Classic Rock Review

The home of old record and bootleg reviews…

The Who Live At Leeds (1970)


The Who were arguably the greatest live rock band of all-time. Want proof? Look no further. After the ambitious (some would say “overblown”) epic that was Tommy, the timing for this back-to-basics release was perfect, as it showed a side of the band – The Who as a hard rock band – that hadn’t yet really been captured on record.

Even the album’s packaging, with its brown bootleg-like cover, was inspired, and the album showed off their incredible band interplay, precocious individual personalities, and strong sense of humor better than any of their previous offerings. Along with Live At The Isle Of Wight Festival 1970, this is the best (legally available) album that showcases their live prowess; I’d also recommend checking out The Kids Are Alright DVD/soundtrack.

Live At Leeds captures The Who at their primitive best, and the band’s tremendous energy and impeccable chemistry overwhelm flaws such as shoddy production (largely corrected on the ’95 reissue), at-times less than perfect vocal harmonies, occasionally meandering songs, and some leaden guitar work from Townshend.

Taken from two shows at Leeds University when The Who were at their absolute peak as road warriors, this set shows off both their fierce power and catchy popcraft, and its best moments are simply stunning. For example, cover songs such as “Young Man Blues” (Mose Allison) and “Shakin’ All Over” (Johnny Kidd and The Pirates) are excellent examples of the band’s “maximum r&b” side, with suitably violent, exciting performances that approach heavy metal.

Their cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” was even more inspired and would widely be considered the definitive version of the song, highlighted by Pete’s grungy power chords, Roger’s commanding vocal performance, and of course John’s tongue-in-cheek, deep bass vocal spotlights. Perhaps “Substitute” doesn’t offer much that the original studio version didn’t, but it’s still an excellent song and performance, and “My Generation” and “Magic Bus” are completely transformed from their original versions.

Really, “My Generation,” which runs for 15:46 and segues into several other songs, most from Tommy but some unrecognizable as Roger ad-libs some r&b shouts as the band thunders away behind him, was, in Pete’s own words, an “attempt to mix all the bits of our history together in a one great, huge deafening din.”

Despite some of the aforementioned meandering indulgences and leaden riffing, consider the attempt a rousing success, and “Magic Bus” is likewise extended far beyond its original running time (7:48), though it mostly sticks to the familiar melody. Still, this chugging beast of a song was tailor made for The Who’s live skills, as the band recklessly (and heavily) charges ahead, adding exciting ad-libs (catchy call and response vocals, stellar harmonica wailing by Roger) along the way.

It’s quite the spectacular finish to a spectacular live album that only got better with the 1995 reissue, which expanded the original’s mere six songs into a robust fourteen, with markedly improved sound quality as well. Again, as with “Substitute,” the versions of “Tattoo,” “I Can’t Explain,” “I’m A Boy,” and “Happy Jack” don’t really add much to the studio originals aside from grungier presentations, but “Heaven And Hell” was a terrific Entwistle offering never correctly captured in the studio, and more stellar maximum r&b came in the form of Benny Spellman’s “Fortune Teller.”

This version of “A Quick One, While He’s Away” is world’s better than the studio version (though the best version is the one on The Kids Are Alright), and likewise “Amazing Journey/Sparks” showed just how much heavier and more powerful Tommy came across on stage. In short, in 1995 one of rocks greatest live albums just got a whole lot better. Play it LOUD. Note: In 2001, the band also released the double cd Live At Leeds: Deluxe Edition, whose first disc contained the non-Tommy part of the show and second disc was comprised of the Tommy performance.

Take your pick; my preference is for the 1995 reissue above the other two, but you can’t go wrong with any of them.

March 10, 2013 - Posted by | The Who Live At Leeds |

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