Spins

A review of The Who Live At Leeds reissue

The WhoLive at Leeds (Deluxe Edition) The Who was the tightest, most powerful rock band of the '60s. Hendrix may have been the best soloist and Cream the most telepathic improvisers (if you're thinking Stones, they don't even deserve a mention in the power and tightness department) but when it came to playing big, loud songs with precision and abandon, nobody matched The Who. One needs no more proof than Live at Leeds. This early 1970 concert takes the band's prior songs, some R&B covers and other material and gives them all a monstrous shot of steroids.

First released as a six-track single LP in '70, then as an expanded CD in the '90s, Live at Leeds has finally been done right — which is to say presented in its entirety. Expanded to a double disc, it includes for the first time an extraordinary 54-minute performance of Tommy. The rock opera takes up disc two, which renders the concert out of sequence. All told, though, it was the right decision to break Tommy out on its own disc.

The other legendary '60s rock bands lacked the discipline to play this sequence of 20 songs without interruption, replete with tricky instrumental transitions and a staggering sweep of dynamics, from pounding crescendos to pensive solo guitar interludes. And though there are a number of punchy solos here, the result is consummately wank-free. Remember, The Who had but three instrumentalists. Pete Townshend's mountainous guitar work is in full effect. Less tangible but no less important is John Entwistle's bass work; blessed with formidable technique, he could deliver both the low and high end of his instrument, effectively thickening the Who's sonic barrage. Add in Keith Moon's frenetic, heavy-handed drumming, brimming with sheer propulsion, and a trio can effectively sound like a much bigger ensemble.

Topping it off: The vocals (with Roger Daltrey handling most of the leads) are consistently in tune and crisply harmonized.

Disc one of Live at Leeds finds The Who slashing away at songs like I Can't Explain, Young Man Blues, Substitute, Summertime Blues and more — played both relentlessly and seamlessly. A quarter-hour version of My Generation, laced with various instrumental themes from Tommy, is a pure adrenaline rush.

With this Deluxe Edition, Live at Leeds can now take its proper place as one of the greatest live albums in rock history. (MCA)

—Eric Snider

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