In 1973, the Who's Pete Townshend was looking for an opening act for the band's upcoming North American tour promoting the second of his rock operas, "Quadrophenia." He decided on this Southern band that was a label-mate of theirs, a recent graduate of the bar-and-club tour grind. It was on the basis of the response to their debut album, "Pronounced Leh-nerd Skin-nerd."
Prime concert recordings:"Live at Leeds (Deluxe Edition)"
Classic rock done right
The Who (MCA)
"One More from the Road (25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition)"
Lynyrd Skynyrd (MCA)
Review by Gary C.W. Chun
During the last song of that band's first tour date with the Who in Atlanta, playing some obscure thing called "Free Bird," Townshend reportedly stopped himself in midconversation with a teenage writer from Rolling Stone named Cameron Crowe and said, "They're really quite good, aren't they?"
Lynyrd Skynyrd was just that back then, and much better later during a memorable three-day run in July 1976, in the very same city where they debuted as a national act three years earlier. The resulting concert album, "One More from the Road," solidified the band's reputation as one of the finest live bands around.
And so was The Who in its heyday. In 1970 the fearsome quartet recorded a concert at Leeds University in England, and "Live at Leeds" remains one of the classics in the annals of rock.
But the original vinyl release and subsequent compact disc reissue were always incomplete, never including all of the middle section of the concert, which included what Townshend introduced that night as "our rendition of 'Thomas.'"
Now the deluxe edition reissue of "Live at Leeds" includes that amazing, nearly hourlong medley of songs from "Tommy" on a second disc. An additional CD is also included in the 25th-anniversary reissue of Lynyrd Skynyrd's fabled concert album, the entire package not only reassembling the original sequence of songs played in concert, but also alternate recordings made during that memorable stint at the Fox Theatre.
While the deluxe edition of the Who's "Live at Leeds" falls short of the packaging of the limited-edition CD released in 1995, it's a more complete documentation of a band at the peak of its powers. The "Tommy" medley is just amazing, considering that the band had already performed a spirited half-hour's worth of their hits like "I Can't Explain," "Substitute" and "Happy Jack," a furious rendition of Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues" and nine minutes of Townshend's first mini-rock opera, "A Quick One, While He's Away."
Highlights of the "Tommy" medley include Townshend's amazing guitar work on the opening "Overture," the back-to-back might of "The Acid Queen" and "Pinball Wizard," and the rousing closer, "We're Not Gonna Take It."
The deluxe reissue of "One More from the Road" has been given a new mix courtesy of the band's original concert sound engineer, Kevin Elson, and the album's never sounded better. Key tracks that were cut from the initial CD reissue and stage comments from lead singer Ronnie Van Zant have been included.
There are also two versions of "Free Bird," and while for some that's two too many, it brought back a fond memory to this reviewer of seeing the band in concert at the Blaisdell Arena, sitting behind a row of military types. One of them, with his head down, was slamming his hand on the railing in front of him in time with the music with such force I thought he was going to break it. During that climactic moment when the three-guitar line of Gary Rossington, Allen Collins and Steve Gaines intertwined their lead lines, pushed along by the insistent gallop of Artemis Pyle's drumming, the arena went pitch black except for all spotlights hitting a giant, spinning mirrored ball suspended from the ceiling. Even in my drug-free state, whoosh! What a rush!
Of the newly stated tracks on the reissue, the inclusion of "Simple Man" is pivotal to the concert recording. It's simply a grand song, with Van Zant proudly proclaiming his Southern roots. And from "Tuesday's Gone" to the inevitable encore of "Free Bird," we're hearing a group firing on all cylinders.
The alternate recordings, while not crucial, are welcome additions. Van Zant's singing on "I Ain't the One" and "Searching" is comparable, maybe even better, to the takes originally released. And the concert-ending takes of "Sweet Home Alabama," "Crossroads" (a dead-on tribute to their favorite British band, Cream) and "Free Bird" are more good-natured than fiery, with Van Zant bonding with then-new member Steve Gaines, the "Oakie" of the band, and making a telling comment to Rossington "to play it for Duane" during "Free Bird," in honor of the late Allman brother.
To echo Townshend, these reissues are quite good and worthy of purchase, even if you own the original releases.
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