Classic Rock Review

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The Who Live At Hull 1970 (2013)


Pete Townshend never quite gets his due – maybe because for whatever complicated reasons, he often comes across as an unmitigated ass. I get it, believe me, there have been times when I wanted to hate everything he did, just because he came off as such an insufferable twat. However. He’s also as great an artist as rock has known.

Live At Hull 1970 is the long lost and unloved sibling of Live At Leeds, but while both have their benefits, I am here to tell you that this is one of the best live documents I’ve ever heard. Keith Moon sounds like God’s drummer on this record (which Pete may interpret as a demotion) and Townshend’s guitar tracks are sublime – if there is a better guitar tone primer than that of the second disc (the Tommy set), I’ve never heard it. Moon’s drums sound perfect, but more importantly, his performance is transcendent – truly one of rock’s greatest.

Much has been made of the fact that the bass tracks for the first four songs were lost and replaced by Leeds tracks, but if you didn’t know, you’d never know, and while I wish I hadn’t been told this, it really doesn’t matter. Again, the real point is that this is an amazing live set from one of the best rock band’s in history, and a must own by any measure.

By 1970, The Who were a fearless live band, brave enough to kick off their shows with a song sung by their bassist, and Heaven and Hell is far from a commercial tune. It is, however, brash, brilliant, and a fiery set starter. Can’t Explain follows and this is a Townshend/Moon manifesto. A close listen will reveal that the rhythmic flourishes provided by the two are why every cover of this classic comes across as dull and lifeless. Entwistle’s bass is exceptional as always, regardless of where it came from, and Roger Daltrey is a singer who’s greatness is so well known that sometimes we take him for granted.

Fortune Teller is another deep catalogue favorite, and with it’s staccato rhythms and Beatles-esque harmonies it’s another brave choice for early in the set. Pete switches gears rapidly, going from pristinely clean arpeggios to slamming power chords, and back again. Tattoo was forty years ahead of its time, explaining tattoo culture way ahead of its later arrival. The sophistication of the band is incredibly evident, and they segue from pop to proto-metal without a blink. One of my favorite Who tunes.

Young Man Blues, and Substitute slam past brilliantly like freight trains, and then it’s Happy Jack – one of rock’s great moments and the only difficulty is for me to figure out which band member is shining most brilliantly. It’s a toss up, but Moon? Holy hell, this set is the best Moon I’ve ever heard. Same with I’m A Boy – simple pop tune? Nope. Brilliantly written, conceived and performed rock miracle? Yup.

A Quick One, While He’s Away is more sheer Townshend brilliance, and his guitar playing and sound are magnificent. By now Townshend had shed any desire to be an R&B/pop hitmaker, and he’s into intricate operettas. I hate to beat a dead drum, but Moon is again beyond friggin’ fabulous, and Entwistle’s loping basslines create the perfect pad from which to launch Pete’s awesome strumming. Pete’s as good a rhythm player as Keith and John Lennon – cool thing is they all play completely differently. What was in the English water supply post WWII?

Muscular rock closes out CD one with Summertime Blues, Shakin’ All Over, and one of the greatest 15 minutes of sheer rock bliss I’ve ever heard, a truly mind bending My Generation that stops and visits See Me, Feel Me, and a few other Tommy reprisals, before Pete Townshend goes off on a guitar tangent that in my estimable opinion should sit next to Hendrix’s Machine Gun as an archetypal rock performance – this track is easily worth the price of the set, and every person who loves rock should own this. It’s actually the final track of the night, and I wish they had stayed chronologically correct here. It is maybe the ultimate set closer, maybe even more so than the set closing Magic Bus from Leeds.

CD 2 is the whole of Tommy, and for my money, this is the only version to which I shall most likely ever again listen. Townshend’s genius is presented in preposterously large fashion – strummed, picked, sang, and slung across the stage in a fashion never repeated by any guitarist. I don’t know that any rock guitarist ever had a better hour. The range of his repertoire is what is commonly called, a vocabulary. The dynamic expanse of his emotional and sophisticated composition is astounding. I wish I could give this to you as an assignment, just to make sure you understand just how great rock can be. I don’t mean to sound condescending, or authoritarian, but this is just so damned powerful, and good.

Like I said at the beginning, Townshend sometimes doesn’t get his due, but this sure makes the case. He is as great a musician as we have known – a masterful writer, player, singer, and a practically unparalleled conceptualist, who just happened to be in a band with three other gentlemen who were as good as any at their jobs.

Live At Hull 1970 is a tremendous addition to The Who’s catalogue, and even if you own, love, and swear on Live At Leeds, this is equally essential, and again, for my money, I’ve never heard Moon and Townshend better in sheer sonic terms.

January 3, 2014 - Posted by | The Who Live At Hull 1970 |

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