Friday, September 28, 2007

No. 170: Live At Leeds

Band: The Who
Album: Live At Leeds
Why Rolling Stone gets it right: On the short list, if not the greatest live album of all-time, the Who's wildly popular "Live At Leeds" is a study in sheer power. From the record's lengthy extended version of the band's signature tune to the taut cover of an Eddie Cochrane classic, "Live At Leeds" is great.
Why Rolling Stone gets it wrong: If we're talking live albums, this should be higher on the list. It's the best.
Best song: Pick it. From the fury of "Young Man Blues" to the extended "Magic Bus," this album rocks.
Worst song: There are no bad songs here. At all.
Is it awesome?: No doubt about it.

I believe I've mentioned this, but The Who are like a first girlfriend to me. They were the first band I really loved and the first I dove fully into.

"Live At Leeds" is the reason for that. In rummaging through my parents' records as a junior high-aged lad, I found "Live At Leeds" among the Johnny Mathis, Ahad Jamal and Beatles records. I shoved it on a turntable and was completely transfixed. Filled with punk energy, blues rock riffing and heavy metal rock and roll, the album is a show of the band at its height.

The band had toured worldwide for more than a year in support of "Tommy" and "Live At Leeds" is a result of the band finishing this movement. Filling clubs and university halls, the band learned to perfect their live sound, finally ending up at Leeds University. The hall has since been commemorated with a plaque noting the recording of the record.

Styled to look like a bootlegged album -- down to the brown paper cover and templated stamp lettering -- the original mix of the album is a short list of great songs. With only six tracks (two on the second side), the album is spare and raucous. The guitar in Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" starts and stops as the band reworks it into a powerful blues-type number. The short, sweet, proto-punk "Substitute" is superior to the original and the Eddie Cochrane cover "Summertime Blues" features John Entwistle's heavy melodic bass. Falling into the old rock standard "Shakin' All Over," the band comes together as a well-oiled machine.

The second side is the point where the band lets loose. "My Generation" becomes a pastiche of themes from the band, including parts of its magnum opus "Tommy" and seven minutes of "Magic Bus" finishes the album.

"Live At Leeds" is, in a lot of ways, a turning point for the band. In touring "Tommy" throughout the world, the band slowly became enraptured in itself. After "Live At Leeds," the band started putting out masturbatory concept albums and long-winded stadium rock. Nevertheless, "Live At Leeds" (especially the double disc reissue) is powerful, raw and beautiful. Best live album, indeed.

1 comment:

kellydwyer said...

I remember buying this album for my Dad as a Father's Day gift back in 1993. Three days later, after having listened to it about 9-trillion times, I sort of gave it back to myself. I'm a horrible son. It's an amazing album. There's one descending chord sequence during "My Generation" that probably could have been used as the basis for a million-selling single; and yet, it was merely a throwaway riff in the midst of a 12-minute song.