In 1970 The Who recorded Live At Leeds: 36 years later they returned to the scene and played again

The Who onstage at Leeds University in 2006
Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend onstage at Leeds University Refectory in 2006 (Image credit: Terry George via Getty Images)

In 1970 The Who recorded one of the greatest live albums of all time, Live At Leeds. 36 years later, as the band prepared to headline the Wireless Festival at nearby Harewood House, they returned to the scene of their original triumph, at Leeds University Refectory, to play again. Classic Rock was there. 

Had it not been for some faulty recording equipment being used by The Who on the night of February 15, 1970, The Who’s Live At Leeds album would have been titled Live At Hull. The Leeds University refectory would have gone back to merely serving dinners to hungry students instead of attracting the likes of Thin Lizzy, Lynyrd Skynyrd and AC/DC and Hull’s rock’n’roll reputation would probably stretch a bit further than Mick Ronson and Rich Rags. 

Instead, the gig taped at Leeds the previous night became one of the greatest concert recordings of all time: a no-holds-barred heavy rock live album, from – ironically – the Kings of the Mods. 

Consider this: the very day before The Who played Leeds, a little-known Brummie outfit called Black Sabbath released their first album on an unsuspecting world; Queen and Styx were just forming. It was officially A Long Time Ago. 

So long ago, in fact, that the occasion is now deemed worthy of a blue Civic Trust plaque, which Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend have proudly seen unveiled this afternoon. When first arranging their attendance at the plaque ceremony, broadcaster Andy Kershaw (a former Leeds University entertainments secretary) had a brainwave. 

“By sheer coincidence, just weeks after speaking to Professor Arthur in Leeds about their plans, I met the band’s manager, Bill Curbishley, backstage at WOMAD,” Andy said. “I told Bill I thought it would be great if we got some members of the band to unveil the plaque. Then I said, ‘And while they’re there…’ Bill finished my sentence. ‘They’ll do it’, he said. And so the idea of a concert began.” 

With the band deciding on a world tour in 2006, everything fell into place. What better place to start the tour than the venue which cemented The Who’s reputation as the best live rock band of their time?” 

So it is that 2,000 Who fanatics, many here 36 years ago, are crammed into this sweatbox on one of the muggiest nights of the year. The steam is rising from the crowd and moisture is dripping down the walls but there are no concessions to age – either in the audience or on stage (Daltrey is 62, Townshend 61) – as the show begins with a ruthless winklepicker to the temple in the shape of Who Are You

Wisely resisting the nostalgic temptation to revive the original Live At Leeds setlist, The Who instead plump for their greatest hits. And what hits they are: Can’t Explain, The Seeker, Substitute and Baba O’Riley thunder through this low, narrow venue, and it becomes apparent just how powerful The Who are – a further echo of their 1970 show here, after which they unfurled their wings and soared across America, becoming a bona fide rock beast to rival Led Zeppelin in the process. 

Songs from their forthcoming “mini rock opera” (yes, again) Wire And Glass are previewed. Most of the audience haven’t heard them, and this isn’t really the atmosphere for a cerebral consideration of lyrical twists and musical complexity. 

Highlights from Tommy resume normal service, and a monstrous Won’t Get Fooled Again brings down the curtain on a night that was imbued with an intoxicating sense of occasion. 

As Daltrey, Townshend and their band – Pino Palladino on bass, Zak Starkey on drums, John ‘Rabbit’ Bundrick on keyboards and Pete’s brother Simon on guitar – soak up the applause, you can almost hear a burst of mischievous laughter from the back of the hall. 

You get the feeling Keith Moon and John Entwistle would have approved.