Tom Morello on the Who: They Were a ‘Feral Rock Beast’
Live at Leeds sounds like somebody hit the record button on the right night. When they were in that sweet spot, no band ever burned as hot. It’s the untamed fury of a band at its peak, a band that can kind of vacillate between feral beauty and the big ideas of Tommy and Quadrophenia. There’s nothing like that band in rock music. There’s the high-minded poetry of Dylan, but he was never smashing guitars, sounding like a hundred bowling balls coming down the hall. The Who combines the artistic intellect and the raw beast-itude in a way that no one ever did. Pete Townsend is always striving for it. He was a seeker in that regard. Thank goodness for him.
At home drinking with friends, we play this game “MVP/Weak Link,” where you take any band and you must identify who’s the MVP and who’s the weak link of the band. It’s a fantastic game. I love all the members of the Who, but the MVP is Keith Moon. It’s his chaotic personality and drumming that pushes that band over the edge. The songs are incomparable, Roger Daltrey’s performances are heroic, John Entwistle’s bass playing and the artistic vision that is kind of Pete Townshend is one that is singular in rock music and his wholly his own, but it isn’t shit without the drummer. He’s the one who makes it sound like someone dropping a hundred bowling balls. When all the lions are out of the cages and they’re devouring the patrons, when that guy is behind the kit, there’s nothing like it. And it’s his wildness that is the soul of the band.
I’ve seen them a few times. I saw them in Hyde Park after John passed, and it was a pretty great show. But bands have their moment. From those early moped-driving, pill-poppin’, amp-smashing days up until Roger Daltrey’s fringe jacket, with Pete Townshend redefining rock star with every pose, that’s the sweet spot. As a live band, you just can’t touch that.