Live albums from most acts are pretty much a dime a dozen. Nowadays, when I hear of a new live release from a band I’m into, I assume it’s probably gonna be crap. But. Not with THE WHO. When they put out one of these things I instantly hit “buy.” Live at the Fillmore East 1968 has just been released and it is nearly literally the bomb. Recorded in April of ’68 at Bill Graham’s not-yet-fabled NYC venue, it’s a warts and all program of the band’s live set at the time. The Who weren’t quite to the Live at Leeds level of 1970, but they were well on their way.
What this 2CD/3LP release has that Leeds lacks is glorious grit. Not only is the performance loose (and somehow, as The Who were so good at, tight) but the recording is, too. Live at the Fillmore East is like a really good soundboard bootleg. You get all the instruments in pretty good quality, even somehow in stereo, but it’s definitely not perfect. At least, not by the standard definition. But as The Who have proven with prior releases like Leeds and Live at the Isle of Wight 1970, they were fucking on fire from about ’68 to ’72, whether or not they incorporated the entire Tommy program (like on the Isle of Wight set list). Missing are the first two songs of the show (“Substitute” and “Pictures of Lily,” sadly), but what’s left is incendiary. On disc one you get thirteen songs, including an eleven minute “A Quick One (While He’s Away),” a twelve minute “Relax,” and a triumvirate of Eddie Cochran covers. We’re used to hearing The Who tear apart “Summertime Blues” and “C’Mon Everybody,” but what you don’t usually hear is their insanely killer “My Way” (as in, “I’m an easy-goin’ guy but I always gotta have my way”), which is a rarity in their cannon (and I meant to spell it ”cannon”). Good gravy, that is almost worth the cost right there! But. Then there’s disc two, with a (hold your breath this long if you can) 33:02 version of “My Generation.” Of course, your hardcore Who fan knows that they don’t stick to the basic arrangement for half an hour, they veer off into all kinds of themes and vibes that are about as jazz as any haaaaaaarrrrddd rock band has ever done. Townshend, Entwistle and Moon feed off each other so effortlessly, they surpass Led Zeppelin, The Move, everybody in that way. So, jazz in the sense of free-form jamming and instruments not only working with and off of each other but intuitively sensing where the whole thing is going. And when they get there, oh, what a trip it’s been.
I’m having a hard time deciding if I like Live at the Fillmore East 1968 better than Leeds. They’re both so great, we’re gonna have to call it a draw.
5/5 (Polydor 6744485, 2018)