Wednesday, December 29, 2010
LIVE AT LEEDS
While the deaf, dumb and blind kid more than kept the band in the public imagination throughout the remainder of 1969 and into the new decade, The Who rode the crest of this monstrous wave on tour. Their relentless schedule served to sharpen their already brilliant live act, bringing them to a virtually unrivaled playing peak. Few groups of the time combined harmony, melody and yet still managed an all out assault on the audience in terms of decibel levels. Dynamic, tight and breathtaking on stage, they brought Tommy to the Metropolitan Opera house in New York and played a very memorable set at Woodstock, setting every venue on fire with their intensity.
Pushing into 1970, they had decided to review tapes of North American gigs to see what might be deemed worthy of releasing. Townshend was disappointed by what he had heard, claiming to have tossed the whole pile of recorded shows in a bonfire. Back in 1968, they had similarly considered putting out a document of a concert that they did at the Filmore East. This did not materialize, though the show has long circulated on bootleg in excellent sound quality.
So it happened that they decided to allow their February 1970 stops at Leeds University and Hull to be captured for posterity. Due to technical deficiencies, the Hull tapes didn't make the grade. Leeds yielded a winner, resulting in one of the finest live albums of the era, often cited as the greatest of all time, bar none.
The six songs that were issued from this date were just a fraction of the full set, though all carried the impact of a sledgehammer brought down on a box of cupcakes.
With pink frosting.
Mose Alison's "Young Man Blues" was chosen as the lead-off track as the trio burned behind Daltrey's blustering vocal. Moon made it seem like ten people were playing, his hands a mere blur and he kept up a furious pace, pinwheeling across the skins at the speed of a dentist's drill. Keep in mind that he would sustain this momentum for two hours plus.
This version was filmed in July 1970
Roaring through old Who favorites ("Substitute", "My Generation") as well as rock and roll covers ("Summertime Blues", "Shakin' All Over"), the original record culminated in an absolutely devastating "Magic Bus".
Any self-respecting rock fan should have a copy of this in their collection.
The cover was stamped in the manner of a bootleg release and was seen at the time to be somewhat of a stop gap measure (albeit an excellent one) that would keep their fans satiated until the follow up to Tommy materialized.
Speaking of pirate recordings, the complete show at Leeds made the rounds for years, warts and all. In the mid-90s, with the advent of far more advanced audio-post technology, the imperfections that wrote off many of the performances on the master tape were fixed. This paved the way for an expanded Leeds disc to hit the market. Great news for fans, though the die-hards knew that a full performance of Tommy was still in the vault. This officially saw the light of day in 2001 when the "Deluxe Edition" came out, thereby delivering the entire package for hard core collectors.
Or did they?
As of fall 2010, the lost Hull show was cleaned up and boxed with the Leeds sets. Apparently, the group had long thought that the Hull gig was far superior to that of Leeds and so the 40th anniversary edition was unveiled.
According to legend, Entwistle's bass signal was "lost" on pretty much all of the Hull recording. Seems like it was "found" just in time to mark another milestone. As with the live tapes that supposedly found their way into the pyre, it's very likely that this was an apocryphal tale.
Monday, December 27, 2010
For all of the invention of Pete Townshend's compositions through the 1965-67 period, there was to be a retreat of sorts during 1968 while he worked tirelessly on the next song cycle. Though they were a force to be reckoned with on stage and were well respected by their peers, The Who had not yet delivered the "monster hit album" prior to 1969.
The Walker boy would change everything.
Eight months of planning, discussion, recording, re-recording and mixing culminated in the breakthrough release that would make them superstars.
Given the amount of scrutiny that this record has been subjected to in a search for some higher "message" or "meaning" in its construction, there is little point in adding to the scrapheap of scribblings by armchair analysts. Pete has said that Meher Baba's teachings greatly influenced him during this time (and still do). Freshly inspired, he then distilled and subtly worked these philosophies into the framework of many of the songs that made the final cut.
That being said, the impetus for creating Tommy came directly from Kit Lambert, who really did not care much for rock music and pushed Pete to delve into something much more substantial. Lambert and Townshend kicked around ideas (Kit had actually typed up a manuscript) with multiple approaches. The song "Glow Girl", recorded during the Sessions for Sell Out contained bits that would be incorporated into the larger piece. (Rael has a section from which the main chord sequence for the "Underture" was taken and expanded upon)
Did Pete have The Lemon Pipers in mind when he was cranking out a certain section of the Overture?
Think about it.
On second thought, don't.
Very deft, impressive acoustic playing is the engine that drives much of the material, along with Moon and Entwistle who excel, as usual. Daltrey comes into his own, as he becomes Tommy, carving out a distinct position for himself in the group and projecting an iconic, onstage persona that would remain in place through the following decade.
