The Who

High Numbers Live: 1964

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Most of the live 1964 material on this bootleg was in circulation for more than 20 years prior to this CD. The real surprise on this collection, however, was a bunch of instrumentals cut at Abbey Road in late 1964 that had never been bootlegged before, though the origins of those are mysterious. Starting with the live stuff (also done in late 1964), it's an interesting assortment of R&B covers inasmuch as it shed lights on the Who's roots, though the sound is mediocre. Roger Daltrey's vocals usually have a much gruffer, less appealing tone than the higher one more familiar from the Who's prime; Daltrey even plays harmonica; and there's not a Pete Townshend original in sight. While there are flashes of Townshend's creative guitar soloing and distortion, and Keith Moon's trademark drum flails, these aren't as innovative or wild as they'd become by 1965. The covers of the Miracles' relatively obscure Motown song "I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying" and a sleek pass through "Young Man Blues" are the highlights, and there's some thrilling, wobbling hard rock guitar to kick off Bo Diddley's "Pretty Thing." But the arrangements of R&B staples like "Smokestack Lightning," Bo Diddley's "Here 'Tis," and "Long Tall Shorty" are pedestrian, and there's too much formless bluesy improvisation and jamming. At least this CD does have a bit more of these live recordings than have appeared on many previous boots, including a version of "I Gotta Dance to Keep from Crying" that breaks down.

As for the seven instrumental tracks identified as October 22, 1964 Abbey Road recordings (all in good quality), it's known that the Who did audition for EMI producer John Burgess around this time. It does sound like the Who in their very early R&B days, though not beyond a shadow of a doubt -- and it's mystifying as to why an audition would consist of backing tracks without vocals. Still, assuming this is the Who, the songs include instrumental versions of the R&B/soul staples "Smokestack Lightning," "Walking the Dog," "I'm a Man," and "Memphis Tennessee," as well as a few untitled numbers in the same vein. The frenetic whiplash guitar lines (Townshend's, presumably) and the splashing drums (Moon's, presumably) are again the most distinctive elements, though these are also less developed than those heard by the time of the Who's 1965 records. The version of "I'm a Man" does have the slow stop-start tempo and simmering rave-up used on the My Generation album (as well as harmonica, presumably by Daltrey, and some assertive zooming basslines, presumably by John Entwistle), as further evidence that this is likely to actually be the Who. Also, on a few passages in "I'm a Man" and other tracks, you can hear the guitar rove and crescendo in a way quite similar to the way Townshend would play in the '60s; some of it wouldn't sound out of place as an improvisation on some of Tommy's extended instrumental sections. If this material is indeed the Who in late 1964, it adds up to an intriguing document of the band right before they started their proper official recording career, though it sounds a bit hollow with the absence of either Daltrey's vocals or original Townshend songs.