This is adapted from two posts I
did last year on Facebook about the live version of Tommy included in the Super Deluxe Tommy package released in November 2013, and now
included on Just Backdated in my ongoing endeavours to get all my writings
about The Who in one place.
The picture below is the Capital Theatre in Ottawa,
as it was in 1969 when the concert in question took place. It was sent to me by
Dennis Morgan, from Ottawa, another Who fanatic, and I really love the cars parked outside.
I note from The Who’s website that tapes of a 1969 show from Ottawa
have ‘turned up’ in their vaults. If this is the show I think it is (Capital
Theatre, Ottawa, Canada, Wednesday October 15, 1969), then a bootleg has been
kicking around for years, and a mighty fine bootleg it is too. Many years ago,
although I wasn’t certain it was from Ottawa, I wrote about it for some
‘unofficial’ sleeve notes that I circulated privately to friends. Here’s what I
[The CD]… opens with a preamble from Townshend
about Mose Allison, the composer of ‘Young Man Blues’ in which he explains that
Allison called it simply ‘Blues’. (Allison’s version is piano led, of course.)
This is followed by a truncated Tommy
(‘Overture’, ‘It’s A Boy’, ‘1921’, ‘Amazing Journey’, ‘Sparks’, ‘Pinball
Wizard’, ‘Tommy’s Holiday Camp’, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’/‘See Me, Feel Me’),
then ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘Shakin’ All Over’ (with ‘Spoonful’ insert).
is poor, with beginnings and endings clipped and all spoken introductions lost
bar Townshend’s opening preamble, but the playing is phenomenal, perhaps the
most impressive versions of ‘Young Man Blues’, ‘Summertime Blues’ and ‘Shakin’
All Over’ on record anywhere, at least to this quality, and that includes Live At Leeds, its unidentical twin Live At Hull, and the well-known, much
bootlegged but flawed Amsterdam radio broadcast of September 29, 1969. ‘Sparks’ and the ‘See Me
Feel Me’ Tommy climax are also first
Blues’ is the absolute highlight of this concert, possibly the highlight of the
whole late autumn North American tour, a staggering seven-minute (two minutes
longer than Leeds) version in which Townshend
plays a truly breath-taking guitar solo, for my money a guitar work-out that ranks
with anything I’ve ever heard him play. Moving from chunks of characteristic rhythmic
chord playing into lyrical passages and dextrous finger work high up the
fretboard, including untypically delicate jazz-influenced phrases, his guitar
just sings its way through the song, a master-class in fluency, invention and
intuition. On this, ‘Summertime’ and ‘Shakin’’ all of the 1969 Who simply
steamroller along like some gargantuan rhythmic noise machine, playing in a
manner that is all but a forgotten art these days. To have been there and
witnessed this performance in person, with all the athleticism that The Who brought
to their concerts, would have been the consummate rock experience.
that in relatively out-of-the-way cities like Ottawa the group felt able to
take greater chances than in big US cities where more was expected of them.
With less pressure, they were more
relaxed and this is reflected in the full-tilt approach to improvisation by
Townshend, Entwistle and Moon. Vocally, Daltrey brings an enthusiasm to these
songs that reinforces my view that he was always a Fifties rocker at heart, and
is actually more comfortable with material from this era which he can sing in a
deeper timbre than most of Townshend’s original compositions. It’s all the more
remarkable when you consider that for the most part, though, it’s just three
musicians up there making all this noise, a drummer, a bassist and a guitarist.
I’ve seen quintets with two guitarists and a keyboard that sound thinner than
The evidence on the CD suggests this recording was made
by Who sound engineer Bobby Pridden on one reel-to-reel machine plugged into
the soundboard, which explains the bad editing. He would have had to change the
reels frequently as they probably lasted only about 20 minutes each (the faster
the ips, the better the sound quality but the less time per reel) and in so doing
lost bits here and there. This would also explain the missing material – the
tapes of the other songs played that night will have been lost or destroyed.
