Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

Bruce Springsteen: Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75


Hammersmith Odeon, London ’75 is the disc for those fans who didn’t want to pony up the big money for the 30th anniversary edition of Born to Run and its two DVDs.

This is the soundtrack for one of them, the Hammersmith Odeon concert, from beginning to end captured in vibrant sound. This show has been revered by tape traders and bootleggers for decades and never has it been presented better, thanks to Bob Clearmountain’s fantastic mix. What makes this show so historically important is that it was the first time the band was able to travel overseas to play. (They were barred from doing so in the United States because of a legal battle with Springsteen’s former manager.) In any case, well in advance of the gig the notorious British music weeklies began to create a pick-and-pan hype to build and topple a potential new rock messiah as they did all the time. Or, as Springsteen in his liner notes writes, “…this week’s Next…Big…Thing.” The band was terrified yet geeked to play the hallowed hall. These guys were scared; it fueled the gig, and they pulled it off in spades. They have everything to prove, and plenty to stare down. (Hell, the media hype almost made them the standard-bearers for the entire history of American rock, whether they wanted to be or not — and they may not have believed it themselves, but they played like they felt the responsibility for it, overtly referencing Sam Cooke, Isaac Hayes, and even Boyce & Hart by including pieces of their tunes in Springsteen originals, showing where it all came from. And then, by using a portion of Celtic soulman Van Morrison’s “Moondance” — who was taking his own bit from David “Fathead” Newman’s read of his former boss Ray Charles — in “Kitty’s Back,” they reveal clearly that the Beatles, the Stones, and the Who were nowhere to be found on this night.) Most of all, the E Street Band had the quivering guts and naïveté to pull it off. These guys play their asses off; it’s as if tomorrow they’ll die, so what the hell. The tape proves this show to be adrenaline-filled and fear-drenched. This is a mind-blowing gig. It was filmed for preservation and forgotten about until being resurrected by Springsteen.

The highlights? Hell, everything here. It begins with a tenderly desperate, under-orchestrated “Thunder Road,” sprints head on into a burning “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” before whispering into a free jazz intro to a dramatic, swaggering “Spirit in the Night” that oozes street-smart Jersey soul. And the train never stops; it only slows a bit for moments at a time. And it’s not for the band to catch its breath; it’s for the crowd, whether it’s the frighteningly intense “Lost in the Flood,” the shuffling country roots rock that introduces the rollicking “She’s the One,” or the swaggering anthem of “Born to Run,” which only take listeners through a little over half of the first disc! They had the audience after “Spirit,” but they were into something deeper, wilder — check the spit and vinegar in “It’s Hard to Be a Saint in the City” — so they kept pushing harder. This was a young band that musically was as good as anybody on that night. They were rehearsed, confident, and armed with a collection of songs that virtually any musician worth his or her salt would kill to have written even one of. Disc two offers no letdown. There’s arguably the single most intense read of “Jungleland” on tape, and a riotously joyful version of “Rosalita” to counter the theater of darkness just visited upon the crowd in the previous song. This version of “Fourth of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” is pure street urchin romance taken to the nth level. The E Streeters’ read of the “Detroit Medley” is an homage to Mitch Ryder & the Detroit Wheels, whose scorching takes on Little Richard’s “Jenny Take a Ride,” “Devil with a Blue Dress,” and “Good Golly Miss Molly” offer spiritual inspiration. They stay on full stun with “For You” and cap it all with “Quarter to Three,” leaving the crowd to fall back into the night, wondering if they could believe what they’d just witnessed. Springsteen himself says the night was a blur to him and he never looked back for 30 years at the film or even listened to the show.

While the soundtrack is only half the experience of the Hammersmith Odeon 1975 document, it’s a worthy half and a necessary set to add to any Springsteen live shelf.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen Hammersmith '75 | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen: Nebraska (1982)


There is an adage in the record business that a recording artist’s demos of new songs often come off better than the more polished versions later worked up in a studio. But Bruce Springsteen was the first person to act on that theory, when he opted to release the demo versions of his latest songs, recorded with only acoustic or electric guitar, harmonica, and vocals, as his sixth album, Nebraska.

It was really the content that dictated the approach, however. Nebraska’s ten songs marked a departure for Springsteen, even as they took him farther down a road he had been traveling previously. Gradually, his songs had become darker and more pessimistic, and those on Nebraska marked a new low. They also found him branching out into better developed stories. The title track was a first-person account of the killing spree of mass murderer Charlie Starkweather. (It can’t have been coincidental that the same story was told in director Terrence Malick’s 1973 film Badlands, also used as a Springsteen song title.)

