Review Summary: The live record by which all others must be judged.
When The Who played Leeds University on February 14, 1970, something magical happened. Or at least, this is what many rock fans choose to believe. More than 40 years after its initial release, Live at Leeds
is still often cited as the pivotal rock ‘n roll live album. Originally a 6-song LP, its earliest version was already well-capable of displaying the band’s unrivalled energy on stage, but was later expanded into two different editions to include more of the set, which included an entire performance of Tommy
. The full rock opera is only available on the deluxe edition, and while it is undeniably great, Leeds’ well-filled single disc take contains all the essence of its genius. By this time it may have become a cliché to write, but Live at Leeds
was The Who at their peak and a defining moment in popular music. At the time, it rocked harder and better than everything else.
Even in their early days, The Who became notorious for their rebellious behaviour on stage (smashing of the guitars, etc.), which contrasted sharply with the more innocent sound of their recordings in the second half of the 60’s. Tommy
proved to be the single most important step in their claim to fame, massively increasing demand for the band, that achieved an increasingly powerful stage presence. In 1970, there was no more pop for this little group. Live at Leeds
is a pure-blooded fury of rock music that just isn’t played this way anymore. As for The Who, they quite effectively proved to be the best live band ever.
Setting the tone is the classic Entwistle tune Heaven and Hell
, which’ explosive entry and straightforward, highly amusing lyrics, sung with gusto in an on-and-off unison between John and Daltrey, may already have convinced you this is the greatest live record ever in just a minute’s time. With forceful immediacy, rock’s greatest rhythm section (R.I.P.) is making very damn clear they’re more than a mere drive behind the sound. That bass seems a force of nature, never leaving the front, and Keith Moon honours his reputation as lunatic behind the kit, showing incredible pace, skill, and lasting energy throughout such a lengthy set. He’s the reason we wish this had been filmed as well.
It was also at this point that Daltrey gained his gruffer, manlier voice, perhaps the most important feature in the band’s transformation. As the lead of the sound, it is him and Townshend, who fanatically lays down chord after chord and audibly backs with his own singing, who make from the original mould of their pop singles a collection of seriously rocking tunes. Piece by piece, the renditions of I Can’t Explain
, Happy Jack
and I’m a Boy
are brilliant improvements. The same goes for A Quick One, While He’s Away
, Townshend’s first stab at a rock opera which eventually led to Tommy
. Whereas the studio version can be called sloppy and unconvincing, this superb performance wipes the dust with it, seeing the band employing different vocal roles, seamlessly switching sections, and conveying a real storytelling ability. What has made Leeds’ reputation so impeccable is that this kind of improvement wasn’t limited to a handful of songs. Nearly everything that you find here is a definitive take.
The covers, out of the older rock and roll archives, also remain an integral part of the record. Live covers, especially those of well-known songs, can be typically great but rarely add anything to the original, or the concert, for that matter. With the Who and these four, things couldn’t be any different. They were all given an electrifying, firm 1970 update, the band completely making them their own. Mose Allison’s Young Man Blues
and Johnny Kidd’s Shakin’ All Over
developed into loud and inspiring jams indeed.
That same excellent jamming takes place during the final stage of Live at Leeds
. If the roaring opening and equally impressive middle part didn’t blow you away enough already, The Who finished rocking the place with a 16-minute My Generation
, growing into a medley with themes from Tommy
, and perfectly slow-building closer Magic Bus
, including two mighty fine harmonica solos leading into that final finale. And when the last seconds fade away, you realize how hard The Who rocked Leeds that fateful day. Then you realize how hard they’ve just been rocking you, and that this deserves every bit of exaggerated praise and worship it may have received. You have not heard it? Then you have not truly heard The Who. Live at Leeds
is the live record by which all others must be judged.
On top of the sky is a place where you go if you've done nothing wrong/
If you've done nothing wrong.
And down in the ground is a place where you go if you've been a bad boy/
If you've been a bad boy.
Why can't we have eternal life/
And never die/Never die?
In the place up above you grow feather wings and you fly round and round/
With a harp singing hymns.
And down in the ground you grow horns and a tail and you carry a fork/
And moan and wail.
Why can't we have eternal life/And never die/
R.I.P. Keith Moon (1946 – 1978)
R.I.P. John Entwistle ( 1944 – 2002)