These are sleeve notes I wrote to accompany a bootleg I gave to a ‘Who’ friend about 20 years ago, Since this was before Live At Leeds was reissued in the mid-nineties as a double CD, including Tommy, the references to it are obviously outdated. The same bootleg is now widely available and well known among fans.

This is a 2-CD copy, probably third generation, of the soundboard tape from The Who’s concert at the Concertgebouw Opera House in the Dutch capital of Amsterdam, on Monday September 29, 1969. It was the first of several opera house concerts the group performed that year, and the first ever performance of Tommy for a non-English speaking audience. It was professionally recorded for subsequent radio broadcast on a local station over two nights, September 30 and October 1, but hasn’t been re-mixed into stereo or edited in any way whatsoever. It sounds too good to simply have been taped from the radio. What you hear is exactly what the audience heard that night, and the overall sound obviously benefits from the venue’s state-of-the-art acoustics. The vocals are especially well recorded throughout, as are the guitar and bass, though the drums are on the muddy side and probably suffer through not being miked up sufficiently. There’s a rough-and-ready feel to the music that contrasts sharply with heavily produced ‘live’ albums by other acts; technically it is far from perfect but in an era when bands take several days to record a single drum track, and others painstakingly re-record their ‘live’ albums in the studio, this is its particular charm.
It’s a two-hour show featuring ‘Heaven And Hell’, ‘I Can’t Explain’, ‘Fortune Teller’, ‘Tattoo’, ‘Young Man Blues’, ‘A Quick One, While He’s Away’ (six separate songs), ‘Substitute’, ‘Happy Jack’, ‘I’m A Boy’, a complete Tommy (21 separate songs), ‘Summertime Blues’, ‘Shakin’ All Over’ and ‘My Generation’ (which includes reprises of the ‘See Me Feel Me’ climax to ‘We’re Not Gonna Take It’, ‘Sparks’ and other themes from Tommy, together with improvisations that in due course would become ‘Naked Eye’ and what Townshend subsequently referred to as ‘The Who Hymn’). [CD1 ends after ‘Fiddle About’ from Tommy; CD2 commences at ‘Tommy Can You Feel Me’.] The songs are punctuated by comments from the band, notably Pete Townshend, and Keith Moon can be heard making typically idiosyncratic remarks from time to time.
This was a very prestigious occasion for The Who, the show fulfilling many of manager Kit Lambert’s ambitions for serious cultural recognition of Tommy, and fittingly the group turned in a truly superb performance. Much of what preceded Tommy was flawless, especially ‘Young Man Blues’ and the medley of ‘Substitute’, ‘Happy Jack’ and ‘I’m A Boy’. When they came to Tommy itself, ‘Overture’ emerged as a fine instrumental and was an appropriate and dramatic prelude to the rock-opera. Pete explained from the stage that The Who had decided to give Tommy its opera house premiere in Amsterdam simply because the band thought it a great city and more representative of a European capital than London. ‘Amazing Journey’ was wonderfully charged and powerful, with Roger especially on fine form. This moved into the instrumental ‘Sparks’ at a furious pace, with John Entwistle playing some manic bass lines. When they reached the end of Tommy – a medley of 21 integrated songs no less, performed virtually back-to-back – it took them just over 20 seconds to catch their breath before launching into a scorching ‘Summertime Blues’. Such energy puts The Who’s dedication to the art of stagecraft into sharp focus.
The audience response, perhaps befitting the venue, consisted of polite applause rather than overt cheers and whistles. “We want to thank you very kindly and we’d like to play for you as our going away present a song from the past that we still really mean,” said Pete, before the final number. ‘My Generation’ was newly conceived as a 15-minute medley offering a short ‘history’ of the band in a seamless flow of music from the 1965 single to the reprised sections from Tommy, followed by several improvised passages, snatches of ‘Pinball Wizard’ and ‘The Ox’, the latter prompted by a furious drum roll from Keith Moon, climaxing with screeching guitar solos and crashing riffs. Also during this medley, Pete played several beautiful and delicate passages of guitar to link the various sections, although much of the playing was entirely spontaneous and at several points Entwistle and Moon seemed to lose track of where Pete was heading. The riff that was later incorporated into ‘Naked Eye’ was presented very distinctly as ‘So Very Long’ (an assumed title) which Roger sang as a farewell message.
This was the first time The Who performed an extended ‘My Generation’ in this way, some four months before it was performed in a similar, somewhat more fully realised fashion at the February 14, 1970, concert at Leeds University. This concert, of course, was recorded for the Live At Leeds LP, on which the extended ‘My Generation’ was heard on record for the first time. Incidentally, The Who performed and recorded (on 8-track) the whole of Tommy at Leeds that night but have thus far declined to sanction its official release, largely because Townshend feels the energy level is not maintained throughout. This show in Amsterdam differed only slightly from the more celebrated Leeds concert: the running order of the songs was changed somewhat, and at Leeds the band returned to perform ‘Magic Bus’ as a final encore. 
The two–hour show that The Who presented at this time took the band’s performance to new heights of excitement and excellence. They had played so often together by this time – probably more shows than any other rock band of their generation – that they performed with a casual panache that on their best nights could take your breath away. Vocals, guitars and drums meshed into a seamless whole that no other band, ever, has been able to emulate. Yet it wasn’t a show rehearsed to the point of sterility – it sounded raucous and fresh, despite the fact that during this era they were capable of turning in performances this good night after night.                                                         
        The Who performed Tommy in its entirety (or slightly edited) just over 160 times during 1969 and 1970. The last occasion I saw it was at London’s Roundhouse on December 20, 1970, when they dedicated the opera to their support act, an up and coming pianist/songwriter called Elton John. They performed an inferior rendering at the Isle Of Wight Festival in August 1970, a recording of which has appeared under the title The Who Live At Isle Of Wight. By this time they were getting tired of Tommy – and it shows. From 1971 onwards The Who performed occasional Tommy songs, usually ‘Pinball Wizard’, ‘Sparks’ and ‘See Me Feel Me’ in concert. It wasn’t until 1989, when they took the stage with several additional musicians on stage, that they would perform all of Tommy again. It wasn’t the same, of course – nothing like the full wonder of the young Who in Amsterdam in ‘69.