That song set the tone for a series of portraits of small-time criminals, desperate people, and those who loved them. Just as the recordings were unpolished, the songs themselves didn’t seem quite finished; sometimes the same line turned up in two songs. But that only served to unify the album. Within the difficult times, however, there was hope, especially as the album went on. “Open All Night” was a Chuck Berry-style rocker, and the album closed with “Reason to Believe,” a song whose hard-luck verses were belied by the chorus — even if the singer couldn’t understand what it was, “people find some reason to believe.”

Still, Nebraska was one of the most challenging albums ever released by a major star on a major record label.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen Nebraska | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen – The Rising (2002)


“Yes, life is very confusing, we’re just trying to get on with it.” — Art Carney as Harry Coomes in Harry and Tonto.

The many voices that come out of the ether on Bruce Springsteen’s The Rising all seem to have two things in common: the first is that they are writing from the other side, from the day after September 11, 2001, the day when life began anew, more uncertain than ever before. The other commonality that these voices share is the determination that life, however fraught with tragedy and confusion, is precious and should be lived as such. This is a lot for a rock album by a popular artist to claim, but perhaps it’s the only thing there is worth anything.

On this reunion with the E Street Band, Bruce Springsteen offers 15 meditations — in grand rock & roll style — on his own way of making sense of the senseless. The band is in fine form, though with Brendan O’Brien’s uncanny production, they play with an urgency and rawness they’ve seldom shown. This may not have been the ideal occasion for a reunion after 15 years, but it’s one they got, and they go for broke. The individual tracks offer various glimpses of loss, confusion, hope, faith, resolve, and a good will that can only be shown by those who have been tested by fire. The music and production is messy, greasy; a lot of the mixes bleed tracks onto one another, giving it a more homemade feel than any previous E Street Band outing. And yes, that’s a very good thing.

The set opens with “Lonesome Day,” a midtempo rocker with country-ish roots. Springsteen’s protagonist admits to his or her shortcomings in caring for the now-absent beloved. But despite the grief and emptiness, there is a wisdom that emerges in questioning what remains: “Better ask questions before you shoot/Deceit and betrayal’s bitter fruit/It’s hard to swallow come time to pay/That taste on your tongue don’t easily slip away/Let kingdom come/I’m gonna find my way/ Through this lonesome day.” Brendan O’Brien’s hurdy-gurdy cuts through the mix like a ghost, offering a view of an innocent past that has been forever canceled because it never was anyway; the instrument, like the glockenspiels that trim Bruce Springsteen’s songs, offers not only texture, but a kind of formalist hint that possibilities don’t always lie in the future.

In contrast, “Into the Fire” seems to be sung from the perspective of a deceased firefighter’s remaining partner who, despite her/his unfathomable loss, offers a prayer of affirmation, and the request to embody the same qualities he or she displayed in paying the ultimate price for selflessness. A Dobro and acoustic guitar bring in the ghost of a mountain melody, and Max Weinberg’s muted snare and tom-tom rhythm offer the solemnity of the lyric before Roy Bittan and Danny Federici shift the gears and offer a nearly symphonic crescendo on the refrain: “May your strength bring us strength/may your faith give us faith/May your hope give us hope/May your love give us love.” The second time through, the last line subtly changes to “May your love bring us love.” While the band is in full flower, the keys are muted under sonic ambience and the snaky lone acoustic guitar and Weinberg’s thundering processional drumming.

Likewise, the revelatory rock & roll on “Worlds Apart,” complete with a knife-edged wail of a guitar solo by Springsteen that soars around a Sufi choir is not only a manner of adding exotica to the mix, but another way of saying that all cultures are in this together, and it unwittingly reveals that great rock can be made with virtually any combination of musicians. It’s a true scorcher. “Further On (Up the Road)” is a straight-ahead rocker complete with knotty riffs and plenty of rootsed-out, greasy guitar overdrive — most of the album does, but that’s one of O’Brien’s strengths as a producer — that are evocative of Mike Ness and Social Distortion’s late efforts.

