If there was any doubt that the Who were one of the most ferocious live acts on the planet at the start of the ‘70s, Live at Leeds quashed it. They recorded that particular concert at the University of Leeds on Feb. 14, 1970.
But the show came about as somewhat of an afterthought. The Who had finally achieved mainstream success with Tommy the previous year and had hoped to compile a live album made from the many dates they recorded. But Pete Townshend decided he didn’t want to go through the hassle of determining which versions were the best and had his sound man Bob Pridden burn the tapes.
Instead, the Who booked two shows, one in Leeds and a second in Hull the next day, and would choose the songs from there. Unfortunately, there were technical problems with the Hull recording — John Entwistle’s bass was inaudible on the first six songs — and they were forced to use just the one concert.
Thankfully, the tapes caught the Who at their absolute best. The original release, on May 16, 1970, clocked in at just under 38 minutes and featured only seven songs. Perhaps as an indication of how tired the band was by this point with their new opus, material from Tommy was conspicuous by its absence, even though it was performed in its entirety during the show. In its place was a depiction of the Who’s versatility. They could slam home “Substitute” in a little over two minutes or go into a deep blues exploration on “My Generation” for nearly 15 minutes. Their cover of Eddie Cochran’s “Summertime Blues” cracked the Top 30 in both the U.S. and the U.K.
Subsequent reissues of Live at Leeds, however, have only added to its legend, allowing listeners to hear the entire concert — which included not just the Tommy portion, but a thunderous “Heaven and Hell,” a cover of Benny Spellman’s Allen Toussaint-penned “Fortune Teller” and the somewhat obscure “Tattoo.” The 2010 40th anniversary box set saw the Hull night finally released, with Entwistle’s bass from the Leeds show overdubbed on the songs where it had not been recorded.