Maximum Rock & Roll

By Sergio Ariza

In 1969 it was an open secret that The Who were the most exciting live rock band in the world. While the Beatles and the Stones stayed away from the stage, Pete Townshend and his band took the opportunity to become the epitome of live rock & roll, basically inventing rock concerts as we know them, by making tough and louder their live act until the band had the most dangerous and exciting four-element chemical combination since someone mixed concentrated nitric acid, sulfuric acid and glycerin to create nitroglycerin. 

The Who live were like a bomb, four excellent musicians and four totally contrary personalities who fought for the spotlight as if each were the alpha male of the pack. The guitarist would jump up and down with his guitar on his shoulder and attack it, doing a ‘windmill’ at supersonic speed, the singer would throw his mic in the air with deadly danger for anyone who came near him and the drummer was a turbine with psycho eyes who wouldn't stop for a moment. Meanwhile, the bassist, the only one who ‘remained at his post in the middle of the windstorm’, stood out even more, as if he were a madman who was unaware of the cataclysm that was taking place around him (and that's when he wasn't disguised as a skeleton). 

In short, the Who had become the band to be seen and heard. It was understandable that, after the success of Tommy, the band decided that the logical step was to release a live album. So they recorded all the concerts of the 1969 US Tommy tour, but when they returned to England, Pete Townshend was too lazy to go through all the concerts one by one to see what would be released, so he decided to burn the tapes. That was the Who for better or worse, pure anarchy. It was decided to prepare two special concerts to record the album, one at Leeds University on February 14th 1970 and another in Hull the next day.

From the moment they opened with Heaven and Hell until the close with Magic Bus, the Who levitated around the stage, and the next day they did even better, but there were problems with the sound of the bass and it was decided to use the first gig. At first Townshend thought about releasing a double album with almost the whole concert, but in the end he decided to leave it as a single album with three spectacular covers, Summertime Blues, Shakin All Over and Young Man Blues, and three singles from the period prior to Tommy, Substitute, Magic Bus and My Generation, in an extended version that included a medley of songs that included Naked Eye (a song that was to be released on Lifehouse, the album they were preparing), Sparks and See Me Feel Me from Tommy. It was a way of reviewing their history, from My Generation to the present day, but it was also used to let their newly discovered American fans know that they were the same band that had just recorded the hit Tommy (John Entwistle was joking at the time that most American fans thought the name of the band was Tommy and the name of the album The Who).

There isn't a single moment that doesn't stand out in these 37 minutes, from the incredible riff of Young Man Blues to the extensive instrumental 'jams'. It was 1970 and the Who were at their peak. It's amazing to hear what is possibly the most exciting live rock band in history at its peak. That's why it's advisable to get a Deluxe version (which includes the whole concert) or 40th anniversary (which also includes the Hull concert). That's how rock sounds in its purest form. In this way the Who created the sound of the 70's that would end up as ‘heavy’, but they were much less monolithic, with three voices complementing each other, versatile songs, and an alchemy that made each one of them shine brighter.

As for Townshend's gear, he employed one of his beloved SG Specials with P90's, plugged into a HiWatt CP103 "SUPER WHO 100", while Entwistle played his favorite bass, the ‘Frankenstein’ that was made from different pieces of various basses, such as several Precisions and a Jazz Bass, but in the end it is the mix between them, the voice of Roger Daltrey (he never sang better than in this era) and the frantic rhythm of Keith Moon that gives them that sound that seems incredible that they achieved with only three instruments and their voices.

In December of 1968, the Who stole the show to the Stones in their Rock & Roll Circus, but when this album came out in May 1970, no other group or artist would make the same mistake again... There was no competition possible with the Who live.