Saturday, January 28, 2017

The Who - 1970 [1995] "Live At Leeds"

Live at Leeds is the first live album by the English rock band The Who. It was the only live album that was released while the group were still actively recording and performing with their best known line-up of Roger Daltrey, Pete Townshend, John Entwistle and Keith Moon. Initially released in the United States on 16 May 1970, by Decca and MCA and the United Kingdom on 23 May 1970, by Track and Polydor, the album has been reissued on several occasions and in several different formats. Since its initial reception, Live at Leeds has been cited by several music critics as the best live rock recording of all time.

By the end of the 1960s, particularly after releasing Tommy in May 1969, The Who had become cited by many as one of the best live rock acts in the world. According to biographer Chris Charlesworth, "a sixth sense seemed to take over", leading them to "a kind of rock nirvana that most bands can only dream about". The band were rehearsing and touring regularly, and Townshend had settled on using the Gibson SG as his main touring instrument, that allowed him to play faster than other guitars. He began using Hiwatt amplifiers that allowed him to get a variety of tones simply by adjusting the guitar's volume level.
Realising that their live show stood in equal importance to the rock-opera format of Tommy, the group returned to England at the end of 1969 with a desire to release a live album from concerts recorded earlier in the US. However, Townshend balked at the prospect of listening to all the accumulated recordings to decide which would make the best album, and, according to Charlesworth, instructed sound engineer Bob Pridden to burn the tapes. Townshend later confirmed the tapes were indeed burnt in his back garden.
Two shows were consequently scheduled, one at the University of Leeds and the other in Hull, for the express purpose of recording and releasing a live album. The Leeds concert was booked and arranged by Simon Brogan, who later became an assistant manager on tour with Jethro Tull. The shows were performed on 14 February 1970 at Leeds and on 15 February 1970 at Hull, but technical problems with the recordings from the Hull gig — the bass guitar had not been recorded on some of the songs — made it all the more necessary for the show from the 14th to be released as the album.

The cover was designed by Beadrall Sutcliffe and resembled that of a bootleg LP of the era, parodying the Rolling Stones' Live'r Than You'll Ever Be. It contains plain brown cardboard with "The Who Live At Leeds" printed on it in plain blue or red block letters as if stamped on with ink (on the original first English pressing of 300, this stamp is black). The original cover opened out, gatefold-style, and had a pocket on either side of the interior, with the record in a paper sleeve on one side and 12 facsimiles of various memorabilia on the other, including a photo of the band from the My Generation photoshoot in March 1965, handwritten lyrics to the "Listening to You" chorus from Tommy, the typewritten lyrics to "My Generation", with hand written notes, a receipt for smoke bombs, a rejection letter from EMI, and the early black "Maximum R&B" poster showing Pete Townshend wind-milling his Rickenbacker. The first 500 copies included a copy of the contract for the Who to play at the Woodstock Festival.
The label was handwritten (reportedly by Townshend), and included instructions to the engineers not to attempt to remove any crackling noise. This is probably a reference to the clicking and popping on the pre-remastered version (notably in "Shakin' All Over") which was from John Entwistle's bass cable. Modern digital remastering techniques allowed this to be removed, and also allowed some of the worst-affected tracks from the gig to be used; on CD releases, the label reads, "Crackling noises have been corrected!

