Critic’s pick 260: The Who, ‘Live at Hull 1970; Eric Clapton, ‘Slowhand — 35th Anniversary Edition’

Mick Jagger remarked during the televised 121212 benefit that the concert was a summit of sorts for the elders of English rock. Well, here we are, exiting 2012 with a pair of newly released live recordings by two of the celebrated Brits from that evening.

But these aren’t entirely new documents. These unearthed albums are essentially postcards from an era when The Who and Eric Clapton were commercially and artistically invincible.

The Who’s Live at Hull 1970, for instance, is the brother of the band’s iconic concert set Live at Leeds. It was cut at a performance given the night following the February 1970 show captured on Live at Leeds. While the Hull recording was issued as part of an expensive anniversary edition of Leeds a few years back, this fall marked its debut release as a separate album.

For completists, Hull boasts the exact same setlist as Leeds with the exception of a furious version of Magic Bus that remains exclusive to the Leeds album. Luckily, the raw intensity of the Leeds concert – a raucous mix that placed Pete Townshend’s guitar work (specifically, the electric fire that pours out of Young Man’s Blues) and Keith Moon’s riotous drumming (highlighted by the wildly syncopated grooves supplied to Shakin’ All Over) – is also in abundance on Hull.

This was the sound of rock ‘n’ roll anarchy. But the music comes across – especially during the longer instrumental passages from Tommy (served up in its entirety on Hull’s second disc) – less like punk and more like abrupt, roughcut pop.

The liner notes explain that considerable restoration had to be done to the Hull tapes, including the grafting of John Entwistle’s bass lines from the Leeds show onto several tracks. But vigor and immediacy still dominate this deliriously cranky Hull concert.

Clapton’s 1977 album Slowhand cemented a commercial comeback that began three years earlier. But despite including several of the guitarist’s signature hits (Cocaine, Wonderful Tonight and Lay Down Sally are the album’s first three songs), Slowhand is a somewhat timid sounding album today.

But look at what its new 35th Anniversary Edition comes packaged with – a full disc of performances from an April 1977 concert. The timing is intriguing as the original Slowhand didn’t hit stores until November of that year. That explains why none of the album’s material found its way onto this new live album.

Instead, we have a blast of Derek and the Dominoes-era boogie (Tell the Truth), a double dose of reggae (Knocking on Heaven’s Door and a 14-minute groovecentric take on I Shot the Sheriff) and a country-blues-gospel revamping of a Blind Faith gem (Can’t Find My Way Home with Yvonne Elliman singing lead). It all makes for a fine archival/anniversary celebration.

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