• 20

    The Who - Live At Leeds

    As originally issued, this is pretty simple: six tracks recorded live at the University of Leeds on Valentine’s Day 1970. They rip through Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues,” “Substitute,” and covers of “Summertime Blues” and “Shakin’ All Over” on the A-side and “My Generation” and “Magic Bus” on the B-side. The only immediately discernable clue that something else is going on here is that “My Generation” goes on for over 14 minutes—they segue from the song into parts of Tommy and tease out parts of unreleased songs. With Roger Daltrey’s confident vocals, Pete Townshend’s mastery of dynamics—placing every chord, riff, and note precisely where he means to like some sort of guitar scientist—and John Entwistle and Keith Moon leading the band as much as anchoring it, they prove they’re great live, but it’s still just a small part of a larger picture.

    The 2001 deluxe edition gives you the entire show. Disc one starts off by slamming right into the Entwistle live staple “Heaven And Hell,” which becomes a vehicle for one of Townshend’s best solos ever recorded. They gamely play “I Can’t Explain,” then list all the other English acts to cover “Fortune Teller” before rolling out their own take on it, which starts off slow-paced but doubles the tempo midway through before segueing into “Tattoo.” After this comes “Young Man Blues” from the proper album but it’s introduced by Townshend, which makes a big difference (he mocks a Mose Allison album cover for referring to him as a “jazz sage”). The song itself, now heard in the context of the entire concert instead of beginning the album out of nowhere, sounds properly relentless—a band warmed up.

    “Substitute,” “Happy Jack,” and “I’m A Boy” follow, introduced by Townshend with, “We’d like to play three of our hit singles, the three easiest” and each title he announces comes with self-deprecating references to their chart placement in various countries. They run right into each other (whereas “Substitute” appeared by itself on the original album) and the mood and context makes all the difference. Then comes “the little set of numbers that we call Tommy’s parents,” as Townshend introduces it; “A Quick One While He’s Away.” He runs down the song’s plot, milking much humor from over-explaining it and shoving in jokes. Finally they go into the song and it’s wonderful to hear this old favorite filtered through their newly evolved presence and confidence on stage. The remainder of the disc is the same as the last four tracks of the album.

    Disc two is Tommy—the Who’s 1969 rock opera, which told the story of the title character, a deaf, dumb, and blind boy who sure played a mean pinball and became a cult leader—performed almost entirely. Almost, because they don’t do “Cousin Kevin” (which really is a shame), “Underture” (though that is somewhat covered during the medley following “My Generation”), “Sensation,” or “Welcome.” Regardless, after another hammy introduction, they go right into “Overture” and straight through Tommy for 20 tracks. This really is the way to hear Tommy. The actual album was weighed down by sounding like shit and the at-times-overwhelming seriousness with which Townshend treated its subjects. This, by comparison, sounds great and extremely alive, spontaneous and urgent by virtue of it being simply three musicians and a singer gathered together onstage to tell a story—as convoluted as it is.