The Who - Live At Leeds
or better or worse, we here at Stylus, in all of our autocratic consumer-crit greed, are slaves to timeliness. A record over six months old is often discarded, deemed too old for publication, a relic in the internet age. That's why each week at Stylus, one writer takes a look at an album with the benefit of time. Whether it has been unjustly ignored, unfairly lauded, or misunderstood in some fundamental way, we aim with On Second Thought to provide a fresh look at albums that need it.
I always vaguely resented record reviews that included certain phrases, among them “It’s all here,” which, depending which face of the prism of music-fan discontent it was seen through, seemed to piss me off in a number of different ways that were, yet, essentially the same way; hearing one of these reviews it’s all too easy to discard its subject as someone else’s idea of perfection, and there’s no better a case to be made for the existence of incontrovertible ideological differences regarding the aesthetics of music than this hypothetical intersection of critic and audience, or, perhaps better yet, audience member and audience member, where A is a fan of “classic rock” and B decides he hates/disdains/puts down at every available opportunity/fully espouses the irrelevance of/vows to destroy any living incarnations of everything that is “classic rock”; this meeting’s got the latent promise of a fistfight etched into its essence the way an encounter between a shaggy-haired concert-goer and the short-haired concert-goer in back of him, who maybe subconsciously wishes everyone could quit growing their hair out like denizens of Middle Earth, or some shit, and start shaving their heads again circa D.C., 1981, and even though everyone would hypothetically look the same then as now, it’d still be at least more plausible.
This is the same thing indie-rockers think when they hear people talk about how “classic rock” is really the only music that matters, you know, like the guys in Heavy Metal Parking Lot who say “Fuck this punk shit! It belongs on fuckin’ Mars, man!” etc., and probably like the Mods and the Rockers would’ve said to each other back in Sixties London; one issue lots of latter-day “indie music” fans have with “classic rock” fans is that they say they’re living in the past, cf. tie-dyed Morrison shirts and the firm belief that the Beatles wrote the best songs anyone will come up with vis-a-vis questions Beatle fans address to subscribers of The Wire (not that these groups are mutually exclusive, I say, but that they are somehow meant to be mutually exclusive; Wire readers [and fans of the band Wire, for that matter] probably feel that they need to distance themselves from Beatles or Stones or The Who in some manner to appreciate them today, much as I feel I often have to in order to avoid charges of rockism, but a good part of this is being reminded of me in middle school, thinking Led Zeppelin and Black Sabbath had perfected the art of guitar playing and that post-Barrett Pink Floyd were really deep and meaningful and that Jim Morrison – who would never be a bearded lardass in my mind, would not encapsulate all those harsh terms I couldn’t yet quite process, like “self-parody” – wrote the most evocative and meaningful lyrics that could or would be written; psychologists may note that I came upon this music not because it was what my parents were playing all the time around the family homestead, but rather because my parents liked to act as if the Sixties had never happened, so it took far less than Geto Boys or Nirvana, etc., to piss them off when I was twelve or thirteen) in terms some or all of us may be familiar with, but the diametrical opposition I have drawn up, in a number of its variations, is really something I’ve chosen to explore because I feel it keeps (and has always kept) people from hearing good records their ears have remained shut to: we want to hold fast to our own plots of land, leveling charges of irrelevance at what we don’t like so that we can feel that what we do like matters more, or matters at all.
The Who’s 'Live At Leeds' is not irrelevant, or at least, I don’t think it is. Between the time I purchased The Ramones’ Leave Home and, say, Autechre’s Tri Repetae++, I had developed a complete, all-pervasive disdain for guitar wankery and live albums and the terribly unsavory business of “jamming.” (Even today, I think “jamming” and it conjures up fake-funk, limp pseudo-vicissitudes, etc.) This album is not guilty of any of the charges I might’ve leveled against it a few years ago. There are extended guitar passages, but behind the fluidity is always a sense of power and purpose – longtime listeners of this album will note that there is only one actual guitar “solo,” in the classically show-offy sense, on the leading track, “Heaven and Hell,” and it’s kept brief enough so its explosive nature is by no means diluted (it was about a year ago when I first considered the possibility that I was overlooking The Who, and it was when watching my friend’s DVD of the Isle of Wight music festival [which we were, as an aside, wrenchingly disappointed to discover edited down Miles Davis’ appearance to roughly two minutes, while Emerson, Lake, and Palmer were given a full twenty or so. Keee-rist]) and its scenes of live Who in Townshend’s white-boiler-suit prime and it hit me that, Roger Daltrey’s ineffable fashion-sense wackness aside, the band was really more reminiscent of Fugazi than any other possible latter-day antecedents).
The other tracks are lengthy, sure, but the 15:46 “My Generation” is more of a suite than anything else, a sketchbook of Townshend guitar techniques and sections of other songs, including material from Tommy, which I was as surprised as anyone to discover didn’t sound like the nonsensical, wandering pap I recalled it being on last (and probably only) listen to the studio LP. To top it all off, this CD reissue has excellent sound quality, liner notes, and all that. Plus there’s the whole “historical document” thing, and take my word for it that this is a far wiser investment than the multitude of Stooges bootlegs littering the market. And, hell, probably far more “proto-punk,” anyway, unless you’d rather hear Darby Crash cussing out a jaded audience in the last weeks of his life amidst a shitload of tape hiss, or the MC5 grope through barroom standards through a distant mastered-from-vinyl haze, than some fiercely, intelligently played music.
Call me a neoconservative, or something far worse if you like, but it’s all here, folks.
By: Chris Smith
Published on: 2003-09-01