The Who, Live at Hull
A post-Leeds gig that makes clear of what's spontaneous and what isn't
The evening in February, 1970, after the Who played the show immortalized as Live at Leeds, they played another gig 50 miles or so down the road in Hull (initially released as part of the super-deluxe Leeds 40th-anniversary box a few years ago), once again including a slightly condensed run-through of their rock opera Tommy. As with Leeds, this purports to be a warts-and-all document of that gig; as with Leeds, it isn’t quite. (In particular, there’s allegedly some jiggery-pokery involving Jon Entwistle’s bass parts, some of which were apparently missing from the master tape.)
One of the things that earned Leeds its place in the pantheon is its suggestion of total spontaneity — Pete Townshend, Keith Moon and Entwistle all seem to be just on the verge of flying off in their own directions, but listening to one another closely enough that the Who machine somehow takes flight. And what makes Hull vital listening for Who buffs is that it becomes clear what’s spontaneous and what isn’t. The two shows have identical set lists (except that there’s no final encore of “Magic Bus” here); even the 15-minute jam on “My Generation” has a very similar structure. Instrumentally, though, the rhythmic anchor of the band turns out to be Townshend — his riffs are the ground around which Moon and Entwistle are constantly improvising. This is also a Keith Moon showcase like no other Who album: His drums are bright and loud in the mix, coming off like a free-form solo that magically sticks to the precise contour of the band’s groove for two straight hours.