Tuesday, 7 August 2012

Classic Albums No.2: Live At Leeds

So if “Ziggy” is the best studio album of all time, then The Who’s 1970 offering “Live At Leeds” must be deemed the greatest ever live LP. You will hear about other contenders (such as “Made In Japan”), but “Live At Leeds” works so well because it captures, quite superbly, the ‘other side’ of the band. The Who, on stage, were always more loud, more ramshackle, and - once the LP was out - more un-produced than how their studio records sounded. Remember, this album was taped in the middle of a tour promoting 1969’s “Tommy”, but listen to the two side by side, and they sound like the work of two different bands. “Tommy” is clever, tuneful, polished, “Live At Leeds” is scratchy, ragged, and magnificently loud. And this was the whole point of the record.

Keen to try and capture their stage sound on record, the band taped a number of their American shows during 1969, and by the year end, had amassed a reported eighty hours of performances. The band could not face going through that amount of material to try and find 40 minutes of good stuff for a live album, so decided instead to play a pair of UK “Homecoming” concerts in February 1970, with the plan to record these shows and select material from the better of the two gigs for inclusion on the album. After a series of Opera House performances in Europe in January, the band played their two UK gigs on February 14th at Leeds University, and February 15th at Hull City Hall. Both were taped, just in case one gig “fell short” for any reason.

The setlists had remained fairly similar since the shows from the summer of 69, although some songs had been swapped around - “A Quick One While He’s Away” was performed at both Leeds and Hull immediately before the performance in full (more or less) of “Tommy”, but had featured much earlier on in the show at their debut Opera House gig in Amsterdam the previous year. The show opener on both nights was a new song, “Heaven And Hell”, a studio version of which would appear as a B-side by years end, and was followed by a slightly random mix of hits, album tracks, and covers. “Young Man Blues” was one such cover, and whilst it may have been new to most ears, a studio version of the song had been tossed away on a Track Records Sampler in 1969.

After about 40 minutes, the band would play “Tommy” from start to finish, although several songs were missing to try and streamline it a bit (“Underture“, “Sensation”, “Welcome” and “Cousin Kevin” were missing from both the Leeds and Hull shows - the Hull show saw Tommy polished off in just over 50 minutes, shaving 25 minutes off the original), and “Pinball Wizard“ was played earlier in the set on stage than on LP. The band would then run through covers of “Summertime Blues” and “Shakin’ All Over”, before performing a 15-minute long version of “My Generation”, which would see them incorporating bits and pieces of other songs during the 10 minute jam-finale, including bits from “Tommy”, just in case anybody hadn’t already had enough of it that evening. At the Leeds gig, the band summoned up enough energy to return for an encore of “Magic Bus”, but were too exhausted to do so at Hull, and thus left the stage after “My Generation“.

Of the two shows, the band preferred the Hull gig - they stated the acoustics in the hall sounded better, and opted to listen to this tape first to try and select the best material. But there seemed to be a problem - Entwistle’s bass parts were completely absent from “Heaven And Hell”, they were absent also from the second number “I Can’t Explain”, and so on. The first few songs the band listened to were all bass-less, and thus, assuming the whole gig was similarly affected, the band stopped listening to the tapes, and the Hull show was put into store. A listen to the Leeds gig revealed that Entwistle was present and correct on all songs, although his bass cable had caused crackles to appear throughout the recording (the liner notes in the 2010 boxset claim it was due to cables running from the stage mics not being properly connected) - but it was this show or nothing. The crackles were fairly noticeable on the opening number, but not so bad on “I Can’t Explain”, and seemed to have calmed down - for the most part - as the show progressed, so there was more than enough material to choose from. Townshend even advised engineers to not remove any of the crackles when the LP was being mastered, presumably to give it a bit of a bootleg feel.

