Following the 1969 release of Tommy
, the stunning and lavish "rock opera", The Who went on a tour, presenting it in its opposite extreme. While Tommy
the album is a precise, quieted affair (after all, it is an opera), Tommy
live was a whole other story. Stripped down, rough, and loud
live can only be described as electrifying
But no less magical. Pete Townshend, guitarist and main songwriter for the Who, has recalled that at the album's American debut- 29 May, 1969 in Dearborn, Michigan-that the audience, unfamiliar with the music, rose to its feet and never sat down. The band exchanged glances, knowing they had created something special.
Besides, who could sit down when a band is declaring 'listening to you, I get the music, gazing at you, I get the heat...' to the audience they were singing to? Tommy's climax of 'see me, feel me' had become a rock hymn, The Who the clergy and the audience the congregation. Any auditoria became a cathedral as the bright lights shone into the house, uniting the preachers and devotees in some kind of rock and roll euphoria.
Played in its entirety for a little over a year, Tommy was presented everywhere, from its majestic sunrise performance at Woodstock, to the Metropolitan Opera House, to an auditorium at Leeds University.
The latter, played Valentine's night, 1970, was recorded and released-sans any Tommy performance.
In a move to showcase their flexibility, perhaps, The Who released 6 non-Tommy tracks 3 May, 1970.
It was completely aurally and visually opposite of the last year's rock opera.
Loud-very loud, raunchy, and stunning itself, Live at Leeds was hailed as one of-if not the, best live album ever. The record came in a brown sleeve, with a blue or red stamp citing its contents, designed to look like a bootleg. The right pocket of the gatefold sleeve held the LP, and the left a bag of Who memorabilia. The original inserts were:
- A black and white poster of The Who's Tuesday night residency at the Marquee Club, 1964.
- The contract from Premier Talent Associates for The Who's appearance at Woodstock in 1969.
- Pete's typewritten lyrics for "My Generation" with handwritten notes.
- An accounts sheet for The High Numbers, 1964.
- A letter from King's Agency (Variety) Ltd. for a cancelled gig in Swindon for bad behaviour, 1965.
- A letter from John Burgess of EMI Records to Kit Lambert rejecting The High Numbers, 1964.
- A delivery note from Brock's Fireworks for a gross of Y2 smoke generators, 1967.
- A publicity photograph of The High Numbers, 1964.
- A list of gigs and agreed fees on New Action Limited letterhead, 1965.
- A photograph of Pete leaping in the air at the Isle of Wight Festival, 1969, and on the reverse Pete's handwritten line-up of Brian Carroll and The Playboys and his Tommy coda "Listening to you..."
- A Notice Before Proceedings from Jennings Music demanding the return of a Vox Phantom guitar and case and a Vox piano bass, dated March 6, 1965.
- A 'door takings' statement from the Marquee Club for December 1, 1964. Keith and Roger got £2.00 each for the night, John and Pete £1.00.
The record label was handwritten to resemble an IBC studios "white label" acetate, and read the track listing as well as the warning "Crackling noises OK. Do not try to correct!".
The packaging was a far cry from the elaborate design of the Tommy cover.
The performance of Tommy that night seemed to be, for many years, a secret kept between the Who and the fortunate present that night. However, the road to everyone hearing the full performance at Leeds was slowly being paved.
MCA Records went a tad overboard with re-issuing remastered Who albums in the Mid-nineties (I say overboard because the record company released them one after another, giving them no time to be marketed correctly), and Leeds was among these albums. Expanded to 14 tracks, but only one of those being from Tommy, it was better than nothing.
Fortunately, 6 years later, in 2001, Live at Leeds was released in its entirety, Tommy and all.
Before this point, the album's performance in a live setting had been released in 1996's The Who Live at the Isle of Wight Festival-but no recording or performance comes close to that of Live at Leeds.
By the time The Who and Tommy reached Leeds, they were, no doubt, sick of playing it. If they were, it doesn't show. From the first booming bass lines of John Entwistle's "Heaven and Hell" to "A Quick One, While He's Away". The beginning of "Thomas" (as Pete so dubbed his beloved opera), to the 22 minute "My Generation"/"Magic Bus" finale- every second of Live at Leeds: "Deluxe" (MCA 088 112 618-2) is sensational, a complete and stunning representation of what The Who is really about.
"For all those who were fortunate enough to be there on
this memorable night, it will be a constant reminder
that pop music has reached standards that five years
ago would have been unthinkable."
- Patrick Dean, The Yorkshire Evening Post