Lest anyone mistakenly perceive this recording as a somber evocation of loss and despair, it should also be stated that this is very much an E Street Band recording. Clarence Clemons is everywhere, and the R&B swing and slip of the days of yore is in the house — especially on “Waitin’ for a Sunny Day,” “Countin’ on a Miracle,” “Mary’s Place” (with a full horn section), and the souled-out “Let’s Be Friends (Skin to Skin).” These tracks echo the past with their loose good-time feel, but “echo” is the key word. Brendan O’Brien’s guitar-accented production offers us an E Street Band coming out of the ether and stepping in to fill a void. The songs themselves are, without exception, rooted in loss, but flower with the possibility of moving into what comes next, with a hard-won swagger and busted-up grace. They offer balance and a shifting perspective, as well as a depth that is often deceptive.

The last of these is a bona fide love song, without which, in rock & roll anyway, no real social commentary is possible. The title track is one of Mr. Springsteen’s greatest songs. It is an anthem, but not in the sense you usually reference in regard to his work. This anthem is an invitation to share everything, to accept everything, to move through everything individually and together. Power-chorded guitars and pianos entwine in the choruses with a choir, and Clemons wails on a part with a stinging solo. Here too, the chantlike chorus is nearly in symphonic contrast to the country-ish verse, but it hardly matters, as everything inside and outside the track gets swept into this “dream of life.” The album closes with “Paradise,” a haunting and haunted narrative offered from the point of view of a suicide bomber and a studio version of “My City of Ruins.” These songs will no doubt confuse some as they stand in seemingly sharp contrast to one another, but in “My City of Ruins,” all contradictions cease to matter. With acoustic pianos and subtley shimmering Memphis soul-style guitars that give way to a Hammond B-3 and a gospel choir, Springsteen sings “rise up” without artifice. In this “churchlike” confessional of equanimity, Springsteen reaches out to embrace not only his listeners, but all of the protagonists in the aforementioned songs and their circles of families and friends. The album ends with an acknowledgement of grace and an exhortation to action.

With The Rising, Springsteen has found a way to be inclusive and instructive without giving up his particular vision as a songwriter, nor his considerable strength as a rock & roll artist. In fact, if anything, The Rising is one of the very best examples in recent history of how popular art can evoke a time period and all of its confusing and often contradictory notions, feelings, and impulses. There are tales of great suffering in The Rising to be sure, but there is joy, hope, and possibility, too. Above all, there is a celebration and reverence for everyday life. And if we need anything from rock & roll, it’s that. It would be unfair to lay on Bruce Springsteen the responsibility of guiding people through the aftermath of a tragedy and getting on with the business of living, but rock & roll as impure, messy, and edifying as this helps.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen The Rising | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen – Born In The Studio (1975)


The 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s found bootleggers putting out quite a few collections of Bruce Springsteen’s demos and alternate takes.

One such collection is Born in the Studio, a CD that spans 1973-75 and focuses on rare, unreleased versions of songs that ended up on The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle and Born to Run. How did “Born to Run,” “Thunder Road,” and other classics sound before they were given a lot of production gloss, finalized, and released commercially? This bootleg gives listeners a chance to find out.

The sound quality is good to excellent by 1970s standards, and the vitality of Springsteen’s singing is impossible to miss — however, no one should purchase Born in the Studio expecting the amount of big, glossy, shiny production that characterized Springsteen’s official Columbia releases of the 1970s. Remember: The material had yet to be finalized. Highlights of this CD range from an acoustic version of “Thunder Road” and alternates of “Kitty’s Back” and “She’s the One” to no less than four takes of “Born to Run.”

It’s also quite interesting to hear the E Street Band do their thing on instrumental tracks for “4th of July, Asbury Park (Sandy)” and “Rosalita (Come Out Tonight)” — minus Springsteen’s vocals, these gems have a somewhat Booker T and the MGs-like appeal. Born in the Studio isn’t recommended to casual listeners, but for hardcore Springsteen lovers, it’s a fascinating listen and is well worth hunting for.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen Born In The Studio | | Leave a comment

Bruce Springsteen: The Ghost Of Tom Joad (1995)


In 1982, with Ronald Reagan in the White House and much of America torn between a newly fierce patriotism and the dispassionate conservatism of the dawning “Greed Is Good” era, a number of roots-oriented rock musicians began examining the State of the Union in song, and one of the most powerful albums to come out of this movement was Bruce Springsteen’s stark, home-recorded masterpiece Nebraska.

