Monday, November 29, 2010

Review: ‘The Who Live at Leeds: Super-Deluxe Edition’

In some parallel universe Who freaks have been listening to Live at Hull for the past 40 years and thinking, “Gee, this could be a lot better.” Fortunately, we all live in the Live at Leeds world, and everyone with a pair of ears knows it’s Rock’s greatest live album: adventurous as your average avant jazz record but as corrosive as the fiercest punk. The Who had been on tour in support of Tommy for months when they played that Leeds University gig and were confident and exceptionally tight. The audience was as receptive as audiences get. Equally important, live-recording technology had advanced to the point where a vinyl record could adequately capture the volume and depth of a live Who performance—well, as long as you turned your hi-fi up all the way and shoved your head inside the speaker cabinet.

The night after The Who’s triumphant Valentine’s Day stand at Leeds they headed to Hull’s City Hall for their next performance. Like the Leeds gig, the Hull show was taped for a potential live album. However, technical problems (John Entwistle’s bass was absent from the first five songs of the set), sloppy playing, and a relatively sedate audience guaranteed that the Leeds show would be the one to make the transition to vinyl and history. The record featured three Who originals and three classic blues and Rock & Roll covers. 25 years later, Live at Leeds received its first expansion and audio upgrade. That 1995 edition featured The Who’s entire non-Tommy set and one bonus track from the Rock Opera, as well as all of the guys’ hilarious onstage banter and the audience noise that had been scrubbed from the 1970 original. In 2001, Leeds doubled in size when the full Tommy set was appended to it. Now it has doubled again to include the entire Hull set, as well as vinyl copies of the 1970 version and the accompanying “Summertime Blues”/“Heaven and Hell” single.

The Live at Leeds: 40th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Collector’s Edition will surely appeal to Who completists. The package is lavish, the audio quality is top notch, and the price is quite reasonable for a set of this sort (compare its $80 list price to the absurd $180 tag of the recently released super-deluxe edition of Exile on Main Street, which contains roughly the same amount of material). The less obsessed should be perfectly happy with their 2001 double-CD sets. I doubt that many fans will feel the need to listen to Live at Hull more than once. What’s the point when Live at Leeds contains the same exact set (plus “Magic Bus”) played with much more vim and skill? There’s also a significant drawback of hearing the Hull set at all: considering how completely The Who recreated their performance from Leeds, it makes that show sound less spontaneous. I always wanted to believe all of the shenanigans at the tail end of “My Generation” were improvised on the spot. They weren’t. The most significant difference between the performances is when Daltrey tosses a bit of “Spoonful” into “Shakin’ All Over” during the Hull set. Otherwise it’s essentially an inferior clone of Leeds.

Universal Music probably intended the two-discs of Hull performances to be the main hook for record buyers, but the real boon of this set is the inclusion of the single and the heavyweight vinyl LP Although the tracks added in 1995 improved on the 1970 release tremendously, it’s still fascinating to hear the album as it originally appeared.

So this package is the fourth, and I’m assuming final, word on Leeds. Hopefully the Powers That Be can now get on with putting together deluxe editions of A Quick One and Odds and Sods. Those are the releases we Who freaks really need.

Buy Live at Leeds: 40th Anniversary Super-Deluxe Collector’s Edition at here.
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