The Who – Live At Leeds (Deluxe Edition)

Live At Leeds (Deluxe Edition) (1970)


1. Heaven And Hell 2. I Can’t Explain 3. Fortune Teller 4. Tattoo 5. Young Man Blues 6. Substitute 7. Happy Jack 8. I’m A Boy 9. A Quick One, While He’s Away 10. Summertime Blues 11. Shakin’ All Over 12. My Generation 13. Magic Bus 14. Overture 15. It’s A Boy 16. 1921 17. Amazing Journey 18. Sparks 19. Eyesight To The Blind (The Hawker) 20. Christmas 21. The Acid Queen 22. Pinball Wizard 23. Do You Think It’s Alright? 24. Fiddle About 25. Tommy Can You Hear Me? 26. There’s A Doctor 27. Go To The Mirror 28. Smash The Mirror 29. Miracle Cure 30. Sally Simpson 31. I’m Free 32. Tommy’s Holiday Camp 33. We’re Not Gonna Take It


A whole lot of what the classic rock establishment (Rolling Stone, Q104.3, your dad) teaches you about its glorious past is bullshit. Eric Clapton is God. Jim Morrison was a “poet” and not drunken clown. But one legend with some truth behind it is the Who’s reputation for having put on an otherworldly live show in their heyday. You know, that Live At Leeds is “the greatest live album ever recorded” or some such hyperbole. Well, live rock albums in the history that even rise above bare mediocrity are rarer than gay men attending Bob Jones University, so its not like it has a whole lot of competition. But hell if I can contradict its well-earned rep. Leeds is the Who at the absolute height of their performance powers; it roars through the speakers like a fuckin’ mach 4 jet engine with rocket boosters and Dale Earnhardt in the cockpit. Pete’s guitar tone alone is enough to warrant an A+… that ridiculously meaty SG crunch is, like, what the electric guitar is supposed to sound like. Add that to Keith and John displaying their usual wizardry and Roger belting the fuck out of everything like his life depended on it and it’s just… damn. Rock music almost never gets this heavy and this melodic at the same time.

I could just end the review right there. I’ve told you what you need to know and I’m just not that motivated to write a review today. I just got back from a ten-day trip to Paris. I was disappointed with the French people I encountered there, who failed to live up to their reputation by not displaying snooty attitudes toward stupid Americans like me and proving themselves quite adept at speaking English. In fact, everyone there seemed to be pretty into America. I saw this guy wearing  a shirt that said “Missouri: Nothing Tips Like A Cow.” And he was French! What kind of self-respecting French person romanticizes cow tipping in Missouri? It’s bizarre. Is this Obama’s doing? Has he made us popular abroad again? Or was it Sarkozy? In any case, the French still make excellent wine and croissants, both of which I now miss very much. Add that to the fact that I have secured a minimum wage writing job that I found on Craigslist and the management of my kickass fantasy baseball team, and I’ve got other things I wish I was doing more than writing about the Whom.

Ah, whatever. The show must go on. There are three versions of Leeds for you to chose from: the original 6-track version, the later 14-track reissue, and the deluxe edition reissue, which captures the band’s entire January 1970 performance at Leeds University, including a rendition of Tommy in its (near) entirety. I’m reviewing the deluxe edition, primarily because that’s the one I own, but also because by a reviewing it I effectively absolve myself from the responsibility of reviewing Live At The Isle Of Wight, a live double album released in the 90s but recorded at a performance that took place only like six months after Leeds, features a nearly identical setlist to Leeds, and which people usually review only because it has a performance of Tommy, unlike the standard versions of Leeds. It’s all about efficiency with me.

So I guess I’ll address the Tommy part first, since it’s unique to this version. Conventional wisdom dictates that Tommy only really took off on stage during the tours of ’69-’70, when it got streamlined and grew some of the live Who muscle. Weirdly, though, I prefer the studio version. Why? Mostly, the vocals. Yeah, many of the Tommy songs, in electrified live form, are juicier and more rocking than their acoustic-based and comparatively thin-sounding studio counterparts. However, Roger’s voice is tired by the time they get around to the rock opera mid-set, which results in some quite unpleasant off-key screeching. Pete and John don’t fare all that much better with the more vocally challenging sections. Those angelic harmonies from the album are nowhere to be found. Which is unfortunate, because good singing is typically a plus in, you know, operas. Plus, I kind of miss the French horns and organs and all the little textural subtleties of the studio version. Basically, I could’ve saved myself a few dozen words and said that studio Tommy and live Tommy are two quite different entities, and though I largely prefer the former, the latter offers its own share of revelations (such as, ohmyfuckinggod, does drumming get any better than Keith on “Amazing Journey”?). Both are pretty much essential listening.

The other stuff is pretty much unassailable as far as live rock music goes. Blistering early rock covers like “Summertime Blues” and “Shakin’ All Over” are pretty much as good as it gets. Early album tracks like “Tattoo” and “A Quick One” are given massive injections of rock steroids and as a result are improved about a hundred fold upon their now-dinky sounding studio versions. The schoolboy humor between-song banter is genuinely funny and entertaining. And you know what, Pete sometimes gets overlooked as a guitarist in light of his towering contributions as a songwriter, but as far as I’m concerned Leeds alone puts him in a guitar master class. Whether calling on his full arsenal of pummeling riffs and wailing solos or playing off his own echo (the lengthy jam at the end of “My Generation”), he’s carrying the band here. And boy, is that a hell of a mighty load to carry.

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