In 1995, Bill Clinton was president, America was congratulating itself for a new era of high-tech peace and prosperity, and Springsteen returned to the themes and approach of Nebraska with The Ghost of Tom Joad, an album that suggested little had changed in the past 13 years — except Americans had gotten better at ignoring the increasingly sharp divide between the rich and the poor, and that illegal aliens who had come to America looking for the fabled Land of Milk and Honey were being forced to shoulder a heavy and dangerous burden in America’s underground economy. With several of its songs drawn directly from news stories, The Ghost of Tom Joad is more explicitly political than Nebraska (more so than anything in Springsteen’s catalog, for that matter), and while the arrangements are more full-bodied than those on Nebraska (five cuts feature a full band), the production and the overall tone is, if anything, even starker and more low-key, with the lyrics all the more powerful for their spare backdrops.

While there’s an undertow of bitterness in this album’s tales of an America that has turned its back on the working class and the foreign-born, there’s also a tremendous compassion in songs like “The Line,” “Sinaloa Cowboys,” “Balboa Park,” and the title cut, which lend their subjects a dignity fate failed to give them. Individually, these songs, either angry or plaintive, are clean and expertly drawn tales of life along this nation’s margins, and their cumulative effect is nothing short of heartbreaking; anyone who pegged Springsteen as a zealously patriotic conservative in the wake of the widely misunderstood Born in the U.S.A. needs to hear this disc.

The Ghost of Tom Joad failed to find the same audience (or the same wealth of media attention) that embraced Nebraska, but on it’s own terms it’s a striking and powerful album, and certainly one of Springsteen’s most deeply personal works.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Bruce Springsteen The Ghost Of Tom Joad | | Leave a comment

Jimi Hendrix – War Heroes (1972)


After ”The Cry Of Love” and the soundtrack ”Rainbow Bridge”, this is the third album published after Jimi’s dead.
This work is not essential but it is not bad either. Some tracks are quite good actually and fully deserved to be released. At least it is MVHHO (my very humble and honest opinion).

Both openers ”Bleeding Heart” and even more the great ”Highway Chile” definitely belong to the genuine Hendrix discography. The tracks are short, the riffs are infectious (especially during ”Highway Chile” which is the highlight of this album).

It is of course a difficult work to apprehend from a prog prospective (but so is his entire catalogue, right?). This sort of albums can only be of interest to die-hard fans of the Master. But I wouldn’t rate this as a one or two stars album. Just because it holds very good musical moments.

Like the fine and rather hectic instrumental ”Tax Free”. Some sort of wild jam performed with high skills. At least, I receive it this way, but I’m sometimes biased in terms of Hendrix music.

Not all tracks are jewels of course: the quite disputable ”Peter Gunn/Catastrophe” holds it all in its title. It is the only track which hasn’t been compiled on other albums. One immediately knows why.

Press next to discover the vigorous ”Stepping Stone”. A delight for those who have an inclination for Hendrix magic guitar play. I am one of those. It is a very wild track, that goes into lots of directions: some might call it loose but remember that several tracks were unfinished, so.

There is one track written by Noel Redding (”Midnight”) which is a fine rock instrumental (on the heavy edge to be honest) and another one composed by Mitch Mitchell, the other ”Experience” guy. It is another excellent instrumental track. Full of passion and wildness. The classic ”Izabella” has to be remembered as well, although I far much prefer the live renditions of this song. The choirs are particularly painful to be honest.

Most of the songs featured on this album are available on later recordings (”First Rays Of The New Rising Sun” and ”South Saturn Delta”). Both of these albums can be considered as compilations, but not this one IMO. But I’ll discuss this sometime on the forum.

Another uninteresting track is the reggae-ish ”Little Bears”. Although it sounds fresh musically, and Jimi seems to have fun here, it is not my cup of tea, especially during some childish passages.

This is globally a good album for Hendrix fans. If you are a casual one only, you should stick to ”Are You Experienced” in terms of studio album and to ”Live at the Fillmore East” or even better ”Live at Woodstock” in terms of live recordings.

Still, three stars.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | Jimi Hendrix War Heroes | | Leave a comment

The Who – Endless Wire (2006)


The Who retired following their 1982 farewell tour but like Frank Sinatra’s frequent retreats from the stage, it was not a permanent goodbye.