Pridden has gone on record as saying that The Who taped scores of shows in 1969
for a possible live album but that Townshend couldn’t face listening to them so
he put them all on a huge bonfire in the garden of his Twickenham home and
torched the lot. Thankfully, these few tapes from Ottawa escaped the inferno.
And this led to me writing a subsequent post, below,
after I’d got my hands on the live Tommy in the Super Deluxe package referred to in my opening paragraph above. I was accused of (or
praised for) conducting a ‘forensic analysis’ in one of the many comments it inspired,
which developed into an interesting debate about the merits of various recorded
Who shows. I was (and still am) guessing about tapes being lost or destroyed which,
barring ‘Young Man Blues’, would have contained the songs that The Who opened
with that night in Ottawa – but I detected something fishy going on towards the
end of Tommy.
I’ve been listening to
the live ‘bootleg’ Tommy from the recent 2013 reissue ‘super deluxe’ package,
which was apparently recorded at Ottawa on October 15, 1969, ie the show I
referred to in the post here a couple of weeks ago (and now above).
For the most part it’s fantastic, the usual marathon performance, all songs
segued together so the audience barely have time to catch their breath between
them. The usual self-depreciating introduction from Pete is followed by a
stunning ‘Overture’, lovely guitar work into ‘It’s A Boy’ and everything you’d
expect from The Who at the peak of their game in 1969. The instrumental
‘Sparks’, with its layered dynamics, sudden octave drops and multiple rising
crescendos, is heart-stopping, ditto a fierce ‘Pinball’, ‘Go To The Mirror’
with its ‘Listening To You’ insert superbly rendered, and Pete’s
seat-of-the-pants jamming at the very end.
However, for reasons unexplained, when we get to ‘I’m Free’, it’s obvious to
anyone with ears, let alone any knowledge of The Who, that this and some of
what follows (‘Tommy’s Holiday Camp’, ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’ but not the
coda of ’See Me Feel Me’ – see below) is from a different concert, in fact
Swansea in 1976.
As explained by Pete during his introduction, the
Ottawa show was recorded simply, with just two strategically positioned mikes.
The Swansea show, however, was recorded on Ronnie Lane’s 16-track mobile, so
the whole sound from this is different, much fuller. Less obvious but still discernable,
especially to those who know their Who, is that the group played differently in
1976 than they did in 1969. Pete was using a Les Paul guitar, which had a
sharper tone than the SGs he used on the early Tommy shows, and he improvises more, probably the result of having
played Tommy countless times since
1969. Roger’s voice has deepened, improved even, and Keith is more abandoned,
using his cymbals more than he did in 1969, perhaps to cover his lack of
discipline across the skins. Only John, as ever ill-disposed to change, sounds
Strangely, the 1969 show cuts
back in (from the 1976 Swansea show) during the intro to ‘See
Me, Feel Me’ – you can hear the bad join – but what follows is taken from
the reprise of the Tommy segment within
the final song of the night, an extended ‘My Generation’ jam, as evidenced by
Pete’s guitar improvisation at the end and the fact that he, Roger and John acknowledge
the applause from the crowd after it’s all over (proof that the entire concert,
as opposed to just the Tommy segment,
ended here), neither of which would have happened after a genuine, mid-concert Tommy recital in 1969. So it’s not
really a complete 1969 performance of Tommy
Now I’m not saying these versions of the Tommy songs from Swansea are below par –
on the contrary, like the rest from Ottawa, they’re fabulous – but it just irks
me that the group and those that surround them have paid so little attention to
detail and continuity, not just underestimating fans’ intelligence but trying
to mislead them as well. It might be that the tapes from the end of Tommy at the Ottawa
concert were compromised somehow (see
above review of Ottawa bootleg, and references to bad edits) so there was
no choice but to splice on the recordings from Swansea, but it is especially
hard to swallow when the bells and whistles version of Tommy 2013 costs as much as it does.
fooled again indeed.