Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Who 6: Live At Leeds

Live At Leeds has been called the best live album of all time, and Everybody’s Dummy is inclined to agree. It’s a raw performance that sweats heat and dust particles. Its original six-song form was just enough, abridged just like the bootlegs it was designed to imitate. To finally release the whole concert only made it better, but let’s start at the beginning.

“Young Man Blues” falls out of the speakers, all controlled chaos. There’s some joking before a powerful short version of “Substitute”, then the best version of “Summertime Blues” and the mindwarp of “Shakin’ All Over”. Side one is just as long as the first song on side two, 15 minutes of “My Generation” that trawl through “See Me Feel Me”, “Listening To You”, “Sparks”, what would become “Naked Eye” and plenty other riffs. “Magic Bus” plows one note into the ground and that’s the album.

25 years later, the expanded Live At Leeds was the opening shot in the band’s reissue program. As it turned out, the original six songs were a small part of the show, which really began with “Heaven And Hell” (still a great opener, even if John did redub his first vocal for the reissue), then into “I Can’t Explain”. A quick hello, then a cover of “Fortune Teller” goes right into “Tattoo”, of all things. Pete’s intro to “Young Man Blues” is included, with pertinent puncturing from the back by Keith. “Substitute” was their trip through their few hit singles, including “Happy Jack” (which had appeared mislabeled on The Kids Are Alright soundtrack) and “I’m A Boy”. This is followed by a pretty powerful “A Quick One”, which set up the Tommy portion of the show. Only “Amazing Journey/Sparks” is included from the 18-song sequence, and it’s really all you need. Then we get the end of the original album, in order, with the scream edited out of “My Generation” for no good reason and the backwards snippet reinserted from “Magic Bus”. But that’s why you save your LPs.

Fan outcry and a quest for profit inspired the Deluxe Edition of the complete Leeds concert, which put the Tommy portion on a second disc with the rest of the show (plus some spoken extras) on the first. The thing is, Tommy at Leeds wasn’t that good. They could rarely get that first chord right, Pete was always out of tune by the middle, and Roger usually blew the first note of “See Me Feel Me” as well. (Actually, he did get it right at Woodstock, but since Pete and Roger hate the recording of that show, it’s likely to remain unofficial.) “Pinball Wizard” is OK, but several vocal parts were fixed 30 years after the fact, and not as successfully as John’s job on the first reissue.

To add further insult to injury, the concert’s fortieth anniversary was “celebrated” with an even more expanded edition, including the 2001 Deluxe Edition, a new vinyl copy of the original six tracks, a bonus 45 of the “Summertime Blues”/“Heaven & Hell” single, and surprisingly, the complete Hull concert from the day after the original Leeds show. For this, the producers flew in John’s bass tracks from Leeds for the first four songs, which is what kept them from issuing the concert in the first place. Then, two years after all the hardcore fans bought the big set, Live At Hull was issued by itself.

If you want the complete Leeds concert as performed, and can stand the crackles, there’s a bootleg. But for sheer entertainment, stick with the 1995 version. It smokes.

The Who Live At Leeds (1970)—5
1995 remaster: same as 1970, plus 8 extra tracks
2001 Deluxe Edition: same as 1995, plus 18 extra tracks
2010 40th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Collectors’ Edition: same as 2001, plus 32 extra tracks

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