There is a lightness of touch present on this record that the band would never quite return to. Yes, Moon still manages impossible flourishes across the kit and Entwistle's rollercoaster bassmanship is prominent, though the live attack that each instrumentalist was capable of was not in evidence.
I have no reason to be over optimistic/but somehow when you smile, I can brave bad weather
Some of finest melodies in the Townshend catalog grace these grooves ("1921", "Pinball Wizard", "Christmas", "Amazing Journey" "I'm Free" "Sensation" all stand out in this category) though for all of the brilliance that is obvious here, the story itself is somewhat disjointed and weaves all over the road, narrowly avoiding the ditch as the curtain comes down amidst the "listening to you" refrain.
Having discovered this record in childhood, I got lost in both the sounds and the illustrations in the booklet that came with it. Without any conception of a deeper message, I only knew it was first class all the way. "Amazing Journey" was a far better summation of the disc as a whole (for a 12 year old at least). The plot line of Tommy has been hacked to bits and stitched back together in many different formats for the stage and film. None of these incarnations improves upon the original. (The 1975 movie is unintentionally hilarious) Plus, Townshend had done his usual job of talking himself into a corner before the album came out and was stuck with certain elements of the story that he could have easily pruned away to make it slightly more lucid.
It is to the credit of all involved that Lambert's suggestion of overdubbing an orchestra was vetoed. Entwistle's decorative horn parts and Pete's keyboards are the only augmentation and are quite tasteful, at that.
Again, all of this is trivial in light of the accomplishment itself. Tommy really gained strength as a stage piece and The Who owned every single note. It was a masterful performance that brought the audience to its collective feet every night (always at the same point as Pete recalled) and held them in powerful sway until the end. Encores were regularly called for.
Townshend created an almost impossible act for himself to follow. He would spend the next few years trying to do just that, attempting to raise the bar with each new project.
In terms of impact, it was so overwhelming that many thought Tommy to be the name of the band. The Who quickly became internationally known and all four were freshly minted millionaires almost overnight. Along with critical plaudits came the endless symposiums on what label actually belonged on this ambitious work: Was it a Rock Opera? A Cantata? An Oratorio?
I'd call it great rock record.
Listen and decide for yourself. After all, the whole point of this magnificent exercise is simply to realize that the "answers" to life's great mysteries (that we all ponder occasionally) can only be found within ourselves.
Cast of characters:
Tommy: Main character
Father: "Captain Walker", who is presumed missing in battle but returns home unannounced and unscathed
Mother: Mrs Walker
The Lover: A romantic partner of Tommy's mother, killed by Captain walker upon his return
Uncle Ernie: Tommy's 'wicked uncle', a paedophile who molests him.
Cousin Kevin: Tommy's cousin who brutalises him when the two are left alone.
The Hawker: A pimp for prostitute the Acid Queen, who peddles her services.
The Gypsy: A prostitute who deals in acid and exposes Tommy to the drug in an attempt to heal him.
The Local Lad: Reigning champion of the game of pinball, until Tommy beats him.
The Doctor: Attempts to heal Tommy and realizes that his disabilities are psychological rather than physical.
Sally Simpson: A minor character, who tries to climb on stage to touch Tommy at one of his appearances in his newfound messianic role and falls, cutting her head.
Saturday, December 25, 2010
Wednesday, December 08, 2010
One of the last interviews with the late John Lennon, conducted two days before his death. This is part one of a long piece. His voice is familiar to me as that of a family member. Without a doubt, many of you feel the same way.
It is hard to believe that 30 years have passed. I was 12 at that time and was shocked upon hearing the news the morning after. The rest of that week was simply surreal.
On a more upbeat note, here he is in his element, working on a track ("Oh My Love") for the Imagine LP.
Sunday, December 05, 2010
Described as a musical meditation on Jerusalem, the listener is presented with ten ambient soundscapes, expertly conceived and executed on guitar and synths by Timotheos. In addition to the musical component, there is also a visual bonus with this disc as the elaborate artwork on the outer and inner sleeve was crafted by the artist himself. Combining the two streams provides a small feast for the senses as the most successful concepts allow for the audience to lose themselves in the images that accompany the music.
Taken as a whole, this is the sound of introspection and deep silence. Many of the pieces build in a subtle fashion, gently washing over the stereo pan quite like the ebb and flow of the tides.
Best appreciated in headphones
Relaxing and multi-layered, Hierosolyma bears repeated listening as you will discover nuances that may not be evident on the first pass.
Investigate for yourself and learn more about the artist here
Hierosolyma is available for purchase here