Ed Murphy said...

Really well said, Chris. As I was born in 1969, the bootlegs and reviews of these Who shows are my only way to get any feel for their brilliance. Since numerous soundboards have turned up, its obvious Bob Pridden didn't have the ' bonfire' we were told about, lol. I recently grabbed a bootleg, from Philly at the Electric Factory October of 69. It's incomplete ( as are many of those surviving Tommy tapes). But I'm telling you, the beginning of Tommy that night is simply staggering. I may be a homer ( since its my hometown ), but that bootleg has got to be close to the peak of the Who's ability. Curious, what are your half dozen or so ' must have' Who shows?

Hank said...

Somewhere I still have the two-disc bootleg CD set (in one of those old double-wide jewel boxes) of the Amsterdam show that I bought in 1992 for something like $65. It was revelatory--very little Moon-era live material was available at that time, and the only live version of "Tommy" to be had was on the "Join Together" boxed set. Those of us in diapers in 1969-70 had certainly read about the impact of such vintage live performances of "Tommy", baby boomers proclaiming that we had misssed out on the opportunity to hear the Who transform a wonderful, but horribly muddy-sounding, studio album into something considerably more sublime, but the prospects of ever hearing such material seemed bleak in an era when Pete was claiming that all recordings from that tour had been destroyed.

Thus, for latecomer Who fans such as myself (who had bought all of the studio albums and tracked down the import-only b-sides) any historical insight into Who during the era prior to the release of the "Thirty Years Of Maximum R & B" boxed set in 1994 was gained entirely through the bootlegs that circulated--studio outtakes and BBC tracks such as "Fortune Teller", "Early Morning Cold Taxi" and "Good Lovin'" were, stripped of all context in the pre-internet age, were essentially "new" recordings to be compiled, collected and played, the listener's enjoyment only enhanced by their illicit nature--to be exposed to such treasures was a privilege, the owners fandom raised to a degree above those to whom he or she chose to make cassette copies.

This is why for me, even today, at a time in which no fewer than four reasonably full-length live performances of Tommy from 1969-1970 have been officially released, the Amsterdam show remains special. For starters, it was in stereo. If played through headphones (no earbuds in Grampa's day), Entwistle was in one's left ear and Townshend was in the other. I remember hearing Pete comment in an interview somewhere about how he and Keith used to compete for audience attention while the Ox never bothered even trying; yet this is one recording in which, with the visual element removed, the competition seemed entirely between John and Pete to see which one of the could outplay and outlast the other. In the end, it was a draw.

I still have that fat jewel box somewhere, but I haven't played the discs in years. Something tells me I should. I just looked it up on the internet--the $65 I spent to buy that CD set in 1992 works out to $110.42 in today's dollars. Am I kicking myself in hindsight, realizing that if I'd merely been patient and waited another 15-20 years, I could have downloaded and owned the show for free?


Chris Charlesworth said...

Any from '69-70 really. I have quite a few from three CDs I was given which are simply titled 'American Soundboard '69', and the playing is magnificent, though I'm not sure which specific concerts they are. In this era The Who as a live act reached a peak that they never really surpassed in my opinion, not that they didn't try and, of course, even afterwards they were far better than everyone else. John once said that the final tour they did with Keith, in 1976, was their best but I'm not sure I believe him.

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