Six numbers in total were chosen - three covers, and three singles. The decision to pick so many covers may seem a bit odd, but given that none of them had appeared on a Who LP before, you can see that there was probably a VFM approach being taken here (“Summertime Blues” had been taped by the band in the studio back in 1967, but remained unreleased until 1998). “Substitute” and “Magic Bus” were also on the LP, both of which had been released as stand alone 45’s, and would have made their debut appearance on a Who LP with this release, had the studio mixes of both not turned up on compilation albums in the UK and US in 1968. “My Generation” was the sixth number, presumably included on the basis that, apart from being the most famous Who song, it featured bits and pieces from “Tommy”, and would at least give the listener a clue that the band had played some of the album that evening, as not one number from “Tommy” was chosen for selection for the album that would, when finally released, be titled “Live At Leeds”.

In keeping with the bootleg feel, the album was to be released in a simple buff coloured sleeve, with nothing other than a logo “stamp” on the cover, with the band name, album title, and catalogue number in the top right (Track 2406 001). According to Wikipedia, the first 300 copies released in the UK featured the stamp in black ink, the next 200 used a blue stamp, and although subsequent third pressings still used the blue stamp, they were missing one item of “reproduced” memorabilia that had been included inside the elaborate gatefold sleeve packaging (a copy of the contract for the band’s 1969 Woodstock appearance). Even these later pressings still contain a multitude of goodies for the fans, and despite the bootleg style artwork (check out the handwritten labels on the vinyl copies, used instead of the standard Track Records labels at the band’s insistence), any copies of “Live At Leeds” that have all these inserts intact sell for a hell of a lot more than those without. By the time the album was being reissued at mid price by Polydor in the mid 80s, the blue ink had turned to red, the handwritten labels were replaced by standard red Polydor ones (Polydor SPELP 50), and the elaborate gatefold sleeve had been replaced by a single sleeve - with no inserts. The crackles, however, still remained intact.

“Summertime Blues” was issued as a single to promote the LP, with the aforementioned studio mix of “Heaven And Hell” on the flip. The band continued to tour in 1970, even doing a theatre tour in April just before the LP’s release (even though they were starting to become so popular, and such venues were really “beneath” them), and continued to play most of “Tommy” right up until the end of the year. However, some of the older material was dropped, and the band took to performing new songs from the unreleased, and never fully realised, “Lifehouse” project, parts of which were rescued for the 1971 classic “Who’s Next” long-player. “Live At Leeds” was issued in May 1970, and gave the band a big hit album, and was the subject of excitable reviews from the music press. The band had successfully captured their stage sound on vinyl, and the “greatest live album ever made” title was secured.

The first official appearance of another song from the Leeds show was in 1979, when “Happy Jack” turned up on the “Kids Are Alright” soundtrack LP. For some reason, when first issued, the booklet of the vinyl edition stated the recording was made during a 1967 show in Sweden, but the most recent CD pressing (from 2000) quite proudly states this version was taped at Leeds.

In 1994, to commemorate the 30th anniversary of the band’s debut single (when they were still known as “The High Numbers”), Polydor issued a superb 4-CD Box Set called “30 Years Of Maximum R&B”. Everything from the Track and Polydor years was remixed for the box, and the entire first half of “Live At Leeds” was included - “Young Man Blues“, “Substitute“, “Summertime Blues“ and “Shakin‘ All Over“ - although not in that order. “Substitute” and “Young Man Blues” now featured Pete’s spoken word introductions to each, making reference to how they were about to play “three selected hit singles…the three easiest” before the former, and then talking about how the composer of “Young Man Blues”, Mose Allison, once referred to himself as a ’Jazz Sage’. The remixing process had not, however, removed the crackles. Another previously unheard track from the same gig was included in edited form, as a version of the final section of “We’re Not Gonna Take It” - often now famously credited, in it’s own right, as “See Me Feel Me” - was included, which was a mix of the “Tommy” version which then segued into the performance from the Leeds gig.