Seven years later, the band — Pete Townshend, Roger Daltrey and John Entwistle; that is, Keith Moon’s replacement Kenny Jones wasn’t invited back — embarked on a reunion tour, and ever since then the band was a going concern. Perhaps not really active — they did not tour on a regular basis, they did not record outside of a version of “Saturday Night’s Alright for Fighting” for the 1991 Elton John and Bernie Taupin tribute album Two Rooms — but they were always around, playing tribute gigs and reviving old projects, such as a mid-’90s stab at Quadrophenia, before truly reuniting as an active touring band after the turn of the century. Just as they were reaching cruising altitude in 2002, bad luck and tragedy intervened, as Entwistle died from a heart attack on the eve of a summer tour, leaving Townshend and Daltrey the only surviving original members. Their decision to continue performing as the Who rankled some longtime fans — many of whom thought they should have packed it in after Moon’s death in 1978 — but the ensuing tours helped them work through their grief, not only over Entwistle’s death but during the fallout surrounding Pete Townshend’s arrest for accessing child porn on the internet. Townshend was cleared of all charges, and throughout the turmoil of the scandal he had no stronger defender than Daltrey. According to several interviews with both men, the process brought them closer together and they began seriously talking about recording a new Who studio album — something that had not happened since It’s Hard in 1982. They tentatively dipped their toes in the water with a couple of strong new songs on the 2004 hits comp Then and Now, and two years later, they followed through with the long-promised, long-awaited Endless Wire.

Opening with a synth riff that strongly recalls, if not directly quotes, the famed loop underpinning “Baba O’Reilly,” Endless Wire often hearkens back to previous Who albums in its themes, structure, and sound. The “Baba O’Reilly” riff pops up in “Fragments,” the pummeling triplets of “The Punk Meets the Godfather” resurface in “Mike Post Theme.” Like The Who by Numbers, it has its fair share of stark acoustic introspection. Like The Who Sell Out and A Quick One, it closes with a mini-rock opera, this one called “Wire & Glass.” This closing suite also shares a lineage with Townshend’s 1993 solo album Psychoderelict, a record that’s not well loved but one that is connected thematically to Lifehouse Chronicles, his often-muddled yet often-intriguing futuristic rock opera that seemed to suggest portions of a technologically saturated internet age. Such ideas bubble up throughout Endless Wire and not just on “Wire & Glass,” yet that opera specifically shares a character with Psychoderelict in Ray High, a rock star who was the central figure in that 1993 opus and functions as a semi-autobiographical distancing device for Townshend, particularly on this record where the narrative ebbs and flows and sometimes disappears completely. Since the whole of Townshend’s rock operas always were overshadowed by the strength of their individual parts — musically and emotionally, “Pinball Wizard,” “Bargain,” “Behind Blue Eyes,” “The Real Me” and “Love Reign O’er Me” carried as great a weight, if not greater, on their own as they did as part of a larger theme — this is not unusual or unwelcome, because the focus turns away from the specifics of the narrative and to the merits of the songs and the Who’s performances, and how they connect at a gut level.

And, like much of the best of the Who’s work, the best of Endless Wire does indeed connect at a gut level, even if it’s in a considerably different way than it was in the past: instead of being visceral and immediate, this is music carries a slow burn. This is partially because they are no longer driven by Moon and Entwistle, but quite frankly, this most manic of rhythm sections never really anchored the Who; Townshend always did with his furious windmills and propulsive rhythms, and there was never any question that this, along with his songs, formed the complex, contradictory heart of the Who, while Daltrey gave the songs both muscle and a commonality, undercutting Townshend’s pretensions — or giving him a voice behind which to hide, a voice to act out his best and worst impulses.

After all the upheaval of the first part of the 2000s, Townshend needed to have Daltrey interpret his songs, which do confront many tough emotions and questions regarding faith, mortality and persecution, albeit often in oblique ways. For a writer as obsessed with concepts and fictionalized autobiography as Townshend, obliqueness serves him well, and often turns out to be more revealing than blunt confessionals, as is the case with “A Man in a Purple Dress,” a searing, bitter, anti-religion folk tune reportedly inspired by a viewing of The Passion of the Christ but unmistakably bearing echoes of Townshend’s treatment in the tabloids during his 2003 scandal. Townshend does not sing this tune, Daltrey does, and it’s an angry performance that leans heavily on his blunt force, but also reveals a new subtlety that serves him very well throughout Endless Wire. Instead of powering through the songs as he could tend to do in the past, Daltrey is truly interpreting Townshend’s songs here, giving them nuanced, textured readings that cut close to the emotional quick of the tunes. His voice may have lost some of its range and power over the years, but Daltrey has developed into a better singer, and he helps ground Endless Wire, which doesn’t meander so much as it overreaches, a trend not uncommon to either the Who or Townshend.

