The Who in concert at The Capitol Theatre in Ottawa – October 15, 1969; first set. As the story goes, The Who recorded just about every concert during their 1969 tours. 1969 was an extremely transitional year for the band, due almost entirely to Pete Townshend’s rock opera Tommy, which they had begun recording the previous autumn. For the first part of the year, the group alternated between recording in the studio during the week and performing in clubs and universities on the weekends. With recording completed in March, the rock opera was reportedly performed for the first time in April at Bolton Institute of Technology and several other times in the United Kingdom through the early part of May. As no recordings of these shows have surfaced, it is not known exactly how much of Tommy was played at this stage, but by the time the group travelled to North America for a tour in May and June they featured roughly 40 minutes of the piece during certain shows, omitting songs like the “Overture”, “Cousin Kevin”, the “Underture”, and “Sally Simpson” because they weren’t considered suitable for live performance. Aside from the new material, songs such as “Happy Jack”, “A Quick One, While He’s Away”, “Young Man Blues”, “Summertime Blues”, “My Generation”, and “Magic Bus” continued to feature heavily in the group’s stage show, among others. Meanwhile, the instrument smashing that had characterized their performances for several years prior diminished considerably by this point.
By the second half of the year, the success of Tommy began to elevate the status of the band, who continued to feature it as the focal point of their act. The group played high-profile shows at London’s Royal Albert Hall and was one of the few acts to be paid for appearing at the Woodstock Festival in August, having travelled back to the United States specifically to perform at this event and just one other date before returning to England; they also were one of the headlining acts at the Isle of Wight Festival 1969. In the fall, they elected to expand the stage presentation of Tommy further, adding songs like the “Overture” and “Sally Simpson” that had been skipped in earlier performances; additionally, show-ending performances of “My Generation” were stretched out to reprise certain parts of the rock opera along with other instrumental passages (such as the chord progression that eventually evolved into “Naked Eye”). Following a second stint in North America, the group took Tommy to the London Coliseum in December, the first in a series of European opera house dates that would continue in early 1970.
Most of the recordings of The Who in concert made during the U.S. tour were rejected in favor of what finally became the Live At Leeds album. The tapes from the earlier concerts were ordered destroyed, or at least shelved in perpetuity. As is always the case with any recordings, unless they succumbed to a building fire, earthquake or flood, there was a good chance they would surface somehow, somewhere. Prior to the re-discovery of these tapes, all that appeared to be available was the preponderance of inferior sounding bootlegs made by the odd kid in the audience of many of the concerts with a microphone and a tape recorder some 500 feet away from the stage, usually sitting next to someone bordering on having Consumption. Not saying the powers-that-be let the otherwise unofficial recordings be available, but history is always preferable when it’s presented in its most accurate and clear light. There is a measure of gratitude that these recordings are available, because it gives the listener the almost optimum chance to hear The Who as those of us who crammed into the auditoriums to hear the original concerts at the time got to hear. These are historic documents of a band who have become the cornerstones of Rock and who have a legacy preserved for generations to follow.
And I am sure they will.
In the meantime, crank this one up and enjoy the hell out of it.