Rushed out in 1970 as a way to bide time as the Who toiled away on their follow-up to Tommy, Live at Leeds wasn't intended to be the definitive Who live album, and many collectors maintain that the band had better shows available on bootlegs. But those shows weren't easily available whereas Live at Leeds was, and even if this show may not have been the absolute best, it's so damn close to it that it would be impossible for anybody but aficionados to argue. Here, the Who sound vicious -- as heavy as Led Zeppelin but twice as volatile -- as they careen through early classics with the confidence of a band that had finally achieved acclaim but had yet to become preoccupied with making art. In that regard, this recording -- in its many different forms -- may have been perfectly timed in terms of capturing the band at a pivotal moment in its history.
There is certainly no better record of how this band was a volcano of violence on-stage, teetering on the edge of chaos but never blowing apart. This was most true on the original LP, which was a trim six tracks, three of them covers ("Young Man Blues," "Summertime Blues," "Shakin' All Over") and three originals from the mid-'60s, two of those ("Substitute," "My Generation") vintage parts of their repertory and only "Magic Bus" representing anything resembling a recent original, with none bearing a trace of their mod roots. This was pure, distilled power, all the better for its brevity; throughout the '70s the album was seen as one of the gold standards in live rock & roll, and certainly it had a fury that no proper Who studio album achieved. It was also notable as one of the earliest legitimate albums to implicitly acknowledge -- and go head to head with -- the existence of bootleg LPs. Indeed, its very existence owed something to the efforts of Pete Townshend and company to stymie the bootleggers.
The Who had made extensive recordings of performances along their 1969 tour, with the intention of preparing a live album from that material, but they recognized when it was over that none of them had the time or patience to go through the many dozens of hours of live performances in order to sort out what to use for the proposed album. According to one account, the band destroyed those tapes in a massive bonfire, so that none of the material would ever surface without permission. They then decided to go to the other extreme in preparing a live album, scheduling this concert at Leeds University and arranging the taping, determined to do enough that was worthwhile at the one show. As it turned out, even here they generated an embarrassment of riches -- the band did all of Tommy, as audiences of the time would have expected (and, indeed, demanded), but as the opera was already starting to feel like an albatross hanging around the collective neck of the band (and especially Townshend), they opted to leave out any part of their most famous work apart from a few instrumental strains in one of the jams. Instead, the original LP was limited to the six tracks named, and that was more than fine as far as anyone cared.
And fans who bought the LP got a package of extra treats for their money. The album's plain brown sleeve was, itself, a nod and nudge to the bootleggers, resembling the packaging of such early underground LP classics as the Bob Dylan Great White Wonder set and the Rolling Stones concert bootleg Liver Than You'll Ever Be, from the latter group's 1969 tour -- and it was a sign of just how far the Who had come in just two years that they could possibly (and correctly) equate interest in their work as being on a par with Dylan and the Stones. But Live at Leeds' jacket was a fold-out sleeve with a pocket that contained a package of memorabilia associated with the band, including a really cool poster, copies of early contracts, etc. It was, along with Tommy, the first truly good job of packaging for this band ever to come from Decca Records; the label even chose to forgo the presence of its rainbow logo, carrying the bootleg pose to the plain label and handwritten song titles, and the note about not correcting the clicks and pops. At the time, you just bought this as a fan, but looking back 30 or 40 years on, those now seem to be quietly heady days for the band (and for fans who had supported them for years), finally seeing the music world and millions of listeners catch up.

If there was any doubt that the Who were one of the most ferocious live acts on the planet at the start of the ‘70s, Live at Leeds quashed it. They released the album on May 16, 1970.

The concert came about as somewhat of an afterthought. They had finally achieved mainstream success with Tommy the previous year and had hoped to compile a live album made from the many dates they recorded. But Pete Townshend decided he didn’t want to go through the hassle of determining which versions were the best and had his sound man Bob Pridden burn the tapes.

Instead, the Who booked two shows, one at the University of Leeds for Feb. 14 and a second in Hull the next day, and would choose the songs from there. Unfortunately, there were technical problems with the Hull recording — John Entwistle’s bass was inaudible on the first six songs — and they were forced to use just the one concert.

Thankfully, the tapes caught the Who at their absolute best. The original release clocked in at just under 38 minutes and featured only seven songs. Perhaps as an indication of how tired the band was by this point with their new opus, material from Tommy was conspicuous by its absence, even though it was performed in its entirety during the show. In its place was a depiction of the Who’s versatility. They could slam home “Substitute” in a little over two minutes or go into a deep blues exploration on “My Generation” for nearly 15 minutes. Their cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” cracked the Top 30 in both the U.S. and the U.K.

Subsequent reissues of Live at Leeds, however, have only added to its legend, allowing listeners to hear the entire concert — which included not just the Tommy portion, but a thunderous “Heaven and Hell,” a cover of Benny Spellman’s Allen Toussaint-penned “Fortune Teller” and the somewhat obscure “Tattoo.” The 2010 40th anniversary box set saw the Hull night finally released, with Entwistle’s bass from the Leeds show overdubbed on the songs where it had not been recorded.

Track listing

1.     "Heaven and Hell" (John Entwistle)     4:49
2.     "I Can't Explain" (Townshend)     2:58
3.     "Fortune Teller" (Naomi Neville)     2:34
4.     "Tattoo" (Townshend)     3:42
5.     "Young Man Blues"       5:51
6.     "Substitute"       2:07
7.     "Happy Jack" (Townshend)     2:13
8.     "I'm a Boy" (Townshend)     4:41
9.     "A Quick One, While He's Away" (Townshend)     8:41
10.     "Amazing Journey/Sparks" (Townshend)     7:54
11.     "Summertime Blues"       3:22
12.     "Shakin' All Over"       4:34
13.     "My Generation"       15:46
14.     "Magic Bus"       7:48

Personnel:

- Roger Daltrey / lead vocals, harmonica, tambourine
- Pete Townshend / guitar, vocals
- John Entwistle / bass guitar, vocals
- Keith Moon / drums, vocals

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