Is there anything more exhilarating than an awesome live concert? The band is enthusiastic and absolutely killing it. Meanwhile, you can’t wipe the smile off your face because you’re still in shock that you’re making eye contact with the musicians while holding on tightly to the stranger next to you who is also simultaneously singing along to every word while wiping the tears off their face. Experiences like that reignite the fire inside of you that can sometimes get diminished by our daily routines. Live shows provide us talent, love, and creativity. They also usually involve expensive Miller Lite, awkward dance moves, and dehydration…but it’s worth it. I grew up with a deep appreciation for live concerts, so I know that Led Zeppelin’s “Bron Yr Aur Stomp” should only be listened to from their 1975 Earls Court concert, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. I fixate on the craft of live performances, so you can imagine why I agree with every music reviewer ever that calls Live at Leeds the best live album of all time.
My experience listening to live music began in my teen years. When I was 15 I started working at a retirement home as a “dining aide,” or something like that. Basically, I’d give residents their meals and attempt to run away before they got pissed about what they’d ordered for dinner. Working for retirement home kitchens was all politics, man. You want Mary to be able to get a grilled cheese for dinner? Does Betty need her meatloaf grinded up? Unless you want to be grunted at and ignored, you gotta be friends with the cook. Otherwise he won’t give you the time of day. Our cook, Nick, had tattoos and Grateful Dead shirts with corduroy pants and dirty, worn-out Birkenstocks to go with it. He also had a temper and don’t-give-a-fuck attitude, so it was pretty necessary to get on his level. For me, the 15-year-old with braces. side-bangs, and a proud collection of Michael Bublé songs on her mp3 player, getting on his level was one of the best things I ever did.
It didn’t take long before we became best friends. As far as I was concerned, Nick was the coolest guy on the planet and I should have been listening to everything he said. Once, while we both were working a double shift, he took me on a drive where we smoked some of his weed. When we got back I distinctly remember trying to act as normal as possible, but proceeded to knock about five pitchers on the ground and dodge away with my heart pounding like I had just dropped a bunch of grenades. Another time Nick showed up to my house unannounced to take me to bluegrass show in one of the many open fields of southern Pennsylvania. The audience was 99% elderly people in lawn chairs, and Nick and I. We danced barefoot while we passed off a bottle of whiskey and ignored the glances aimed our way.
As Nick would prepare Sodexho-style meatloaf and green beans that the residents would inevitably throw back in our faces later, he would play CDs that he’d burned on his laptop. In the four years that I worked there I quickly learned the discography of Moe., Phish, and Dave Matthews Band. I don’t think it was necessarily the lyrics that made me enjoy the bands, their joy for playing music, and I assumed that was why they ended up with 20-minute songs. Phish literally has a song about someone hitting a possum with their car. Trey Anastasio sings with his low voice, “I was driving down the road one day…someone hit a possum.” In the middle of their long solos they periodically yell “POSSUM!” and that’s the entire song. If you’re not looking up this song on Spotify as we speak I’m not quite sure what’s keeping you.
When I was 16, I went to my first real concert to see DMB. I’ve been consistently going to their live shows ever since. The only way I can describe their live shows is magical. The audience is like family. All of those feelings come back up when I listen to their Central Park Live album. I will listen to their live albums over their studio albums any day, because hearing them live is what their music is intended for, in my opinion. Just a heads up though, don’t listen to their live stuff if you don’t have a fast forward button. “Don’t Drink the Water” doesn’t really start until three and a half minutes in—I checked—but the other 13 minutes are totally worth it.
All this is to say, the talent of the Who, four men who all individually look like English professors in a coming-of-age film, blows all of these other jam bands out of the water. I know I would have been at a Who concert back in the day. They didn’t add the additional 27 songs performed at this concert until a much later edition. Maybe they did that to make sure we could handle it.
You can tell from Live at Leeds that The Who put an incredible amount of work into having a wonderful live album, full of energy and dedication. There’s nothing like a fifteen-minute performance of “My Generation” to make you feel the energy in a live show. This jam…is the jam of all jams, it is packed with guitar melodies that transition into some of their other songs like “See me, Feel Me”. If someone let me know that they finally got their teleportation device working and asked me where I wanted to go, it would be a simple request. The big ol’ University of Leeds on February 14th 1970 for “My Generation”. (In fact, if you were dating someone in February of 1970 and they DIDN’T take you to this concert for Valentine’s Day, they were never enough for you.)
Live at Leeds takes me back to a time when live albums added a carefree, joyous vibe to my long shifts at the retirement home, but it took my appreciation for live music even further. Though the jam bands like Phish and Moe made me happy; it wasn’t a music genre that I was blown away by, and didn’t have lyrics that I connected to. The Who changed that for me. Their live album gave me joy, but it also always reminds me of the obsession with rock music I developed as teenager, and still hold today. When I listen to “Fortune Teller,” I fixate on Keith Moon killing it on the drums. “Young Man Blues” flaunts Pete Townshend’s guitar style that differentiates from anyone else of their time. Their talent creates a sense of awe as much as it does glee. Let the energy of the jam feed into my soul and make me immortal. Let it enter the tears of joy that would inevitably be falling from my face and put an end to all droughts. Is that so much to ask?