Thursday, May 28, 2009

Which Live at Leeds?

After a good amount of discussion about the 10 Best Live Albums of All Time list, it seems the most universal sentiment is – not surprisingly – the admiration for The Who Live at Leeds. I can’t argue with that, since it was on my list and many critics over the years have deemed it one of the best live records in rock history. Sad to say, yet somehow predictably, I own all three versions of the release on CD – the original release with six songs (1970), the first Expanded Edition with 14 songs (1995) and the ultimate Deluxe Edition with 33 songs (2001) – I think I owned the original on cassette at one time, too.

Perhaps counterintuitively, I actually like the original six song (almost an E.P.) version of Live at Leeds best. There’s something about the impact of the band’s concise, full-throttle assault on the six varied tunes: Three great covers (Young Man Blues, Summertime Blues and Shakin’ All Over), along with an edgier take on one of the group’s best pop tunes (Substitute) and extended, bluesy jams on hits My Generation and Magic Bus. It’s a potent snapshot.

It might be somewhat sacrilegious, but as a great as Tommy was as a concept and a studio composition, I never thought it represented The Who at their best live. Sure there were brilliant spots (We’re Not Gonna Take It), but there was far too much storyline filler to make for a consistently compelling live performance. As far as a concept piece goes, 1973’s Quadrophenia worked much better as a live vehicle, having more musical muscle and less “operatic” filler. Thus, despite the additional music (and value for the investment), in my opinion, the padding on the subsequent versions of Live at Leeds defuses the concise punch of the original. To paraphrase Pink Floyd: the “short, sharp shock” is more effective.

Nevertheless, details aside Live at Leeds showed what a powerful band The Who could be in a way that their studio L.P.’s rarely did.

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