PopMatters reviews Leeds

Brian Cady brianinatlanta2001 at yahoo.com
Wed Feb 16 06:08:30 CST 2005

A couple of days late for the 35th anniversary but...
On line at:

[16 February 2005]
by Adam Williams 
PopMatters Associate Music Editor

Contrary to popular belief and custom, St. Valentine's
Day is not embodied by heart-shaped boxes of
chocolates and long-stemmed roses, but rather by
slashing power chords, frenetic windmills and howling
feedback. On 14 February 1970 a nice rock and roll
band from Shepherd's Bush, London, took the stage at
Leeds University and committed to tape a performance
that fully defined amplified aggression. That band was
the 'orrible 'Oo and the album was Live At Leeds. 

Generally acknowledged as the most aggressive live
album ever recorded (challenged only by the MC5's Kick
Out the Jams), Live at Leeds marks more than simply a
watershed moment in the Who's illustrious career. It
symbolizes the end of one decade and beginning of
another, serving as a sonic harbinger of things to
come for both the band and industry as a whole. While
Altamont had effectively extinguished the prevailing
naivety and altruism of the 1960s, it was the majestic
brutality of Leeds that summarily ended rock's
fixation with peace, love, and happiness, providing
the template for incendiary no-holds-barred music.
Three and a half decades after the opening salvo, the
album continues to resonate as loudly today as it did
in 1970. 

Emerging as nattily clad pop-artsters amidst the mid
'60s Mod movement, the Who had morphed into top-tier
headliners in less than five years. The band's
notorious live sound would eventually allow them to
stake their claim to "Loudest Band in the World", and
their reputation for auto-destruction would precede
them wherever they played. Yet the Who were far more
than celebrated noisemakers, a la Blue Cheer. The 1969
rock-opera Tommy boasted the band's cerebral side, a
creative component that was further showcased several
years later with Quadrophenia. 

Having conquered the large-scale crowds of Monterey
(1967), Woodstock and the second Isle of Wight
festival (both 1969), the Who sought to revisit the
intimate venue atmosphere offered by Leeds University
and Hull City Hall on successive days in February
1970. Despite the relatively modest confines, the band
was able to harness a gargantuan sound and tailor it
for the respective stages at Leeds and Hull. Offering
a unique mix of aggression and sophistication, the set
list amalgamated everything the Who could conjure;
from classic singles to covers, from the mini opera "A
Quick One, While He's Away" to the full-blown rock
opera Tommy, the Who traversed the musical landscape
with ease while unceremoniously destroying any doubts
as to their prowess as a premier touring act. 

What's most startling about the Leeds recording is
this: There are only three musicians and a single
vocalist on stage, each battling one another for
superiority, yet complimenting each other in a manner
that seems incomprehensible. No band has ever been
comprised of four
lead-participants-as-competing-forces who managed to
play together so seamlessly. Pete Townshend's fret
work is augmented by Keith Moon's machine-gun fills
and John Entwistle's bone-jarring bass rumble, as
Roger Daltrey's vocals alternate between lushly
melodic and sneering. The result is a display of power
and volume appropriate for the huge festivals they
played but unleashed within an auditorium without a
hint of technical compromise. 

Hidden behind Leeds's thunderous wall of sound lies a
rare intimacy shared between artist and audience.
Townshend's lengthy introduction of his mini opera is
met by rousing cheers (eliciting a particularly
enthusiastic response when he mentions his playing the
role of "girl guide") while the subsequent
good-humored stage banter epitomizes the band's
comfort level in front of its native English crowd.
Those in attendance were rewarded with a vintage
two-hour Who set, the entirety of which was finally
available to the rest of us in 2001 -- the album was
initially released in 1970 with a paltry six songs,
then re-released with a handful of bonus tracks in

Capturing the Who in the midst of their
live-performance zenith, Leeds would come to serve as
the barometer for all successive Who concerts, from
the Young Vic Theater to the Charlton Football Ground.
The show highlighted the band's ability for
juxtaposing finely crafted pop tunes ("I Can't
Explain" and "Substitute") with supercharged
renditions of songs they'd adopted and made their own
("Summertime Blues" and "Shakin' All Over"), while
balancing everything with the grandeur of the Tommy
material. Leeds also provided the musical world with
the ultimate take on Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues",
which ranks with the Jimi Hendrix recreation of Bob
Dylan's "All Along the Watchtower" as one of rock's
most electrifying covers. 

The album's scope also merits special mention as it
hinted at the arena-rock methodology which was to
epitomize the early- and mid-1970s. The Who opened the
new decade with a deafening flourish, laying the
flagstones for countless bands following in their
amplified footsteps. For groups like Led Zeppelin,
Aerosmith, and AC/DC who built their resumes upon live
touring, it was the roar of Leeds that they tried to

Live at Leeds was one of a handful of legendary Who
moments that can be accurately described as catching
lightning in a bottle. Though the Who's legacy spans
over forty years, it is the single shining performance
at Leeds University that is representative of the
band's legendary brilliance. The venue was small, but
the sound was huge on that special St. Valentine's Day
in 1970, as the Who gave us the greatest gift of
passion imaginable.

-Brian in Atlanta
The Who This Month!

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