September 21, 2020

1995-03-10 – Chicago Tribune

1995 03 10 Chicago_Tribune_Fri__Mar_10__1995_

Chicago Tribune, Friday. March 10. 1995 0

Filthy

Music

Leeds revisited

The Who retools a classic live album

hen they took the

stage at Leeds Uni—

versity on Feb. 14,

1970, The Who was

at its peak as a live
rock band. No wonder that
“Live at Leeds," released three
months later. is regarded as one
of the handful of essential live
rock albums.

Play on
Greg Kot

It contained only six songs,
but they were packed with
blood and thunder, ignoring the
lyric subtleties of the band’s
originals in favor of muscular
reworkings of Eddie Cochran
and Mose Allison songs, as well
as an extended take on “My
Generation” that rendered the
original anthem nearly unrec—
ognizeable.

“"Leeds is a fierce hard—rock
record, but it presents a dis—
torted view of The Who aes.
thetically, bypassing the group’s
more lyrical and introspective
side. And the sound quality is
muddier than the bottom of the
Thames, which runs through
the group’s native London.

In retrospect, the original was
but a grainy, if highly evoca-
tive, snapshot, whereas the
greatly expanded CD reissue,
just out on MCA Records. is a
fully formed portrait. Fleshed
out with detailed liner notes
and additional tracks, the
greatest of its virtues is the
extraordinary remix, which
clarifies the components in the
band's wall of sound—Roger
Daltrey’s husky roar, John
Entwistle's spider—walking runs
up and down the neck of his
bass guitar, Keith Moon’s
relentless percussion assault,
and Pete Townshend’s massive
block chords and stuttering
runs on guitar.

The new “Live at Leeds" is
expanded to 77 minutes. more
than double the original, and

adds eight tracks that present
a more balanced view of The
Who in its immediate post-
“Tommy” incarnation

The band was still performing
“Tommy” in its 75—minute
entirety during the middle of
its set, and the new “Leeds”
offers a snippet of this ep ic
performance. In fact, the only
disappointment is that the
incendiary “Amazing Journey”

and cascading “Sparks" are the
only taste of “Tommy” offered

The winding, sometimes
confusing story line of this rock
“opera” remains Townshend's
most celebrated idea, but on
stage The Who turned it into a
musical tour de force, with
Moon's rampaging drums
leading the way. The live
“Amazing Journey" is notable
too for Townshend’s homage to
Jimi Hendrix’s “Purple Haze.”

What’s also apparent is that
one needs to hear the band
perform the entire cycle of
songs without pause to under—
stand “Tommy" as a whole, and
it’s a shame that MCA and
Townshend in all their endless

Keith Moon

repackagings of The Who still
haven't seen fit to present the
rock opera unabridged in
concert.

Otherwise, the disc is a prize
mix of familiar tracks, obscu—
rities, covers and extended
versions that make it an
essential addition to The Who
library. It kicks off with
Entwistle’s thunderous “Heaven
and Hell," available previously
in its studio version as a B
side. rips into the signature “I
Can’t Explain" (Townshend's
entire songwriting career can
be seen as an extended response
to this song of stammering teen
confusion and frustration) and
then takes the R&B hit “For~

tune Teller” from a simmer to
a boil.

Organizing “Substitute,”
“Happy Jack" and “I'm a Boy”
into a triptych of singles.
Townshend also offers an
extended comment on his
obsession with identity. Yet the
underlying seriousness is mit—
igated by the guitarist’s hilar—
ious comments about the songs‘
chart action, or lack thereof,

The Who—Roger Daltry, Keith Moon John Entwistle and Pete
Townshend—shortly after the release of the “Live at Leeds" album.

and the ingenious popcraft of
the arrangements. By handing
over the lyrics to Daltrey to
sing, and ceding the lead
instrumental role normally
reserved for the guitar to
Moon’s drums, Townshend
turned The Who into something
much greater than his backing
band. This was the power trio
reinvented, augmented by a
microphone—twirling vocalist,
with three instrumentalists
vying for attention within the
space of a three—minute song,
rather than stretching out
Cream—style with solo after
solo. The band's dynamic was
more akin to an amplified jazz
ensemble working in the
abbreviated pop format, with
Townshend’s chords acting as a
framing device, the glue that
put back together the splinters
created by the riotous Moon
and the mad virtuoso Entwistle.
“Happy Jack” in particular
stands the rock—trio on its head,
with the melody built around
Moon’s hyperactive drumming.

The core of “Live at Leeds"
remains the band‘s blazing
tributes to its influences:
Cochran’s “Summertime Blues,”
Allison's “Young Man Blues"

and the shuddering homage to
Who percursors Johnny Kidd
and the Pirates, “Shakin’ All
Over.” On the 14—minute “My
Generation," The Who overin—
dulges in what would become
a rock cliche of the ’70s—the
extended version of a revered
hit—and “Magic Bus” remains
one of Townshend’s slightest
songs.

But these missteps, which
survive from the original
album, are more than com—
pensated for by the inclusion of
Townshend’s first stab at an
extended suite of songs, the
mini—opera “A Quick One
While He’s Away." Its bawdy
subject matter is a trifle, but
the music, which encompasses
everything from country to
danoehall, is terrific. Hearing it
performed live, the bits of
melody strung together like
baubles on a Christmas tree,
one comes away with renewed
appreciation for The Who.
Without the aid of studio
gixmnicks or additional players
they made three instruments
and a couple of voices sound
as versatile as an orchestra._as
expressive as a jazz ensemble
and as big as rock ’n' roll itself.