Roger Daltrey - vocals, harmonica, tambourine; Pete Townshend - guitar, vocals; John Entwistle - bass, vocals; Keith Moon - drums, percussion, vocals
During the summer of 1970, Bill Graham presented an extraordinary series of concerts at Tanglewood, the renowned classical music venue located in the scenic Berkshire Hills of western Massachusetts. At the time, presenting rock music in a classical venue was a surprising and precarious step to take. To many, hearing the Fillmore and Tanglewood in the same sentence equated to "when worlds collide." Much like his approach at the Fillmores, Graham's "The Fillmore at Tanglewood" series presented diverse, handpicked triple bills, but with the added advantage of a beautiful open-air venue and plenty of informal lawn seating. With the Fillmore East crew providing technical support, these concerts would be hailed as a technical and artistic triumph and would entertain the largest Tanglewood audiences to date. In a year plentiful in memorable concerts, these Tanglewood performances truly stand out. Artists like the Who, Miles Davis, Santana, and Chicago all delivered inspired performances, several of which remain career-defining moments to this very day.
The Who's July 7th performance at Tanglewood was certainly one of the most highly anticipated of the three concerts that Graham presented during the 1970 series. Along with the Jefferson Airplane, the Who headlined Graham's one-off 1969 experiment at Tanglewood and the success of that gig was indeed the inspiration for the 1970 series of concerts. By 1970, The Who were experiencing monumental success, having taken the musical world by storm with Peter Townshend's rock opera, Tommy, the previous year. Not since the Beatles' Sgt. Pepper had a rock album been so perceived as a "work of art," and the momentum of Tommy sustained the group throughout 1969 and 1970. The public and critical reaction to Townshend's rock opera had a profound effect on the group and Townshend in particular, raising the Who's profile to stratospheric proportions. The group even booked several of their performances of Tommy into the most prestigious classical music venues in Europe and launched their 1970 American tour with two presentations at New York City's renowned Metropolitan Opera House.
Although the group's 1970 performances were universally well received, the massive popularity and critical analysis of Tommy inevitably became a double-edged sword. The band was being embraced and criticized by the highbrow classical community as well as rock fans and critics. The new trappings of fame and the relentless media bombardment that now followed the group began to take its toll on Townshend. Partially motivated by anxiety at being perceived on a strictly artistic level, the band issued Live at Leeds, one of the rawest, loudest, most visceral live recordings ever (released seven weeks prior to this show). It was in this mode, balancing between the artistic aspirations of Tommy and the blistering hard rock of their other live repertoire, that the Who embarked on their 1970 American tour. The final night of this tour culminated in this now legendary concert at Tanglewood, where the Who headlined a bill that also included San Francisco's It's A Beautiful Day and Jethro Tull.
In Townshend's own words, the band would have "another bash at it," in terms of Tommy, in addition to introducing some intriguing new material. Unreleased at the time, "Heaven And Hell would appear as a non-album b-side, making its inclusion of particular interest here. The entire performance is quite remarkable and these new multi-track transfers reveal the Tanglewood gig to be a far better performance than any previous bootleg recordings revealed. Often as powerful as the legendary "Live at Leeds" material and generally superior to their Isle Of Wight performance days later, these new recordings will come as a revelation to hardcore fans, providing one of the finest examples of Keith Moon and John Entwistle's live prowess circa 1970 ever recorded.
Following Bill Graham's opening announcements and introductions of the individual band members, the Who launch into one of John Entwistle's most powerful songs, "Heaven And Hell," their standard opener during this era. Released as the b-side of "Summertime Blues" three days after this performance, "Heaven And Hell" is distinctly different from Townshend's writing. Entwistle's atheistic and at times acidic social commentaries, of which this song is a prime example, often relegated his songs to b-sides and non-album tracks. Nonetheless, it's a propulsive opener that provides an interesting contrast to Townshend's more spiritually-oriented writing of this era, while emphasizing the group's strength on stage. It is a clear signpost to where Entwistle would head on his first solo album, Smash Your Head Against The Wall, the following year. The oldest original number of the set, the Kinks-like "I Can't Explain," follows in fine form. Unlike his musical peers in the 1964/1965 era, most of whom were still writing love songs (including Lennon and McCartney), this first single by the Who focused on the frustration of being unable to articulate one's feelings and is an excellent example of what made Townshend's writing stand out from the very beginning.
Throughout this set, Keith Moon's double bass drumming is astoundingly complicated, and he plays with a furious intensity that threatens to spin out of control, yet never does. The band's mastery of tension and release is impressive here but even better represented on the next tune, a searing version of Mose Allison's "Young Man Blues." Much like the furious performance on Live At Leeds, this is another vehicle for the group to expel more raw energy before tackling the long haul of Tommy.
At this point, Townshend addresses the Tanglewood audience, explaining that this will be the last gig in America for 1970; the final gig of this tour and the performances of Tommy will soon be retired. Townshend sounds genuinely happy and appreciative, no doubt in part due to the technical excellence of the show itself (i.e., great stage monitor mixes that allow these musicians to clearly hear each other and perform as one). Reflective of the ideas that would soon propel his Lifehouse project, which, at its core, addressed the symbiotic relationship between the group and its audience, Townshend makes a point to include the audience when stating that it's time to "have you and us have another bash at it" in terms of Tommy, which is greeted with exuberant applause. He then introduces Keith Moon as "the conductor of our particular orchestra" who, with the clicks of his drumstick baton, begins humorously assembling the musicians.
Included from this set is the only cover song in the Tommy opus, an urgent reading of Sonny Boy Williamson's "Eyesight To The Blind," "Fiddle About" (in which Entwistle gets his second lead vocal as the wicked Uncle Ernie), and "Tommy's Holiday Camp," on which Townshend and Moon humorously share the vocal spotlight.
The fire and passion of the Who in 1970 and the symbiosis that these four musicians achieve here is nothing short of astounding. The Leeds and Isle of Wight recordings will always remain as two of the Who's landmark 1970 recordings, and deservedly so, but thanks to this spectacular new transfer of Bill Graham's recordings, Tanglewood is now equally worthy of attention.
Written by Alan Bershaw