Even the best Who albums had a tendency to not quite follow through on their concepts — the mock pirate-radio broadcast of The Who Sell Out is abandoned on the second side, Who’s Next was pulled together from the flailing Lifehouse — but even so they were nevertheless triumphs given the sheer power of the band, or Townshend’s writing. Here, the band is indeed changed, and while they have top-notch professional support from drummer Zak Starkey and bassist Pino Palladino, they do not sound like a session band: they sound like the Who, only older, with their boundless energy replaced by a bittersweet melancholy undercurrent. It’s a sound that fits Townshend’s new songs, alternately sweetly sad, bitterly reflective and, despite it all, cautiously optimistic. Unlike the fussy theatricality of The Iron Man or the impenetrable mess that was Psychoderelict — or any Townshend project since It’s Hard, really — Endless Wire is not a slave to its concept; the songs fuel the album instead of the other way around. Even when it goes off the tracks — and it does, most grandly on the bizarre “In the Ether,” where Townshend affects Tom Waits’ patented growl — it feels as if it was written from the heart, which is why it’s always appealing even though it feels curiously disjointed, with the The Who by Numbers-styled first half not quite synching up with the mini-opera that dominates the second side. It may not add up to a totally satisfying whole, yet within both halves of Endless Wire there is much to treasure: on the first half, there’s the incendiary “A Man in a Purple Dress,” the powerful yet understated “Mike Post Theme,” the delicate “God Speaks of Marty Robbins,” a surging rocker in “It’s Not Enough” (whose lyrics are riddled with the self-doubt of Empty Glass) and the sweet song sketch “You Stand by Me”; on the second, there’s the mini-opera of “Wire & Glass,” a ten-song suite beginning with the rampaging “Sound Round” and closing with the haunting “Tea & Theatre,” that manages to touch on every one of the band’s strengths.

Taken on its own, “Wire & Glass” does stand as the greatest Who music since Who Are You, so it’s a bit hard not to wish that the entire album had its thematic cohesion, muscular melody, and sense of purpose, but if it meant losing the quite wonderful highlights of the first half, it may not have been worth it because they’re not only strong songs, they give this record its ragged heart. No, Endless Wire is not perfect — its parts don’t quite fit together, and not all of the parts work on their own — but it is an endearingly human, impassioned work that more than justifies Townshend’s and Daltrey’s decision to continue working as the Who. Hopefully, it will lead to another record or two but if it doesn’t, Endless Wire is certainly a better final Who album than It’s Hard, which is quite an accomplishment after a quarter-century hiatus.

November 21, 2010 Posted by | The Who Endless Wire | | Leave a comment

The Who – The Kids Are Alright (1979)


Like the film itself, the soundtrack to the Who’s Kids Are Alright documentary is frustrating even as it pleases, since it falls short of being definitive.

If the film was supposed to explain the excitement and history of the Who, tracing their evolution from mod superstars to arena rock gods, it somehow failed by just not quite gelling. Similarly, the soundtrack attempts to gather a bunch of live rarities, thereby capturing the band at the peak of their powers, but it falls a little bit short of the mark by hopping all over the place chronologically, adding a couple of studio cuts (including live-in-the-studio tracks), along the way.

So, you can view this as a missed opportunity or treasure what’s here — and, really, the latter is the preferred method of listening to this album, since there is a lot to treasure here. There’s the epochal performance of “My Generation” from the 1967 Smothers Brothers show, three performances from Woodstock, terrific television performances of “Magic Bus” and “Anyway, Anyhow, Anywhere,” a blistering “Young Man Blues,” and the definitive performance of “A Quick One, While He’s Away,” the version they played at the Rolling Stones’ Rock & Roll Circus — a performance so good that, according to legend, it’s the reason why the Stones shelved the show for 20 years, since the Who just left them in the dust (even if it’s not true, it sure sounds plausible, based on this performance).

Then, there are some really fine latter-day versions of “My Wife,” “Baba O’Riley,” and “Won’t Get Fooled Again,” along with a medley of “Join Together/Roadrunner/My Generation Blues” from 1975, that may not be era-defining, like those mentioned above, but they’re pretty damn great all the same (as is “Long Live Rock,” Townshend’s best Chuck Berry homage and one of the few songs to capture what rock was all about in the ’70s and beyond).

So, it’s a bit too haphazard to really be definitive, but the Who were always a bit haphazard, and if you love them, that’s something you love about them. And, in turn, it’s hard not to love this album, if you love them. (At the very least, you have to love the cover, which is not just the best portrait of the Who, it’s one of the iconic images of rock history.)

November 21, 2010 Posted by | The Who The Kids Are Alright | | Leave a comment