For the past two months, I have been listening to live recordings by The Who. Specifically, The Who Live at Leeds (November 2016 reissue of the entire show)and The Who Live at Filmore East, 1968. Both live sets are complete and, at times, exhausting. The two live albums are triple sets, and it also includes the commentary made on the stage, mainly by Pete Townshend with assistance from Mr. Keith Moon. One thing is clear that in 1968 as well as 1970, The Who had a lead guitarist and a lead vocalist, but also a lead bassist and lead drummer. To hear The Who live at that time is like being in front of a tsunami wave. Also, The Who in the studio is very much a different band than live.
Although they are in your face volume and sound-wise, there are many textures in their arrangements live-wise. For one, the backup singing of Pete and John Entwistle is superb. And a lot of songs then had a combination of Roger Daltrey and Pete sharing the vocals, in such a manner that it reminds me of classic Simon and Garfunkel performances. Although their songs are extended live, they are not jams but very constructed compositions, bringing up Duke Ellington's arrangements for his big orchestra. Oddly, I think of Ellington while listening to live Who, but their only other contemporary in rock is The Move.
The Move's Roy Wood and Pete Townshend have a common interest in subject matters that are not typically considered in pop music. And they do share the sound of loud bass. Rick Price and John Entwistle are the most aggressive bass players in England at the time. In actuality, they have both been influenced by The Shadows' bassist Jet Harris. It makes sense that Jeff Beck wanted to have Jet in his band with Rod Stewart at one time. Like The Who, The Move made extended live arrangements of their recorded songs but carefully put in place of the composition itself.
Over the decades, I tended to shy away from the live "side" of The Who. It was like using a nuclear weapon to hammer a nail in a piece of wood to my ears. Now, as a 66-year old with questionable musical taste, I find the live versions of their songs very sophisticated. Keith Moon is a force that's direction is toward the listener, whatever on record, but especially on stage. He's a wind-up doll with infinite power, and it's hard for me to accept that he can do two and a half-hour show with such intensity. One of the great joys of listening to the live recordings is listening to each band member and enjoying what they do within their private world. When I listen to Jazz, I pick up the relationship between the musicians, but rarely with rock n' roll.
On the other hand, even in their most manic state, The Who do listen to each other, or perhaps they can't avoid the noise due to volume. Still, I'm impressed with the chemistry among its members. I never liked the live Cream because I feel Eric Clapton is fighting among the others. Still, with The Who, there is a sense of unity and beauty in their playing. Therefore, the exquisite presentation of their wonderful music.
I'm curious to know how The Who sounded live in the early 1960s. I imagine they were more straightforward and doing lots of soul songs. Once they moved to a bigger stage, their sound got larger. Like an artist is working on paper with a pencil, eventually moving on to a giant canvas with oil paint. For me, it's hard to choose which is the better live album. The Who Live At Leeds or The Who Live at Filmore East, 1968? The Filmore East show is the entranceway to Leeds. Therefore, one must get both albums.