In 1995, a major Who reissue campaign was to be undertaken, where each of the band’s Track/Polydor studio albums were to be remixed, with relevant bonus tracks being tagged onto the end of each, where possible. To kick start the campaign, “Live At Leeds” was the first reissue to be made, tying in with it’s 25th anniversary, with the original 40 minute LP being expanded to CD length, by including all of the non-“Tommy” material the band had performed that night as extra tracks, along with the “Amazing Journey”/“Sparks” segment from “Thomas”, as Townshend had soon after it’s release started to call it (Polydor 527 169-2). Rather than put these extra tracks at the end, the songs were simply placed in the order in which they were performed on the night, so “Heaven And Hell” kick started it all, and “Magic Bus” closed the album just as it always had done. The remixing process was used to remove the crackles, meaning that the likes of “Substitute” were now appearing in their third variant mix, whilst the Blue Ink stamp was restored. Like the reissue of “Sell Out”, the reissue of “Live At Leeds” simply took everything to the next level - whilst the original track listing always looked a bit odd, with it’s over-reliance on covers, it’s ‘50% only’ version of “Substitute”, and that slightly messy version of the already shabby “Magic Bus”, the 1995 one just made a lot more sense.

The next appearance of previously unissued “Leeds” material occurred the following year, when the version of “Pinball Wizard” taped that night appeared as a B-side on a reissued “My Generation”, re-released to plug a Greatest Hits set of the same name.

In 2001, the band’s US label MCA had become part of the Universal Music Group. Universal had come up with the concept of the “Deluxe Edition”, and “Live At Leeds” was one of the first - if not the first - albums to receive this honour. Universal's plan for these Deluxe pressings was to include a second CD of rarities, whilst the first CD would - if there was suitable material - also include rare recordings to expand the disc to CD-length. The plan for “Live At Leeds”, therefore, was to include the whole of the Leeds gig across two discs. Everything was to be remixed slightly - so “Substitute” etc. were now appearing in their fourth variant - and the missing material, basically most of “Tommy”, was to be making it’s official debut on record (MCA 088 112 618-2. UK pressings from 2002 exist with slightly different catalogue number).

Controversially, the decision was taken to keep “Tommy” intact, so that the non-”Tommy” stuff would be on CD1, and “Tommy” on CD2. Whilst you can understand the logistics of doing this, I still find it difficult, when I listen to this version of “Live At Leeds”, to get used to the fact that after “Magic Bus” has careered to it’s feedback driven halt, there is another hours worth of material still to come. It’s worth pointing out that another performance of “Tommy”, from the 1970 Isle of Wight festival, had appeared officially on CD and Video in 1996, and that CD had featured the setlist in the order in which it was performed on the night - so on this release, “Tommy” comes slap bang in the middle, just like it should do. Another possible reason for splitting “Tommy” off from the rest of the Leeds gig, apart from allowing it to be dubbed “Tommy Live At Leeds”, was that there was a fault on the tapes when “Tommy” was started up (the pitch is different, sounding a bit like the tape is about to chew up any moment), so putting “Overture” straight after “A Quick One” might have resulted in a sound that did not “gel”.

Whilst the 2001 “Live At Leeds” was, to be fair, the best yet (track sequencing aside), no attempts were made to restore everything that could have been restored. Yes, the original mix of “Magic Bus” had been altered (as it had been in 1995) so that the ‘backwards guitar’ part concocted by Townshend in the studio to cover a glitch in the tapes back in 1970 was backwards no more, but the drastic edits made to this recording were still in place - the original performance on the night had lasted nearly ten minutes, but the released version was under eight minutes in length. I also mentioned, in my 2010 Who article, about the rumour that one song was still missing from this reissue. Well, it wasn’t quite a full song, but the band did, on the night, segue into a section of the song “Spoonful” during “Shakin’ All Over”, but not only was this missing from the 1970 mix, but was still missing from all subsequent versions, including the “Deluxe” pressing. So whilst the sound quality of this edition superseded all others, bootlegs of “Live At Leeds Complete” continued to do the rounds - albeit with all the crackles still intact. Nonetheless, it did seem that this version of the album should really have been the last word on the subject, because if they weren‘t going to restore the missing bits now, then they probably never would.

And yet, in the fall of 2010, the band announced they were releasing a 40th anniversary super-deluxe boxset edition of “Live At Leeds”. The big selling point was to be the inclusion of two CD’s containing the Hull performance. The very same show with the bass apparently missing? Indeed so. Because the bass was not quite as “missing” as people had thought it had been.

