). Surprisingly, the band dropped the song from their set not long after the Leeds gig and is missing from their only other complete performance of Tommy on record (from the 70s I mean, the 1988 reunion version doesn’t count!): the Isle Of Wight. An almost equally fine gig, this later set sounds all the poorer for its missing song.

A special mention too for Amazing Journey > Sparks, which is a classic number in any version, telling us that Tommy’s life growing up deaf, dumb and blind isn’t as bad as we think it might be, thanks to an amazing journey of the senses that gives him far more insight into life than those who can see it, touch it and feel it but take it for granted and don’t properly notice it. The song’s distinctive riff might well be The Who’s ultimate creation – growing, backing off and growing again all the way through the song and reaching unbelievable heights at times. The transcendent middle section charting Tommy’s inward journey is staggering; when the band stops chugging behind the words and suddenly starts going full throttle it all sounds downright wonderful. The rest of Tommy sounds pretty good too, especially with all the frills taken out, but these songs were definitely the ‘rock otters’ highlights that February night.

Even The Who can’t keep their energy levels going for much longer and back on disc one this is where the band gradually backs off into some well-loved blues standards as discussed above, finally climaxing in that stupendous My Generation tussle. So there you have it, the Who provide both a set list to kill for and a performance so exhilarating and exciting it’s hard to believe that the term ‘rock and roll’ applied to this album still gets used as a description of the cheap, wispy rock messes that get played today. No wonder The Who were called the greatest rock and roll band of the time – on this evidence no one else could possibly touch them for energy, invention and commitment and this record, especially the cleaned-up two-hour version, gives us a front row seat.


**Notes: There isn’t much stuttering going on in this live version, but the theories behind the use of this vocal mannerism on the original version are fascinating, so might be worth going into detail. The band have long argued over whether the stuttering was on Pete’s original, typically developed demo tape or whether it was an invention of Roger’s. The reasons for the stuttering has marked plenty of debate among Who followers, who have come up with the following explanations: an update of the confusion going on inside the heads of Pete’s narrators of the time (think of I Can’t Explain which has a similarly stuttering staccato-type riff and lyrics), an attempt to get around using the ‘f’ word on radio (‘why don’t you all f-f-f-f-fade away’), the narrator’s anger overcoming him so overwhelmingly that he can’t get his words out right, a sign of the narrator’s un-cultured-ness in comparison to the pretentious elders he dismisses in the song, or simply because Roger Daltrey’s teeth were chattering in the cold studio at the time of the recording!

**Note 2: Perhaps the band are playing with us here, giving us their most uncharacteristic song at the beginning of the set and the only time on this whole two-hour-plus show that John Entwistle gets to sing lead (just have a look at the Maximum R and B DVD performance of this track, where the hapless emcee introduces the band as ‘Roger on vocals, Pete on guitar and vocals, Keith on drums and vocals and John on bass’—only for the usually-silent Ox to step up to the microphone seconds later for the band’s first song. 

A complete collection of Who reviews:

'The Who Sing My Generation' (1965)

'Sell Out' (1967)

‘Tommy’ (1969)

'Live At Leeds' (1970)

'Lifehouse' (As It Might Have Been) (1971)

'Who's Next' ('Lifehouse' As It Became) (1971)

'Quadrophenia' (1973)

'The Who By Numbers' (1975)

'Who Are You' (1978)

'Face Dances' (1979)

'Empty Glass' (Townshend solo 1980)

'It's Hard' (1982)

Surviving Who TV Clips 1965-2015

Non-Album Recordings Part One 1964-1967

Non-Album Recordings Part Two 1968-2014

Pete Townshend “Scoop” 1-3

The Best Unreleased Who Recordings

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part One 1965-1972

Live/Solo/Rarities/Competition Albums Part Two 1972-1975

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Three 1976-1982

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Four 1983-1990

Live/Solo/Rarities/Compilation Albums Part Five 1991-2000

Essay: Who Are You And Who Am I?:

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