The Who - Live At Leeds - Review
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critics' view

Following the worldwide success of Pete Townshend’s rock opera, Tommy, consolidated by their blistering appearance in the movie of the Woodstock festival, the former Shepherd’s Bush mods were now a bona fide ‘serious’ albums act and were freed from their tag as 60s singles merchants. Their stage shows now lasted well into the three hour mark, usually involving an entire performance of Tommy and a host of oldies and blues and rock ‘n’ roll chestnuts, all boosted by Pete’s guitar pyrotechnics, John’s Entwistle’s thundering bass and Keith Moon’s apoplectic drumming. What’s more, singer Roger Daltrey had grown into the role of charismatic, mic-twirling frontman. Aside from the Rolling Stones (who had released their own masterful live document, Get Yer Ya-Yas Out, the previous year), the Who were now the most exciting live act on the planet. If you need proof, listen to this…

With too many tapes from the year’s touring to go through (they ritually burnt them in the end) and with Townshend’s ambitious Lifehouse project running into early difficulties, the band decided to do the sensible thing and make a proper document of how damn good they were on stage. With this in mind they booked two nights at Leeds University and proceeded to give a performance of their mighty stage act at the time. Whittling the gig down to just six tracks at the time of release, the album came wrapped in a mock bootleg, brown paper sleeve with a free ephemera of their 60s ‘Maximum R’n’B’ Marquee club heydays - showing just how far they’d come.

With a 50/50 mix of Townshend numbers and standards the album kicks off with Mose Allison’s “Young Man Blues” and never looks back. Keith Moon may well be remembered for his schoolboy antics with hotel rooms and Rolls Royces, but to hear him here in full flow is an object lesson in rock trio drumming. It’s a measure of the band’s power that they can take hoary old standards like Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” and Johnny Kidd’s “Shakin’ All Over” and make them their own.

It all climaxes with the band’s “Magic Bus”; a grade B single in 1967 now turned into a monster rocker complete with comic call and response and Daltrey’s fearsome blues harp. Subsequent reissues of the album for the CD generation gradually added the entire setlist from the night, including the entire Tommy suite, “A Quick One While He’s Away” and John Entwistle’s underrated “Heaven And Hell”, the best opening number any live band ever had. Rolling Stone hailed it as the best ever live album, and they may still be right…

Chris Jones
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The BBC's album reviews ended in 2013, although the pages are archived for retrospective reading. external-link.png

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