I mentioned in my last Who article that in 2009, the band had released a 2-CD best of called “Greatest Hits And More”, with the second CD being a collection of live recordings between 1965 and 2007, including a pair of songs from the Hull show. Back in 2007, the band had issued a double CD mail order only release called “View From A Backstage Pass”, featuring performances from the Moon era between 1969 and 1976. Several songs from the Hull gig were included. It turns out that had the band continued to listen to the Hull tapes back in 1970, then they would have realised that the bass suddenly kicked in after about 20 minutes, commencing with the performance of “Young Man Blues”, and was intact for the rest of the gig, “Overture” excepted. And so, a number of songs performed later that night were selected for this release. A revamped version of “Backstage Pass“, titled “Greatest Hits Live”, turned up first as a download, and then as a 22 track double-CD in March 2010, just after the “Greatest Hits And More” release. The “And More” disc was basically an edited highlights versions of the “Live” CD.

In order to restore the Hull gig in it’s entirety for the box, the decision was taken to “fly in” the bass parts from the affected songs from the Leeds show. A bit of a repair job had to be done during the middle of the “Tommy” set, and this was also achieved by dubbing in a few seconds from the Leeds gig, to cover for a drop out on the tapes of the Hull gig (“Fiddle About” was the song affected). And so, at the tail end of 2010, “Live At Leeds” appeared again.

The box set included a slightly tampered with version of the 2001 reissue, meaning that “Substitute” and co were now in their fifth variant mix, although the “pitch” problems with the “Tommy” material still seemed to be apparent. Discs 3 and 4 were the “Live At Hull” material, which was notable in that for this part of the box, the segment of “Spoonful” played during “Shakin’ All Over” was not edited out - it was still missing from the “Leeds” portion, and “Magic Bus” still remained in edited form. You also got a 7” single of “Summertime Blues”, housed in a fancy picture sleeve - effectively this was a reissue of one of the old foreign pressings, as this sleeve had been used on one of the original 1970 issues from overseas - and a repressing of the original 6 track vinyl LP, which retains the crackles, but I am told has been remixed - so “Substitute” et al thus apparently appear in their sixth mix!

The package came housed in a big box, with the front cover in black ink. Inside, you had the LP, 7” and CD’s held together in a fancy gatefold sleeve, and a 12”x12” hardback book (Polydor 275 0072). For the booklet and LP, the original album cover art was used on the front, but one with red ink, and the other with blue, thus giving the listener visual reproductions of all three variant sleeves in one go. The memorabilia from the 1970 version was absent, although some of these items were reprinted in the book, but you did instead get a Townshend poster tucked inside instead.

The Hull gig is a curio. There is a distinct lack of banter compared to the Leeds show, and even Townshend himself said that on the night, the crowd were just not quite into it until after they’d finished the “Tommy” section of the show. On first listen, it sounds alarmingly underwhelming, but I did go back and listen to it again recently, and the band themselves are at least at the peak of their powers, it’s just a shame you would need to shell out £80 for the box to hear this, as no attempt was made to issue the “Hull” discs as a separate release. This would have been a nice touch, and you could even have had a sleeve the same as the “Leeds” one - especially as when “Endless Wire” was issued in 2006, it originally came with a second CD featuring tracks taped at a gig in Lyon, and a “Live At Leeds” style mock cover for “Live At Lyon” was printed inside the packaging.

But let us for a moment ignore the financial misgivings of this release. Because you can understand why the boxset version of “Live At Leeds” exists. It is simply because it’s an exhilarating record, capturing one of the worlds’ greatest bands in full flight, and so kind of deserves to be “revamped“ every now and then. Think of it as the Kama Sutra of Rock And Roll, a guide to any aspiring band as to “how to play live music on stage”. Whereas a lot of live albums just seem to be there as a document of that last tour, offering no real new insight into the artist concerned, “Live At Leeds” was - and still is - an important historical document. Whilst the invention of the video allowed us, some years later, to see - as well as hear - just how great The Who are on stage, this LP was important, as it showed why the band had built up the reputation they had as a great live act. Quite simply, the greatest live LP ever made.

1 comment:

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