I think it’s safe to say that ‘Live In Leeds’ from The Who is one of the most iconic live albums of all time, even if it only had six tracks, a quite staggering performance.
Written by: Dangerzone
ARTIST: The Who
ALBUM: Live At Leeds
LABEL: Track Record
SERIAL: 2406 001
CD REISSUE: Reissue List
COUNTRY OF ORIGIN: England
LINEUP: Roger Daltrey – vocals * Pete Townshend – guitar * John Entwistle – bass * Keith Moon – drums
TRACK LISTING: 01 Young Man * 02 Substitute * 03 Summertime Blues * 04 Shakin’ All Over * 05 My Generation * 06 Magic Bus
WEBLINKS: Site Link
When asserting the claim The Who were the finest live band of all time, ‘Live At Leeds’ is all the evidence needed to back this up. When this was released in May of 1970, the band had toured endlessly on the back of ‘Tommy’ with celebrated gigs at Woodstock and the Isle of Wight festival in 1969 among others.
The shows usually consisted of playing ‘Tommy’ in its entirety, mixed with the traditional favorites. Of course in a live setting The Who were the complete opposite of the more relaxed studio musings of ‘Tommy’ and the material came to life on stage. The legend goes that Townshend burned all the live tapes of their 1969 shows so he didn’t have to listen to them to provide material for a live album.
Hence the recording of the University of Leeds show on February 14, 1970 for this specific purpose. The album when it was released was extremely spartan, with the classic bootleg cover and a mere six tracks. It was all that was needed. It was immediately hailed as the greatest live album to that point and in my opinion still is. This review is in reference to the original release also, not the remastered versions that appeared decades later with extra tracks.
A now staggering 47 years (at the time of writing) since its release, this album is still as fresh and breathtaking as I’m certain it was then. When you consider the hard rock scene in 1970 and the emergence of the likes of Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, Deep Purple, Uriah Heep etc., none of them could hold a candle to The Who for genuine heaviness.
‘Young Man Blues’ was always one of their live masterpieces, having turned the Mose Ellison classic into their own, with a vicious performance that ranks as one of their best caught on vinyl. The devastation of the rhythm section and Townshend’s guitar work packs a punch nobody else has ever managed. It’s heavy metal before it became mainstream, the ferocity intangible.
I’m not sure what possessed these guys onstage to this day, but it was only 1970 and the race had already been won. ‘Substitute’ and ‘Summertime Blues’ follow in relatively simple fashion, the latter another terrific version of the Eddie Cochran track The Who now owned also.. ‘Shakin’ All Over’ was another live cover the band had turned into a staple, another sonic blast which displays what a master John Entwistle was, his bass at the forefront, before Townshend lays down riffs not even Tony Iommi or Jimmy Page ever came close to.
The sprawling 15 minutes of the ‘My Generation’ jam is familiar to avid Who fans, showcasing their improvisational prowess, branching out into various areas, including ‘Sparks’ from ‘Tommy’.. The sudden bursts of musical violence are stunning, the racket being made almost unfathomable. The Who were that rare beast who hardly ever sounded the same from gig to gig, making each one special.
‘Magic Bus’ is the icing on the cake, building to a climax that could be the heaviest segment ever caught on disc. The utter annihilation of the drumming and riffs predate thrash by some 13 years, a wall of noise that can’t be easily described. Just what this must have sounded like in person I can’t imagine.
One of the truly iconic albums in rock history, setting a benchmark for any band, past and present. Some would argue this was the band at their live peak, but to me they were always formidable until the day Moon died in 1978. It was never the same after that naturally.
But to listen to The Who live with Moon is to hear rock pushed to the extremes. That many consider this the best live album decades later speaks volumes. As great as the remastered versions are and also the Hull shows recorded the following day, the original version will always be the benchmark by which all others are measured.